Rant Ahead: Blindness Does Not Stop Me
Yep. I can’t drive a car. Yet. I can’t pilot an airplane. But I can do many, many other things. Including glare at someone who’s pissing me off.
And I’m blind. Just to make that clear.
Here’s the scenario: Someone comments on a random page that my blind character can’t be making noticeable eye contact with the man in his arms. If what this person meant is that Aidan Kelly can’t “see” Mike Delaney from my White Oak/Black Mahogany duet, they’re right. But what they said implied that Aidan couldn’t appear to be making meaningful contact with Mike because Aidan’s blind.
OK. Let’s break this down. Body language is not visually mandated. Blind people can learn to put their hands on their hips, tilt their heads, raise an eyebrow, and smile just like sighted people. It’s a matter of teaching rather than mimicry, but it can totally be done.
Blind people have expressive faces just like sighted people. Maybe, like me they go blank when they’re pissed off, but that was a matter of training for me. I was taught not to show my anger because no one in my family shows anger. But once you know the person you’re talking to, that blank look is just as telling as a shout.
This all boils down to the fact that instead of getting to know blind people many sighted people (not all, but many) assume what we can and can’t do. Let me tell you a story.
My eyes twitch. All the time. It’s almost impossible for students to tell where I’m looking. But with the set of my body, the tilt of my head, and a well-placed, “[student name], sit down” it’s quite apparent where my attention is centered. I’ve had students claim they couldn’t tell exactly whom I was looking at, but they stopped whatever bad behavior they were doing because they “thought” I was looking at them. They were usually right.
I’m not only fired up by the assumptions but by the shameless way people voice those assumptions. If I was African American and someone “assumed” I was good at rhythm because of the color of my skin, or “assumed” I’m a good cook because I’m a woman, they’d never dare to express those feelings out loud. When the hell did it become OK to assume that a disabled person is incapable? And why is it OK for these assumptions to be acted upon?
All right, why am I so hot under the collar? Because this assumption culture has made it difficult for me to get a job in the past. “You can’t climb stairs.” “How do you dress yourself?” “Why do your eyes twitch like that? That makes me uncomfortable. Can you stop doing it?” yes, these are all questions I’ve been asked in interviews, along with dealing with parents who say, “you can’t prove XYZ because you can’t see my child.” If a non-disabled person was asked these things, they’d start a lawsuit. But I’m often told to just sit and take it, to change people’s minds one at a time, and be patient.
This all reminds me of the time I was teaching a middle school class about the KKK and an African American student said he’d never trust white people again. My response was, “Should I be angry with all sighted people, including you, because of what one or two have said?” “yes!” he cried. And the whole class, three different races, responded, “NO!!” he thought about it. After a few more classes, he became one of my best helpers.
I wish I didn’t have to constantly educate the public, but I do because if I don’t, who will? I’m one of those “polite” blind people, as opposed to the pissed off version, because I know that being angry with ignorance is pointless. But sometimes even I get tired.
Thank you for listening to my rant. I’d appreciate any suggestions you have as to how I should respond to ignorance in the future. Thank you for reading this!
Be good to each other. You never know what’s going on in someone else’s life.
Oh, and if you want to read about a kick-ass blind guy, please read my first Heartwood duet, White Oak/Black Mahogany. The second book in the series, Heartwood 2: Yew and Thorn, will be coming out next month.