I don’t know what it is, but I run across many people in my daily life who assume that blind people are super dependent on others for every little life task, or can do anything and everything extraordinarily well. To muddy the waters even more, there are subsets of blind people who have both spoken and unspoken rules of engagement for all blind people, regardless of ability, inclination, and work ethic. One subset, affectionately dubbed “Super blinks”, act as though ALL blind people should have the skills to cook 4-course dinners, clean floors well enough for a Royal procession, and travel independently everywhere no matter what, asking no one for assistance for anything. The other, a more defeatist point of view, feeds in to the idea that blind people should be insular and keep to ourselves, acknowledge that life is hard, and just embrace the hardships without doing anything to improve our lot in life.
Thankfully, most blind people I know and associate with regularly – both online and in-person – fall somewhere in the middle of these. Some have terrific skills and are wonderful and encouraging, pushing me and others to at least try and do new things, without judgment or condescension. Others have been kicked in the teeth by families, prospective employers, and even complete strangers, who are wonderful supports when life just sucks and a blind person feels like no one else “gets it.”
But what happens when people we know well, especially families or colleagues, assume certain lack of interest, ability or competence are the case because we cannot see? A friend was over at my house a couple of weeks ago, and she mentioned a comment that was made to her about the cleanliness of her house. She’s not the best housekeeper in the world, but it’s honestly not in complete disarray. She said she wished people would just understand: “I’m a lousy housekeeper because I just don’t give a crap; it has nothing to do with my being blind.”
Recently, a news story about a blind mom in the kitchen made the rounds of social media. It was touted as an inspiring story of a family coming together despite a very sudden sight loss, and a mother who cooks well – and enjoys it – despite not being able to see. Molly Burke, a well-known Canadian advocate for the blind, responded to this news story by stating that she’s a bad cook because she hates cooking, not because she can’t see.
As for entertainment, there are many comments on my choices of leisure activities. Personally, I don’t like TV shows much. I have a few favorites, but overall, TV and movies don’t interest me. I have always preferred to be transported to new places and meet new characters through books. Many people tell me that my disinterest in such things are because I cannot see them. I can’t possibly know if there is any truth to this, but based on how I view the world, I would say this is likely untrue. If I had perfect vision, I doubt I would be fixated on the newest Netflix series, or the next Batman movie, just because much of what is out there just doesn’t hook me on an emotional level; an author at the height of their craft does that for me as well as good cinematography does for a movie buff.
So why do we make these comparisons? Why do people who know us well assume that a disinterest or poor skills are because we cannot see, and not because we simply don’t care about such things? A sighted person who doesn’t like cooking or doesn’t clean their house well is viewed as a person who just doesn’t like cooking or can’t be bothered to clean. Why are we viewed as less capable because we have these particular preferences, foibles, or lack of interest? And unless another blind person is so defeatist in all things, what business is it of mine (or yours, or anyone else’s) if they can’t cook that four-course meal, or require assistance to navigate the airport?
I’ve said it before: to my sighted readers, we are only human. Especially if you love us, our lack of cooking ability, a tolerably untidy house, or our declining an invitation to the movies often has more to do with our own personal preferences than the fact we cannot see; please don’t throw it in our face. For those who cannot see, and want to make yourselves feel better because you have skills that someone else doesn’t? STOP IT! Until you walk in their shoes, you don’t know the life they’ve led. If they want your assistance, or you think that you can encourage them and they are receptive to advice, offer such with grace and empathy. And those who just don’t care about anything, who are rude, who think the sighted world owes you because you’ve been dealt the hand of blindness: you’re making life for yourself, for me, and for all of us that much harder the next time we’re out and hope for assistance, a job offer, or that course we’ve dreamt our whole life to take. I don’t expect everyone to get it right all of the time, but the more we view each other as humans, the more likely we are to be viewed as flesh and blood in return.
Years ago, when my nephew was a toddler, I was crouching in the kitchen, searching for something in the floor cabinet. After finding what I needed, I quickly straightened and cracked the top of my head on the opened upper cabinet door. Ouch! My little nephew ran up to me, rubbed his own head in empathy and hugged me in an attempt to comfort me. He didn’t yet have words to express his distress at my pain.