by Joyce Green
From the Editor: Joyce Green is a longtime Federationist and leader of the NFB of Oregon. She wrote the following article shortly after the Philadelphia convention last summer. This is what she says:
During the 2001 NFB national convention in Philadelphia, I developed laryngitis and a head cold. By the time I arrived home, my left eye had become infected. After an initial period of semi-seclusion to avoid sharing my misfortune with others, I began to assume my normal activities.
While running some errands, I encountered Pat, an acquaintance through a previous place of employment, who asked, "Oh my, did you fall?"
I said, "No, Pat. Why do you ask?"
"Well, your eye is all red and looks terribly sore," she answered.
To this I responded, "No, this is an eye infection, resulting from a cold. But I am curious; does this look like an injury caused by a fall?"
Pat replied, "Well, no, not exactly. I just thought that, since you don't uh, well, see very good--?"
Then, I said, "Pat, how long have we known each other?" to which she responded, "Oh, maybe twenty years."
My next question was, "How many times have you seen or heard of my falling?"
"Well, none, she said. "But Sandy just fell and had to have four stitches above her eye, and she has two good eyes." Sandy is a mutual acquaintance of Pat and mine; she has a history of falling on an average of about every five months.
Then I posed this question to Pat, "How long ago was it that Sandy fell and broke her wrist? Three months ago?"
Pat admitted, "Yes, about three months."
I then asked her, "Could it be that some people, sighted or blind, are accident-prone and that the frequency of falling might be the same, regardless of visual acuity and that falling might be more accurately attributed to other causes, for instance not paying attention to where one is going, having some inner ear disturbance, being slightly (or not so slightly) inebriated, or a dozen other things?"
Soon we each went our separate ways. I had made my point, but I could not be sure how effectively. Her assumption that my very red eye could be accounted for only by a fall and that I could be expected to fall more easily than accident-prone Sandy, who has 20/20 vision, disappointed me of course. We all know some blind people who do fall. Some fall because they are depending on vision that is not reliable, and they have not yet developed their alternative skills. Others fall because of some reason other than blindness. Still other blind people fall simply because they, like some of our sighted peers, are accident-prone. I take some consolation in the thought that ten years ago I might have received this question from more than one person. I am even more consoled by the fairly numerous friends and acquaintances who out of genuine concern asked, "Oh, what is the matter with your eye? It looks so painful." The inappropriate comments and questions that reflect the ignorance and prejudice underneath are not all going to cease during my lifetime or yours, but, thank heaven, they do become less frequent, thanks to the diligence of the NFB and the passage of time.
My red eye has run its course as a topic of conversation. To the last few inquiries I have simply said, "I recently traveled to Philadelphia and took the red eye home."