The Braille Monitor                                                                                         July, 2002

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Letter to the Reader's Digest

by Sandy Ryan

From the Editor: Sandy Ryan was a 1985 NFB scholarship winner. Like most of us she lives a full and satisfying life, filled with family and community activities. When she is disturbed by something she reads, she recognizes her responsibility to try to set the record straight. In the following letter she makes the attempt with the editors of the Reader's Digest. The response she received from the publication gives no indication whether or not she was successful in making her point, but she made the attempt, and who knows what impact it has had on the outlook of those who read and considered her position. This is what she said:

Dear Reader's Digest Editors,

I just finished reading the reprint of Helen Keller's article "Three Days to See" in the April [2002] issue. I read the article from the Braille edition of the magazine, and it upset me to think that you would find this article worth reprinting. I had begun to hope we were past the dark ages when people wanted to read about how much better they had things than the disabled.

When Miss Keller wrote the article more than seventy years ago, a longing to see was probably not uncommon among the blind. Blind people were thought inferior, and Miss Keller seemed a phenomenon because, blind and deaf, she was able to live a more or less normal life, meeting world figures and the like. But she lived that life at the mercy of those around her, constantly dependent on others. No wonder she longed to walk through the world alone, free of her encumbrances!

In seventy years things have changed. Blind people (and yes, deaf-blind people) hold jobs, have much improved means of communication, and for the most part make their own way through the world. In 1940 a small group of blind people met in Wilkes- Barre, Pennsylvania, to establish the National Federation of the Blind. They created a community that has grown to more than 60,000 members and worked together to reach toward independence. They began the task of teaching our sighted families and friends the truth--that blindness is a characteristic, at most a nuisance, and needn't ruin one's life. Because of the Federation and its philosophy--given proper training, a blind person can do anything a sighted person can do--thousands of blind people have jobs, lead independent lives, and know that vision is not necessary to a successful, happy life.

I have been blind from infancy, and I can honestly tell you there have been only three times I have fleetingly wished I could see. None of those times did I wish to see everything in the world. On my wedding day I would have liked to see the love my groom felt for me reflected in his eyes--and to have been able to reciprocate. But I felt that love in his hand when he took mine. I heard it in his voice as he said his vows. I felt how deep it was in his embrace. My joy was not diminished by not seeing him. People who see do not feel deeper emotion. In fact, I wonder if they may be more easily distracted from deep emotion. In any case vision is but one way to show emotion and to recognize it in others.

The other two days I might fleetingly have wished for sight were the days I gave birth to my two beautiful sons. I know they were beautiful; I counted all their fingers and toes. I stroked their faces and their hair. I gently held them and talked to them. And do you know, we bonded just as we would have if I could have seen them! I didn't miss a thing. And if I touched them slightly more than the seeing mother, then perhaps we bonded a little more deeply.

In growing up, my sons never said, "Mommy, I wish you could see." Occasionally well-meaning sighted adults, believing they were sympathizing with needy children, said it: "Wouldn't it be wonderful if your mommy could see?" More often than not, my children expressed dismay at others' lack of knowledge about blindness and unwillingness to accept me. They did not suffer from having a blind mother. During a conversation about my being blind when my older son was six, he said, "Mommy, you can't drive, but you can give me hugs and kisses and read to me and go for walks with me. You're a good Mommy." At twelve my younger son said to his father and me, "I wish I had money for Christmas presents for you. You're such good parents. You help me know how to live, but you don't make stupid rules, and you don't change your mind all the time." I didn't need a present, and I didn't need to see to give him a hug or to feel the pride and joy I felt in being his mother.

My children were often made uncomfortable by adults' assumptions, which were sometimes passed to them through their friends. When my younger son's fifth grade student teacher asked, "Marcus, when did you know your mom was different?" he knew what she meant.

His answer: "My mom's different?"

When my older son's second-grade friend asked how I could know how much noise they were making, Matt pointedly told him, "She's blind, not deaf, you dummy."

Neither of the boys understood or accepted the assumption that they were my caretakers. People often said to them, "I bet you're a big help to your Mommy. Do you help her find things?"

Once Marcus was confused by an elderly friend's question: "Marcus, are you out walking your mom?"

When we'd passed his house, he said to me, "Mommy, I think he thinks you're my dog!" He was four at the time and didn't even really understand that I couldn't see. It happened to be a beautiful night, and we were out for a walk together. I held his hand because sometimes, being four, he forgot to stop at intersections and look both ways.

On my journey through life I have not missed out on the beauty of nature; the intimacy of close relationships; the fulfillments of education, employment, and giving to others; or any of the joys and sorrows that fill a life. I have been richly blessed, and I would not change a thing--including having experienced life through my ears, nose, tongue, and fingertips rather than my eyes. Those who can see would not willingly choose blindness, nor would I expect them to. But the belief that sight is the only--or at least the best--way to experience the world is a fallacy, and the time has come to lay it to rest. I reject Miss Keller's "Three Days to See." What a waste of three days! And if you think your life is fuller, richer, better than mine because you can see, I think you are wrong.

Sincerely,

Sandra J. Ryan, MS, RD, LD

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