Future Reflections Summer 1990, Vol. 9 No. 2
From the Editor: The Kids Korner feature was instituted a couple of years ago to encourage blind children to read Future Reflections. I believed that many of our articles were suitable for blind youth and I wanted some way to encourage parents and teachers to give these articles to the kids to read. That was how the idea for the Kids Korner was born. So far, the feature has been successful. Sometimes we print newsletter articles about blind youth and their accomplishments, and sometimes we get letters from youth that we print.
I received one such letter about a year ago. Stacy Stom, a blind middle school student, had written about some of her experiences in school and in doing so had mentioned the difficulties she sometimes had with kids who teased her and made fun of her because of blindness. As I thought about her letter it occurred to me to wonder what advice blind adults would have to offer to Stacy and other blind youth who are teased or rejected (or feel rejected) because of blindness.
So, I shared a copy of Stacy's letter with a few of my blind colleagues (including a couple of college students) and asked them to respond to these questions: "How did you handle teasing and cruel remarks from others when you were a blind teen-ager?" and "What advice would you give today's blind teen about how to cope with teasing?"
As I had anticipated, Stacy and I received some excellent suggestions. Here is Stacy's letter and the responses to it from Zachery Shore, Cathy Randall, Valerie Negri, and Eileen Rivera.
Hi. My name is Stacy Stom and I am 15 years old. I live in Worcester, Massachusetts. I am totally blind. My eye condition is neurofibromatosis. I have been blind since I was two years old. I don't remember what anything looks like. When I was born I was premature. My weight was two pounds and twelve ounces.
I go to Forest Grove Middle School. I am an eighth grader there. I like all my teachers there. I also like going to that school, in spite of some of the kids. Some kids slam the door in my face, laugh at me when I bump into something or someone, talk about me, etc. I have a few friends there. They stick up for me and they sit with me at lunch.
The most friends that I made were at Camp Wapanacki. It is a camp for blind, visually impaired, and special needs kids. This camp has four sessions. The first two sessions are for blind, visually impaired and special needs kids. The third session is for adults. The fourth session is for E.D. kids (emotionally disturbed). The camp is in Harwick, Vermont. I think it is an awesome camp.
I keep in contact with the friends I
made there, and I also visit them once
in a while. At Camp Wapanacki, most
of the kids are Braille readers. We
cooperate and work as one, and we
have lots of fun.
I go to teen weekends that Perkins School for the Blind provides. We go on trips. Some of the friends I met from camp go on these trips, too.
Sometimes it is hard to ignore some of the remarks that kids make. When I talk to an adult about the things that the kids say to me, the adults tell me not to pay attention to them. They say, "Talk is cheap and the kids don't know what they are talking about." Sometimes they might say that the kids take life for granted, where I enjoy it.
Sometimes I wonder how it feels to
see. I ask some people that have sight
how it feels to see. They tell me that it
is pretty neat. Sometimes they tell me
that they envy blind people because we
can't see many horrible things that are
going on in the world today.
Sometimes I think if I had my sight maybe, just maybe, the kids would treat me better. But I am still happy the way I am. Sure I get a lot of remarks, but I am still happy.
I enjoy doing many things such as
playing the recorder, playing the piano,
making up stories, poems, and songs
and many other things.
I was thinking, "Wouldn't it be neat if they made a car for blind people." The car would be computerized of course. Just imagine the expression on people's faces when they see us!
I feel that people shouldn't make fun of people because we're in this together.
I have just read a copy of your letter to Barbara Cheadle. I greatly admire your courage to write about your feelings. I wish that when I was 151 had had your sensitivity and guts to talk about blindness. Thank you for raising this extremely important issue which faces nearly all blind teens.
As I read your letter I was reminded of my own experiences growing up as a blind adolescent. I am now 20 years old and will soon be a senior at the University of Pennsylvania. Although it has been several years since anyone has teased me about my blindness, I can still remember those uncomfortable and often painful times.
I did not deal well with the cruel remarks that other kids made to me. Much of my energy was spent trying to pretend that I could see. I used the limited vision I had to get around without a cane. Consequently, I would often bump into things and other kids would laugh. Now that I have learned to use a cane effectively I no longer have that problem. Perhaps one of the worst times for me was in my senior year of high school when my girlfriend and I broke up and she started dating another guy. I honestly believed that part of the reason we broke up was because I couldn't see. Like you, I often thought that if only I were sighted I would have more friends, no one would tease me, and my whole life would be better.
Today, Stacy, my feelings about my blindness are completely different from what they once were. They are different because I learned a secret which was unknown to me when I was 15. That secret is this: because kids will tease you about anything if they sense that you are uncomfortable about it (whether it is blindness, skin color, or even the type of shoes you wear); once you can feel good about your blindness, then those remarks won't bother you anymore and the kids will stop making them. Once you can feel good about your blindness, you will find that people will like you even more than they do now. That has been my experience.
Stacy, are you truly comfortable being blind? You say in your letter, "I am still happy the way I am," but I wonder. Answer this question: if I offered you $5 million which you could do with as you pleased, or perfect eyesight guaranteed for the rest of your life, which would you choose? If you chose sight, then you probably don't feel very good about being blind. Personally, I would take the money and run. However, if you asked me this question 5 years ago, I would have chosen vision without any hesitation. When I was first asked this question one year ago, I sold out at $100,000.
Today, there is no way I would give up that much money just to see again. I'm not sure what price I would pay to have my sight returned, but I do know that the price I place on vision gets smaller and smaller all the time. Something extremely important has been happening to me over the past several years. I have reached a point where I can honestly say that I feel good about being blind most of the time. There are still some times when I am uncomfortable being blind, but those times are getting fewer and fewer.
So how can you begin to feel good about being blind? There are many ways. One way is to take risks. By that I don't mean jumping out of an airplane without a parachute. Rather, I believe that if you can push yourself to do things which will challenge you--whether it is rock climbing, water-skiing, or simply walking to the local supermarket by yourself--then you will begin to view your blindness as less of a limitation and more as a characteristic. That is because the more fears you can overcome and the more independent you can be, then the more you will realize that you don't need vision to do the things you want to do in your life.
Another way is to hang out with other blind people who feel good about their blindness. Their positive attitudes will rub off on you in time. You can meet many such people through involvement in the National Federation of the Blind.
Those are two ways to help you feel good about being blind which have worked for me, but there are many ways. The bottom line is, Stacy, you have the power to choose how you feel.
You say in your letter that you sometimes wonder what it would be like to see. If you didn't, I think you would not be normal. But you and I have a choice. We can sit around and feel sorry for ourselves, wishing and wondering how our lives could be different, or we can accept our blindness and choose to feel good about it as I have chosen to do. Thank you again for having the maturity and courage to share your feelings with others.
My name is Cathy Randall and I am very active in the National Federation of the Blind. I was pleased when my good friend Barbara Cheadle called to ask if I would be willing to write to you and to share my experiences as a blind teen-ager with you. I answered yes with real enthusiasm partly because I enjoy making new friends, but also because I really didn't know other blind teens [when I was in school] to share troubles and joys, and with whom I could relate as a blind person.
I was partially blind as a teen-ager due to Retinopathy of Prematurity (ROP). I lost the remainder of my sight gradually due to continued retinal degeneration.
I was an outgoing teen-ager, yet I sometimes felt awkward and shy. There were times when I felt I really didn't fit in somehow. My legal blindness played a part in my feeling that way. I didn't know Braille and I had never held a cane in my hand. I realize now that some of my lack of confidence was due to the fact that I didn't have the skills of blindness to make school work and mobility less difficult. I didn't know anyone who used Braille or a cane. I tripped over curbs now and then and occasionally fell on steps because my depth perception was poor.
My blindness was very apparent to anyone who looked at my eyes or who had classes with me. My reading glasses were very thick and I had to hold my books up to my nose or bend over my desk to read. I had a sore neck and slumped shoulders from bending over desks so much. My posture was saved only because my parents kept telling me to stand straight and keep my shoulders back.
My mother insisted that I dress well, and she and my girl friends helped me choose clothes. Appearance for everyone is important, but a blind person's appearance, I feel, is doubly important. If you dress neatly and are well groomed, you win the respect of others.
I wasn't taunted about my blindness or called "four-eyes" much beyond grade school. I was a real tom-boy, and our resource room was in a grade school with some tough boys who taught me how to fight. Luckily, I didn't have to do so past grade school.
I found my extracurricular nitch in journalism in junior high and served as feature editor for both my junior and senior high newspapers. The days we proofread galley sheets from the printer I looked like a chimney sweep with ink smudges on my nose and cheeks.
In your letter you spoke of having friends you always eat lunch with at school. Do you do things with them on weekends? If not, why not plan weekend get-togethers with them. Ask them to shop with you or invite them for a slumber party.
You also wrote about being teased when you run into people in school. Do you use a cane? Nudging someone with a cane is not at all like literally running into them.
Joining and becoming actively involved in the student division of the National Federation of the Blind is the most important single thing you can do to make more blind friends all over the United States.
Order back issues of the student division's publication, The Student Slate. By reading the The Student Slate, Future Reflections, and the Braille Monitor (the monthly magazine produced by the N.F.B.) you will expand your understanding of blindness and make many new friends in the process. You will learn that it is respectable to be blind.
I am Valerie Negri and have been totally blind since birth. I am now a sophomore at Saint Xavier College In Chicago.
Let me begin by assuring you that you aren't the only one who has had to deal with this situation. Although it is painful and embarrassing, there are ways to minimize jeering and to survive it.
When I was in grade school I too was a target of some students' cruel remarks and nasty pranks on account of my blindness. Fortunately, I had a good relationship with my teachers who explained to me that those who make fun of others do so because they are insecure. Bullying others makes them feel powerful.
So as hard as it was for me, I did my best to not let those who teased me get my goat. When the kids saw that calling me "Blind Bat" and trying to trip me didn't make me outwardly angry, they lost interest in doing things like that to me. I suggest that when you bump into something and it makes everybody around you go into hysterics, try to act as nonchalant about it as you can (as tough as that might be). In a situation like that, I would casually say "Oops, wasn't watching where I was going." By laughing at my own mistakes I showed the kids that it wasn't a big deal. This helped to stop the taunting.
When I entered high school I was relieved that much of this nonsense ended. But I had another problem to deal with. At my private high school there were many cliques, and I was not accepted into any of them. The reason was that the "in" crowd thought that my blindness made me different from them (in spite of my greatest efforts to prove that blindness really isn't such a big deal).
But I also noticed that these popular kids rejected anyone who was in in any way different from themselves. If someone didn't wear the right clothes or hair style, was too caught up with doing well in school or in extracurricular activities, or had some other characteristic that the snobs felt was uncool, she was excluded from the clique.
Now I thought that earning good grades was important, and that being in school musicals, being a National Honor Society member, and participating in the Students Against Substance Abuse group was fun, so I was doubly unpopular. Although I wanted to be hip (just as most kids do), I had to decide who was going to run my life -- me or the opinions of a group of people that I would probably never see again after I finished high school. I told myself that I was going to be the person that I wanted to be and I was going to act as I thought I should act.
Stacy, it was hard not being in the "in group" during high school; but now I'm glad that I stuck to my guns. I had many friends who were also excluded from the clique because they didn't wear enough designer clothes and refused to put others down. You know, Stacy, those so-called "rejects" are some of the best friends I will ever have. I was once asked by a popular kid why I would "lower myself to hang around with such geeks. My answer was quite simple: "Because these people are real friends. They don't like me because of the clothes I wear or the money I have. They like me because of who I am and that is what I think true friends are."
Stacy, the best advice I can give you is to be proud of who you are and to stand up for what you believe in. I'm glad you have so much fun with your friends, so continue to have fun with them and ignore those who try to put you down. Don't ever forget (as we say in the National Federation of the Blind) that it is respectable to be blind; because if you believe that, even though it's hard sometimes, you'll be able to face the challenges that come your way.
I am so happy to have the chance to respond to your letter! We each have different talents and interests and each of us has become blind through differing circumstances; nevertheless, we share numerous experiences encountered as we grow up blind in this sighted world.
Middle school years are awkward years for almost everyone, blind or sighted. The average middle school has an odd assortment of students none quite perfect. There are those who are especially short, and those who are markedly plump, and others whose complexion leaves something to be desired. Students are pegged as "outsiders" when they are too smart, too dumb, too rich, or too poor. I'm sure you can see that the majority of kids in school are tagged with some label underscoring their differences.
Stacy, you and I both bear the label of blind. But we also have the power to define whether or not this needs to be a negative label. Start by taking inventory.
Could the source of the teasing stem from something other than blindness? Evaluate your personal appearance. This may seem superficial, but remember, we live in a sighted world. Blind people who pay special attention to hairstyle, clothing, and physical fitness seem to command more respect. A smart appearance sends a clear message: "Hey, I care about myself; you should care too!"
Still, even the most attractive blind persons can become the center of teasing if they lack the essential skills of blindness. Are your blindness skills all that you wish they were? Have you learned to travel with a white cane? Do you use it at school? Well-trained cane travelers rarely bump into things and people.
If you would like to better prepare yourself for success in your future, I encourage you to learn about the fine orientation centers made possible through the National Federation of the Blind.
These centers not only teach the vital skills of blindness, they build confidence and challenge the blind to set and achieve higher goals. They also prepare students to be their own advocates in daily interactions with the sighted world.
One thing that I have learned is that successful blind persons make friends with the sighted. Work on making more friends. Listen to others, ask them about themselves. It's a fact--all people like to talk about themselves.
Average teenagers are probably a little wary of socializing with a blind person. This is mostly because they are afraid of blindness. You may be the first blind person that your classmates have ever met. You will need to reach out a little more to help them understand that you're just an ordinary teen that enjoys the same activities as they do. It takes a little more effort on our part, but it is well worth it.
Spend more time with others. Invite classmates over to your house to bake cookies, or play games. By spending time with you, they can learn how your alternative techniques work. Invite your classmates to outings such as to the mall, for pizza, or to a movie. They may not know that blind people enjoy movies too.
Go to your school dances and join some after school clubs. This way you can meet others who share your interests. Run for club office. You could serve as club secretary using Braille to take meeting minutes. You could even run for club president, if you like.
Each of us develops an assortment of techniques to deal with ignorant comments. One is to simply ignore them. This is okay if the comment comes from someone you will never need to interact with again. When a comment comes from a classmate or teacher it's more important to take action and educate the offender.
A smart response might surprise them and make them think. Humor is good, but never at the expense of degrading yourself. Blind people aren't the only ones who bump into things when they aren't paying attention!
Consider making a class presentation about blindness. Keep handy copies of the NFB brochure: "Do you know a blind person." It gives lots of handy hints on interacting with the blind. Impress your classmates; arrange for a blind professional to speak to your class.
It's hard to cover all the pointers in a single letter. Fellowship with successful blind persons is the best way I know to keep learning new ways of dealing with the awkward situations we encounter as blind persons. I have found such mentors through the National Federation of the Blind. Good mentors advise and challenge us. They don't let us hide behind our blindness. They want us to be all that we can be!
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