Helping Those I Meet Look Beyond My Differences or Conditions
by Jeanette McAllister
From the Editor: How many of us can relate to the frustration generated when people talk with us about our blindness and yet will not name it, calling it our condition or situation or our challenge. It can be difficult when they imply that it is a shame that we can’t visually observe something beautiful or that we are blessed because we do not have to look at something terrible. It is difficult to explain that we too have things to appreciate in a sunrise or sunset, the beauty of a stream, the flapping of a flag, and the wonderful feeling that comes after a rain, whether or not we see the rainbow. Whether we see the horror of the war on our television screen or witness the picture of the starving child halfway across the world, we know these things exist, grieve about them, and search in our souls for a way to change them. How do we get people to understand in their hearts and in their minds that blindness means the loss of physical sight but need not make radical changes to who we are and does not alter our innate humanity? It is one of our characteristics but by no means the most important.
Jeanette lost her vision suddenly in December of 2010 after a head injury exacerbated a dormant eye disease. Since then she has worked hard to learn Braille and about various adaptive technologies. She owns a staffing company where she not only assists both blind and sighted people in finding employment, but also spends time educating employers about the capabilities of the blind. She was recently appointed to the Employment Committee of the National Federation of the Blind and has also been asked to serve on the State Rehabilitation Council for the Virginia Department for the Blind. Here is what Jeanette thought it better to write than to emotionally say to her family and friends:
After several conversations with family members and acquaintances about what they so lovingly refer to as "your condition," I have to clarify some things. Let me start with a few questions:
- Do you not get up every morning anticipating and wondering what the day will bring?
- Do you not have your own style of dress?
- Do you not require food and drink when you are hungry or thirsty?
- Do you not need to get from point A to point B?
- Do you not cry when you are hurting?
- Do you not feel fear, anxiety, worry, or anticipation?
- Do you not interact with others, whether it be family, friends, or acquaintances?
- Do you not yearn to feel loved and needed?
- Do you not feel frustrated or angry at times?
- Do you not feel the need to be a contributing member of society, whether it be through work, volunteering, or play?
I have the same needs, wants, and desires as you. The only thing that keeps you from clearly seeing this is that I often do things differently and may appreciate things differently from the way you do. Please allow me to elaborate:
- I cannot see the sunshine in the mornings when I wake, but I can feel it on my skin and anticipate what it offers: the promise of a beautiful day.
- Just as you, I decide for myself what I am wearing for the day. I know what my favorite colors are and if I like jeans or slacks. I may not see the colors as you do, but I use a labeling technique or technology to tell me what color I have chosen. I may not see the style I have chosen, but I can tell from the feel of the fabric if it is what I prefer.
- When I am hungry, just as you, I can prepare a meal. Instead of using visual cues I use timers and my other senses: hearing, touch, and smell.
- I cry tears and respond to them just like you do. I can't see the tears on your face; but more often than not I can hear them in your voice before your first tear falls.
- I feel fear, anxiety, worry, and anticipation just as you do. Whether sighted or blind, we all cope with these feelings in our own way. Where's the difference?
- I enjoy interacting with others just as you do. True, I cannot see their faces, what they are wearing, or who they are with—so I do not make judgments based on their appearance but rely on how they speak, who they associate with, and what they have to say in drawing conclusions about them.
- Love and the desire to feel needed are human nature. I want and need this just as badly as you! I work just as hard at giving and receiving these, if not more so. I want to be accepted on my merits, not made to feel inferior because of my blindness.
- Just like you, I feel frustrated and angry at times. Unlike you, I can't see the clenched fist at your side, but I can hear you speak through clenched teeth. I may not see your brow furrowed, but I can hear the change in your breathing and the inflection in your voice.
- Like you I yearn to be a contributing member of society. Where you may drive a vehicle to work, your volunteer activities, or to play, I walk with a white cane or a guide dog, and I use public or private transportation when needed.
- When it comes to doing my job, where you can see the computer screen, I use adaptive technology such as a Braille display and screen reading software to get that same information from the screen and into my brain. Where you may read with your eyes, I read with my fingers and my ears—the methods are different, but the outcome is the same.
- I no longer judge by appearance or by a person’s current status; I don't assume someone can't accomplish something. I have had to learn techniques to overcome things I once did with sight, and my daily life requires that I seek out alternatives to meet the challenges each day poses. If I can do it, so can others, and this is what I’m about—encouraging, challenging, and rejoicing with those I help.
Before you conclude that I can't accomplish something because of my "condition"—what exactly do you think my condition is? Obviously it is much more than the fact that I do not see. You assume a great many things based on my lack of vision—bless your heart. So let’s channel your concern, your goodwill, and your desire to help into areas that will really make a difference. Watch me and learn what it really means to be blind; then take up my cause, join me in the good fight, and together let’s change the attitudes that are the single-largest problem I face. Together let’s change the world, not only for me but for others who are blind.