I recently had the opportunity to visit an education class focusing on teaching students with disabilities and special needs; the professor, who teaches class around the same time that I do and has noticed me on campus, asked if I’d mind speaking to the class about my experiences. Sure, why not? They’re covering the chapter on blindness, and it would help them to contextualize the content if they have a real live blind person in the class, in the same way that it probably helps students to contextualize learning the anatomy of a frog in Biology class if they have one to dissect.
I say this with tongue firmly in cheek, of course, because taking advantage of such opportunities raises awareness about the ways that people with disabilities function and the challenges we face on a daily basis. The latter, I think, tends to generate more questions; for the non-disabled, living with a disability can seem like an endless, exhausting trek up a hill that you’ll never reach the crest of.
To that end, one student asked, “What’s the hardest thing, do you think, about being blind?”
“Everything,” I quipped, only half-joking. Rehabilitation and technology have helped many of us to develop sufficient coping mechanisms, and over time, certain tasks become easier than others, but on some days, we have to measure out our energy in exact quantities. Learning to accept the good days with the bad has taught me how to survive. Whether you’ve lived with blindness or visual impairment for your entire life, have recently lost your sight, or know someone who has, here are 10 things only people who are visually impaired or blind can fully appreciate.
1. You occasionally have days when you wear a black bra with a white blouse
And people will probably give you strange looks. Fortunately, you probably won’t be able to see them, and if you can, I promise, the sun will rise tomorrow.
2. Eyeliner is not your friend
Yes, plenty of women have offered excellent tutorials on applying make-up without sight. Most of them work. I’ve found this one the most useful. But applying eye make-up without reasonably good vision almost requires a degree in art and design, not to mention, if your eyes water as much as mine do, the result looks less like glam and more like…glob. Mascara I can handle as long as I’m not dancing in front of the mirror to the soundtrack from “Mama Mia!” with the wand in my hand, but I’ve given up on eyeliner unless I apply make-up with the express intent to traumatize small children.
3. People think everything you do is amazing
From cutting your meat to cooking dinner for a group of friends, the scope of your survival skills will never cease to amaze the world. No amount of eye-rolling on your part is going to change this.
4. You learn to find stress-relief in staircase wit
Because I haven’t yet figured out how to channel Oscar Wilde, my arsenal of witty replies to “You’re so amazing” never seems to be at the ready until five minutes after the moment has passed. Several weeks ago, a woman on the bus observed, “Wow, you can dress yourself.” “Yes,” I wanted to reply. “But most blind people live in nudist colonies, for their own convenience.” If these verbal zingers never find their mark, they at least challenge me to find humor in the situation after the fact.
5. People will occasionally accuse you of “faking it”
AS ludicrous as this sounds, sometimes, the public have a hard time spotting blindness, which makes me wonder how many people in the world need to have their eyes examined. That said, while most of us don’t consider blindness an “invisible” disability, if we’re not wearing dark glasses or tripping over cracks in the sidewalk, we “don’t look blind.” Here’s the thing; blindness is a bit like a box of truffles. We come in all varieties. Some of us wear dark glasses; some don’t. Some of us use a white cane; some prefer guide dogs. Some need neither. Some of us can read large print or identify people’s faces; some of us read Braille or use text-to-speech programs on our computers to read. In short, even if someone is making eye contact with you, this doesn’t mean that they can see you clearly, or at all.
6. You will inevitably misplace something at least once a week
Most people regularly misplace everyday objects: keys, wallets, iPhones, or purses. But when was the last time you lost your vacuum cleaner…while cleaning? I once had to abandon vacuuming to take a phone call, and when I finished, I couldn’t remember where I’d left the vacuum. Eventually, I found it…or rather, my shin did. This wasn’t as funny as I’m making it sound now. When you don’t have the ability to scan your environment with a pair of working eyes, such domestic debacles are par for the course.
7. Sometimes you can “just tell” where you are
While many of us who are blind or visually impaired dismiss the myth that our other senses are stronger, in truth, they probably are, not innately, but because we’ve had to learn to develop them. Orientation to one’s environment involves much more than being able to “see” where you are; sounds, smells, tastes, and textures also offer valuable clues. You don’t have to have your eyes opened to know when you’ve walked passed the Auntie Anne’s pretzel stand at the shopping mall, for example.
8. People will occasionally forget that you can’t see
As flattering as this might seem, it’s also irritating to find yourself repeatedly reminding someone that you can’t read that street-sign or see the direction in which they’re pointing. Case-in-point: several years ago, a student emailed me in advance of class to let me know that she would be absent. To verify that she did, in fact, have a fever of 102, she attached a picture of her thermometer. If this were an isolated incident, I might have thanked her for the daily dose of ridiculous and moved on, but it happens so frequently with the same students that I want to tear my hair out and bang my head repeatedly against a brick wall to end the pain.
9. You will learn not to order messy food on a first date
Pro tip: this applies to anyone, even those with 20/20 vision. Please, learn from my mistake. Once, at Moe’s Southwest Grill, the contents of a burrito exploded all over my blue jeans as I sat across from the man whom I was convinced was destined to be the father of my babies. I’m still not sure how it happened. “Welcome to Moe’s. You’re never going to go on a date again. Ever.”
10. You can’t do anything in a rush
Running in heels? Don’t try it. Speedily applying mascara? Really, really bad idea. Chopping vegetables? Even worse idea. We all know that sometimes life doesn’t allow us enough time to accomplish the tasks we need or want to accomplish, but when you can’t see what you’re doing, fast and easy is a luxury you can’t really afford. (Of course, I don’t recommend running in heels to anyone. Fashion logic 101).
What lessons have you learned about living with blindness? share your thoughts!