Strangers have always wanted to know weird things about me, initially these questions were directed at my parents, but as I grew older people started to ask me them. Most teenagers want to fit in, there is usually something they don’t like about themselves, are they too short, tall, skinny, fat. Does their hair make them stand out, are they good enough? For me, I always felt kind of awkward about being blind. I didn’t see it as a problem myself, but it was the way everyone else reacted that made me uncomfortable.
So when I got asked questions I used to feel angry, how could people be so stupid, why didn’t they understand. Isn’t it obvious that blind people are equally as capable as everyone else? Well, to the general population, no, it isn’t. I’ve thought about this a lot and come up with a few explanations. First, everyone is scared of not being able to do things. Honestly, if I went deaf tomorrow I’m not sure exactly what I’d do, I know a lot of incredibly awesome deafblind people, but I’ve never had to deal with that. I have no idea what technology is available, so for example how would I cross a road if I couldn’t see or hear the traffic? I am exactly the same as the sighted population who wonder how blind people can cope, quite simply, I’m uneducated in this area. However, I suppose the difference with me is that although I’m not quite sure how deafblind people do all that they do, I know that it’s possible, I live with a disability every day so I know how all of us learn to adapt.
Most people are terrified of waking up blind. And one of my biggest theories why is they can’t see a quick fix. For deaf people there are hearing aids and sign language. For people who are unable to walk there are wheelchairs. Of course, if you spend any time in the complex world of disability you’ll know that it isn’t black and white like this, but a lot of people don’t know that. Blindness though…what is there? Yeah, we have braille, but that doesn’t help you cook your dinner or cross a road. I think that because the general population can’t come up with a solution to being blind it scares them, a lot. I’ve asked a few sighted people about this, and they seem to agree, though I don’t know if it stands for everyone.
But at 13, 14, 15 did I think like this? No, of course I didn’t. I was frustrated that it was so obvious that I wasn’t “normal”. To be honest, I just wanted people to leave me alone and let me live my life. I’m not going to lie and say that I don’t feel like that now, of course I’d like people to accept that blind people are just as able and let me go on my way. But I also accept that a lot of people have never had the chance to be educated, so really, it isn’t their fault.
I see this as a major turning point in my life. Recognising that the things people ask me may seem stupid to me but to them it is perfectly logical, because really, how can a blind person live normally?
I’m going abroad in January, to Spain. I received an email from the language school today asking if my dad would be coming with me for the first 2 months. This school have been really cool, helping me sort out o&m, though that’s now up to the organisation for the blind in Spain, getting me electronic textbooks, sorting stuff out early. So I sat and thought about this question for a second. 2 months? Why would I want a parent with me for 2 months. It’s my gap year, not the Scott-Gardner family tour of Europe. But I suppose to them, it seems reasonable. How does a blind person go to another country and survive. Honestly, I’m not quite sure of the answer to that one, I’ll let you all know in January! But other people do it, and with the right planning I’m not sure why I can’t do also.
I wrote back and said that no, my parents have to work, so this won’t be happening. I didn’t say that it was an annoying question, or write that I’m blind, not stupid. Although these might be the things I think, it’s not fair to say them to people who firstly have helped me a lot, and secondly, probably have no idea that the question is mildly insulting.
So to everyone who wants to ask things like this here is my advice. Think about the person you’re talking to, how old are they. Would you ask this question to a person without a disability of the same age? If the answer is no, just think about whether you really need to ask. Of course there are practical exceptions, like, would you like a copy in an electronic format? Those kinds of questions are fine. But if you’re going to ask if they need looking after, can they do that, would you think a person of a similar age without a disability couldn’t do it on their own? Try to challenge your perceptions.
So, to round this off I thought I’d write a list of some of the things I get asked and the answers in case you don’t know. I hope you enjoy it.
Q: How do you know what you’re eating.
A: When preparing food, if things are labelled there are many ways to identify it. Some things, like bread, fruit, vegetables etc are incredibly obvious. Canned food tends to look the same, so blind people often either label it in advance, or use apps on their phones. We can take a picture of the item and have it identified. When I’m eating…well, it’s in my mouth, it’s kind of obvious by that point.
Q: How do you walk up the stairs. Variations include: do you need to use the lift? Oh, are you sure you can walk there.
A: Unless the blind person in question has another disability there is no reason why they shouldn’t be able to walk places. Seriously, don’t let them get lazy!
Q: In the airport, do you need to use a wheelchair.
A: Same answer as above. There is literally no reason why I would want to, or should use one. They should be saved for people with actual physical disabilities. And honestly, walking to the plane is much, much quicker.
Q: Can your carer fill this form out for you?
A: Most blind people don’t have carers, unless they have some other disability. Assuming that everyone with a disability has carers makes things more complex for everyone. If you’d take my answers and fill the form in for me, it really would be quicker, email is also good.
Q: You can’t come here without someone to look after you.
A: Yes, I did get told this. I wanted to use the local pool and gym and that was their response. Well…who exactly? Who can do this? My family have lives, and I can swim…honestly, I’m probably more sensible than half the people that go…but ok then.
Q: It must be so difficult for you, isn’t it?
A: Not really. Not everything is easy, but isn’t that life? But suggesting my life must be hard, or even terrible, yes I’ve had people tell me I must be sad that I’m blind, that’s just getting rude there. My life has value, I travel, study, enjoy the things that most other people do. Being blind really doesn’t have any affect on my quality of life. I’m not saying I wouldn’t like to be able to read road signs, and things like that, but not being able to do so doesn’t make my life worthless.
Q: Can you have sex? Do blind people get married? Isn’t it awful that they have children?
A: Yeah, these questions are moving into really rude territory. If you have to look at where you’re putting it in then you really have a problem, being blind has no affect on our ability to have sex. Also, why shouldn’t a blind person get married? Are we some huge burden? Of course not, there are many families where the blind person is working, or taking care of children, or both. And the idea that we shouldn’t have children? Why, because of the potential to create more blind people, or because surely we can’t care for another human being. I know so many amazing parents who are blind, and their children are very lucky. They live in families where they are loved and taken care of, where they are provided for? How is that a bad thing?
Q: loudly and slowly: Hello, are, you, ok.
A: Uh…yeah…there really isn’t another response to that one! I can hear everyone!