The next time you are in a new social situation, a conference or other new environment, stop what you’re doing. Take a minute, close your eyes, and do not open them for a while. Pay attention to the new challenges that just became a real part of your experience in the world around you. Can you get up and move around easily? Are people socializing around you? Can you get up on your own and reach for food or drink? Could you get to the bathroom on your own if you had to without disturbing anyone else? If you were sitting in a crowded room, could you easily walk over to introduce yourself to a new person? How would you figure out where they are in proximity to you?
It is not the most perfect exercise.
You may already be familiar with your surroundings and you certainly know that, if necessary, you can open your eyes at any time. But it’s the best way I have to simulate (for a moment in time) what it is like for me as a blind woman.
Take that experience and any feelings that may have had in the process. Do you have a better context regarding the experience of a person without vision?
I recently traveled to Israel with my beautiful children and their families; the phrase “a delicate balance” kept coming up for me.
I feel that in many ways my life has always been a delicate balance: a balance between being independent in real-life situations and the reality of needing help sometimes. A delicate balance etween accepting the realities of my disability, such as struggling to navigate new and foreign spaces, and rejecting the idea that people may view me as incapable (They’re mistaken by the way!).
I was 35-years-old when I became totally blind. It is very different to lose one’s sight at 35 rather than at 5. It is a little bit harder to learn new skills – although I have certainly learned many. At 35, I was a great deal wiser than I was at 5 years old, and I knew the dangers of crossing a street and the hazards of independent travel, so I don’t travel independently. I’ve been criticized for this by some in the blind community who have said I’m not a good role model for others or a good representative of the blind community (Oh yes, that has really happened.), but here’s the delicate balance. I am independent because I decide for myself where I go and how I’m going to get there. I decide if I’m going to go with my driver, ask my husband for a ride or get a ride with someone who is going to the same place as me, but yes, I can’t drive myself and choose not to take public transportation, and so my delicate balance is I’m occasionally called out for not being independent enough.
Just like you, when I find myself in a situation where I bump into a wall or get lost in the space around me, it can be embarrassing at times and makes me uncomfortable. I feel that people make different assumptions when I walk into something than when a sighted person does, so sometimes it is just easier to ask someone else to help me. That delicate balance again. I don’t want people to think I can’t do something but the reality is that there are in fact things and situations that are challenging for me, and that’s okay. It is not because I’m not a capable person or not a “good blind person” that I occasionally bump into walls. It’s just one of the challenges of not having vision.
As I write this, I realize how wrought with conflict this whole subject is for me. I’m realizing that while I have totally accepted my disability and I have a happy and fulfilling life, there are still conflicts and challenges with which I struggle. There are still feelings not about being blind but rather feelings associated with my blindness, which is a subtle distinction.
It’s a delicate balance between wanting to educate people because I recognize there is no reason anyone should just naturally understand my situation or anyone else’s with a disability and exhaustion at always having to educate people.
Like I said in my very first blog post: blind people don’t mingle. I’m always grateful when someone notices I’m sitting alone in a crowded room and either comes over to sit and talk with me or offers to have me join them. This is not always intuitive to sighted people and when it happens it makes me feel seen (pardon the pun!).
As the board chair of a not for profit that I love https://keshet.org/, there are events and programs that I need and want to attend. This too is a very delicate balance for me because often I don’t know the donors or people in the room. And yet my role is to be an ambassador, work the room, meet people, talk to them. And I can’t always do that easily. I don’t want to feel like or be a burden to other people because for me it feels like a burden on others to always have to “shlep” me around.
I don’t ever want anyone to feel sorry for me – there is nothing to feel sorry about. I don’t want anyone to ever feel that I am not capable. I want to be a representative of the abilities and capabilities that other disabled people do have, and an ambassador for people with disabilities. I want to be a partner in changing thoughts and ideas about people with disabilities, but it is without a doubt a delicate balance when I know I’m scrutinized sometimes more than others, sometimes judged incorrectly for things that happen or I do which are just realities of living without vision and not a function of my not being capable or not being independent. It’s a delicate balance when you want to be viewed as capable and independent, despite your need to depend on others.
Hopefully, if you were attempting this exercise, you have opened your eyes. And hopefully I’ve opened your eyes as well.
- Michelle Friedman