Examining ‘Blindness’ Prejudice
“How do you handle going blind and deaf at the same time? Amy Bovaird shares her fears, her prejudices, and her denials — all negatives in this surprisingly positive book…” -Mike T, an Amazon reader
Huh? Did he get that right? Surely I didn’t hold any prejudices!
Preconceived ideas, perhaps.
Tons of fears.
Even denials. I could accept that.
I filed that piece of information away, in the way we do when we feel uncomfortable and uneasy and we don’t want to examine it too closely.
Several months later, I read another review of my book.
“As a mobility specialist myself, I found this book of great interest to me for its subject matter… I was encouraged by the confidence and the change in attitude that overcame Amy as she completed her mobility training. She no longer looked at the word “blind” as having a negative meaning, but just accepted it as part of who she was.” — Kathryn Svendsen, Orientation & Mobility Specialist
There it was again. Blind and negative in the same sentence.
I gulped. Only one way to find out. I fished for my manuscript to re-read the passage where I first met my blind mobility instructor.
He took a sip of water. “So Amy, can you tell me a little about yourself?”
We talked about my job and prior travels. He was so attentive that when he eased into the topic of vision, I explained what I knew about Retinitis Pigmentosa. I almost forgot it wasn’t a social visit until he said, “Perhaps the best solution is to simply tell people that you are blind.”
“I’m not blind. I have a vision problem.” I glared at him—not that he would notice.
This was denial, not prejudice.
I read on a bit further.
“Bob, I run into tables and open cupboard doors and miss steps. I walk into walls and bump my head on my breakfast bar.”
“Are you legally blind?”
“I’m not sure.” Twenty years earlier, when I was diagnosed, the doctor said I was. But people who lose their vision gradually can get by for a long time. We keep adapting. Suddenly a big chunk of vision disappears. After everything I’d said to Bob, I still couldn’t admit it.
“From what you tell me, I’d say you could benefit from using a cane. Have you ever thought of that?”
“You mean a blind man’s cane?”
Did I just say that out loud? I can’t believe I blurted that out! “Bob, I didn’t mean … um, I meant like blind in a good way, well, it probably didn’t come out that way…” I was just making it worse. “Sorry, I don’t need a cane. I’m just clumsy. I never look where I’m going.”
If only we could start this conversation over again. Better yet, maybe he’d drop this terrible subject all together.
Well, yes, I did have a negative association with the word, ‘blind.’ Any sighted person losing their vision would. But that’s not prejudice, that’s fear.
But isn’t that what prejudice is based on? Fear. Not understanding? Seeing only what I want to see?
Fear of change.
Fear that I once I picked up my cane, others would see me differently. See me as less capable.
They wouldn’t see the me who had traveled the world independently. They would see the me who fumbled and depended on a long stick. It terrified me. The unknown gave me chills.
I had to change my mindset about what I thought it meant to use a cane–and what message I believed that using one sent out to others.
I recalled what I said at a recent speaking engagement about how I kept stumbling over the word ‘blind.’ Every time I came up psychologically bruised. Losing my vision meant I had to use a cane. If I didn’t adapt, I imagined my worst case scenario…
Blind was … sitting at home, afraid to go out in the dark.
My unseen prejudice hit me right on the noggin, just as if I had literally bumped into one of my many unseen obstacles.
That was both prejudice and ignorance.
I needed educated. I needed to learn that blindness wasn’t the opposite of independence.
Some people viewed me differently.
Some were solicitous. Some ignored me. One man even waved his hands in front of my face to see if I was really blind.
It took me awhile to learn that coping with blindness wasn’t like waiting with my head under the pillow for the bells to toll for my death.
Blindness wasn’t life-threatening.
But I didn’t understand how to make it just another characteristic of myself–no more and no less important than any other one.
Gradually, I gained more insight. It all started with me. How I viewed myself. How I viewed blindness. The more blind people I knew, the more I understood it, and the more empowered I felt.
My Friday Friends column started out as something I used to change how I viewed blindness. I wanted positive examples of individuals whose life clearly said, “Blindness doesn’t own me. I own my life.”
This column is one of my most popular blog features. I use it to encourage myself and others, to educate and to change negative perceptions of blindness. I want others to see people who are blind as individuals with challenges but having as much or more potential as anybody else.
It was difficult for me to admit even to myself–let alone to my readers–that I had held certain unspoken prejudices in my mind about blindness. Reading how others viewed my journey showed me how far I’d come in my thinking.
Could I have avoided this painful crossroads in my life if I had looked blindness in the eye from the start?
We all change opinions and grow as we journey through life. We step past our indifference and fears, along with the lack of understanding, unease and discomfort to embrace that which we fear.
Have you ever read my Friday Friends column? If so, what stories could you relate to best or which ones taught you something new?
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