For such a pivotal milestone,I thought I’d re-post something I wrote a few years ago because it contains such a great message:
Words Define and Guide Us
“I, personally, prefer to use the word “sight” rather than “vision” because one can possess much vision with no sight; while the converse results in sighted people who are by no stretch of the imagination, visionaries. Blindness, to whatever degree, is simply the absence of sight; vision is quite another matter.” –Blindness and mobility specialist, Erie, PA.
A few days ago, I was asked to participate in a survey by a doctoral student at Louisiana Tech University because my mobility specialist thought that I could contribute positively to this research. I was reminded of how far I had come from that covert, secretly-out- of-my-element, ha-ha, sorry-so-clumsy- today young woman. Few knew then that I had struggled for many years with Retitinitis Pigmentosa, a hidden yet progressive eye disease robbing me of my sight. Today – one year later to the day from my first training experience – I use a cane, smile a lot and can talk more openly about my RP.
As a high school teacher, I set out to teach English. Nowadays, I think how important it is to model self-confidence and my new-found independence as well.
“Bob” (not his real name), the mobility specialist assigned to teach me the basics of cane use, alerts me to language in my speech that he believes holds me back.
I had told Bob recently about my desire to befriend a young woman who had RP. I felt she was avoiding meeting me, and concluded that it was probably a little frightening for her to think of meeting another person with vision problems.
“Amy, you still think of your blindness as a condition rather than one of your many characteristics.”
I was silent, not sure what to say. Finally, I ventured, “What do you mean?”
Bob’s quickly explained. “Listen to your language. You are using the words “vision” and “problems” in the same breath. That’s deficit language. Blind can also be construed as a deficit word until one becomes acquainted with blind people who are productive, happy and well-adjusted to their blindness. Blind people by the thousands are demonstrating that the world need not be interacted with just by way of sight.”
True. I’m discovering that I can get around better when I apply my non-visual techniques to walking. I bump into fewer objects, trip over stairs less and what’s even better, people don’t get angry when I do make mistakes because they see my cane. But I tend to use my cane at work, at night and in supermarkets and theaters when I have more difficulty. Does that then make it a condition in my viewpoint?
My instructor went on to say that when we look at blindness as a characteristic instead of a disability, blindness can become just one component of an otherwise fulfilled person. I realized that although I had made progress on this continuum of accepting myself as blind, I still had a journey before I would be comfortable thinking of blindness as simply another characteristic of myself. I thought I had made enormous progress by simply associating that word with me. I had been in denial for so long.
“Bob, how do you reach that point?”
“I believe it starts with immersion cane training and exposure to positive role models that enables one to truly adjust. There are a number of places across the US where one can live and learn the skills necessary for coping with blindness. They are “immersed” in cane training, which means candidates receive in-depth ongoing and regular daily training with their cane that makes using a cane second nature. In a day that consists of learning meal preparation, alternative means of accomplishing tasks and computer instruction, cane training is a priority.”
Bob let his words sink in for a few minutes, then continued.
“Adjusting to blindness means ‘living the life to which one is hoping to adjust, and living should not be accepting less of what one desires.'”
Warning bells clamored in my head. Hard! Hard! Hard! His words reminded me of the lofty and very general curriculum goals I had to achieve with my students. I had always struggled to bring such abstract ideas to a practical level where I could break them down into concrete teachable chunks.
And yet, how could I deny his wisdom? Bob did what he wanted. He was independent, friendly, self-assured and likable.
Maybe other really outgoing people could achieve that but could I? The gap between then and that day seemed awfully big.
It is this question I grapple with now. If I intend to positively impact the lives of a different set of students, for example, ones who are also blind, then I must be certain that I have the best understanding of who I am with my unique capabilities and characteristics. This identity Bob describes has to come from within myself. It’s not something I can put on or take off at random.
Since I don’t have that kind of immersion cane training scheduled, I wonder how I can achieve this goal?
Bob’s words stay with me and I continue to try to figure them out. Everything is so fresh and new when it comes to coping.
In the book of Colossians, Paul exhorts his Christian brethren.
“We have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of His will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding.” (Col 1:9)
We have brothers and sisters who pray for us. God tells us to ask for wisdom, and assures that He will provide. Whether God provides wisdom through training or through our identity in Christ, as followers of Christ we can trust and move forward in that understanding. If I choose to walk by my defining characteristic, my love for Him, then He will make everything clear in His perfect timing.
As I grow and adjust to this continuum of blindness God has allowed me to go through, He will place markers along the way to guide me. I believe Bob’s attention to my deficit language is such a marker.
Paul goes on to say, “And we pray this [wisdom and understanding] in order that you might live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way, bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God…”(Col 1:10).
When I first became a teacher, I doubted my skills and abilities yet God put me in situations where my talents flourished. In fact, He not only shouldered my fears and developed my talents, He brought me to many peaks in my professional career. As a result, I have become an even better teacher than I dreamed I could be. I have positively influenced many students both here and abroad. This has placed me in a beautiful position to share God’s love in more than thirty-three countries!
I believe the fruits of my labor will extend to blind students as well.
I know that every experience we go through prepares us to serve in bigger capacities and it is with that knowledge that I set myself to have my blindness become only a characteristic and not a condition.
I wrote my goal down, just as I would in my lesson plans:
To adjust to blindness, I must:
1) live the life to which I am hoping to adjust to
2) I shouldn’t accept less that what I desire.
I asked God to give me some concrete action steps and wrote these steps down.
1) Continue to teach – however You choose for me to do it.
2) Encourage others by being happy, having a sense of humor, and caring.
3) Speak in positive words. Let that guide me. Avoid “deficit language.”
4) Get out and interact with others. Share lessons learned.
5) Be confident! Even when I’m not, let confidence take me past my fears.
Lord, let me be a visionary. Don’t let the absence of my sight define me. Also, God, let me energize those individuals who haven’t yet stretched their imaginations to visualize what they, too, can achieve .
Define me with the words You want engraved on my heart. Guide me with Your perfect vision so that inboth my human and physical blindness, I can fulfill Your plan for me.
When I re-read this entry, I feel it’s as true today as it was four years ago when I wrote it. I keep the words to the bigger picture Bob shared with me: to live the life I expect to live and to not accept less than what I desire–or what God desires for me. I hope that I have the vision to see His fluctuating will for me each day of my life. And it’s my prayer for you as well – that you and I can be visionaries.
You have just read, “Words Define and Guide Us” Copyright by Amy L. Bovaird, November 2014. If you would like to read more writing by Amy, check out her memoir,Mobility Matters: Stepping Out in Faith
Amy Bovaird is the author of two best-selling books Mobility Matters and Cane Confessions. As a speaker, she talks various topics based on life experiences to educate and inspire others. Living with progressive vision and hearing loss due to Usher Syndrome, Amy blogs about the challenges she faces yet still finds humor around almost every corner. Sign up for her newsletter below!
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