Below, slightly edited, is a response to a post on a listserv for Seeing Eye graduates. The discussion started in relation to an article, written by the sighted wife of a blind university professor. Some said the article was an accurate representation of what blindness is really like. Others said the article was more a reflection of the sighted person’s view of blindness and didn’t accurately reflect blindness at all, but rather was more a statement on common misconceptions, issues taken to their extremes, and so forth. Some felt the author had some resentment, while others said she was fair and accurately portrayed the issues that our sighted friends and family face surrounding our blindness. Eventually, someone asked what her life would look like, and what sort of person would she be, what would she do, were she sighted and not blind. Again, some people had some opinion on that; here’s mine.
First, in regard to the previous discussion on how, or even if, blindness has an impact on those around us, whether we spill things more often, generally require extra care and handling, and so on, I only have this to say.
Perception is reality.
Here’s a case in point.
A couple years ago, a bunch of us were out and having lunch. Three of us were blind, two had guide dogs, and we had a sighted guy along. Token sighted guy? I dunno, doesn’t matter. Anyway, this one guy, the other guide dog user as it happens, spilled his glass of water. He said something to the effect that this was to be expected, that being blind, he spilled things regularly, and it wasn’t a big deal, just part of his life.
From his point of view, this was part and parcel of being blind. From my perspective as someone who rarely spills things, and even more rarely does so in public, it was not, and I really felt that he was really selling himself, and the rest of us, short by attributing his clumsiness merely to his blindness.
I observe that many of the problems I face, and many of the challenges I need to overcome, have far less to do with my actual blindness than they have to do with what I, and those around me, think and believe about that blindness. What I think about blindness and feel about it in my innermost being is certainly not immune from the perceptions of others, and it would be a lie to say that such views held by society at large don’t shape my own views, even in some small measure. It is, therefore, an active and conscious effort that I need to sometimes make to remind myself that my blindness isn’t the problem, and that my limitations are not solely determined by it. Many of those limitations are down to a lack of creativity in finding better solutions to problems that I encounter, or to doubts others have about my capabilities, my own doubts about my capabilities, all manner of things, but rarely are these problems caused by the actual blindness.
Moreover, I’d say that all of us, whether sighted or blind, have to accommodate other people in some way or another, and I see blindness, and my guide dog, as no different. Someone who drives a Suburban will necessarily have a harder time finding a parking spot than someone driving a Corvette. Likewise, someone driving a Corvette will have a harder time moving a sofa. So, sometimes other people have to take into account that I have a guide dog. I have to take into account that my dear friend Melanie, who is different from my wife Melanie, doesn’t like seafood if we decide to have dinner somewhere. We always, and all of us, make accommodations for other people’s needs, none of us being an island. How others perceive such a need when it comes to my blindness, I think, says much more about them than it does about me or my blindness.
Now as to the question in the subject. Who would i be if i weren’t blind? This is a null question, IMO. For one thing, I am blind. I’m not sighted, and in my case, “what if”s are a fairly useless exercise. FOr one thing, the “what if” is not. For another, how do I know? Blindness has been a part of my life for my whole life. Not having another experience, I don’t have any valid data to make such a determination with any degree of accuracy.
Besides, the bigger question is, “Why is blindness stopping you?”
OK, you can’t be a race car driver or a commercial airline pilot. Not yet, anyway. But in most cases, I maintain that our only limitation is ourselves and the attitudes of others who won’t let us give it a go. Also our own attitudes. An, in most cases, it isn’t the blindness so much as our lack of techniques or creativity or what have you.
I already know some will say I’m delusional, and that’s OK. My delusional world is full of possibilities. And please don’t misunderstand. I have days where I’m as pissed off as anyone. I have times when I have my doubts and think it would be better not to be blind. Undoubtedly, there are advantages to having sight. There are also advantages to being tall, but I am neither sighted nor tall. I am who I am, and I’m not only content, I am fulfilled.