Inspired by this post, I decided to take her challenge, even though she’s said it about as well as anyone I’ve seen.
Sure, we’ve all heard it, or anyway, all of us who are blind have heard it. We know its intent, too. Of course it’s intended as a compliment. Is it a compliment?
As I’m so fond of saying, words mean things. Be careful which ones you use. “But…you don’t look blind”, “You don’t act blind”, “Wow, I forget you’re blind” have subtexts that you may not have considered, or even thought of, and probably didn’t intend, although if you think about them for a second, you might see them next time.
My first reaction when someone says that I don’t “look/act blind” is, naturally, “Really? What’s blind supposed to look/act like?” Usually, if I ask, it comes down to a lack of sureness or confidence, a slow and halting step, a bumbling and stumbling one’s way through life, things I don’t generally do (though, admittedly, sometimes doesn’t everybody?) So, the statement really points up a preconception that I, somehow, don’t fit into. I must, therefore, be special or better, or something. I assure you, I’m neither special nor better.
Some people may get this comment because their eyes look “normal”. I’m pretty sure mine don’t, if only because I don’t open them very wide, so that really can’t be why I get it sometimes. Most of the time, it’s pretty obvious I’m blind, and I’m OK with that. Sure makes some people edgy though!
Oh, but I didn’t mean it that way, I meant that, you know, you just function so normally. I mean, you do everything. You shop and travel and play games and use the computer and have a daughter and animals. That’s kind of amazing.
Or put another way, when you’ve found yourself in a hole, stop digging.
I get it. I know you meant to say something nice, express admiration, even express that, “were our roles reversed, I’d curl up and die”, or something. Your intentions were good and kind, and I appreciate your intentions. But this is what I hear:
“Blind people don’t do normal things like have kids, pets, or hobbies, they don’t go anywhere, they need someone to mind them, they certainly don’t travel alone. Can’t expect much out of them really, what with their affliction and all.”
So you’re amazed today. What about tomorrow when you’ve decided that I’ve run up against some thing you just don’t think I can cope with?
Am I a one off? Am I really that special? Or is it just a fluke, and at midnight my carriage turns back into a pumpkin?
I have a friend who says that the greatest compliment you can pay a person who is blind is to forget that s/he has a disability. Really, I couldn’t disagree more. No, I am not my disability, but my disability is part of who I am…kind of like my odd sense of humor, penchant for random useless trivia, geek tendencies, love of animals, and sensitive nature. No, I’d say the greatest compliment you could pay would be to understand that I have a disability, then Move on and for god’s sake treat me like a human being anyway. Not an object of pity, not an object of misplaced awe and admiration, not Superman, not an incompetent, not a child. Just a human being, same as you. Maybe I’ll need your help with something different, but that’s about it. If you want to compliment me, that would be the highest compliment you could pay me. Ever.