She said, “I hope this is ok to tell you. The reason I decided to sit on the board of the Lighthouse for the Blind is because I needed to be hit over the head, again and again, with the knowledge that blind people can and do have better skills than I do. That, as an individual, I am not a sighted person talking to a blind person. I am a professional talking to a professional.”
I sat quietly in my straight-backed desk chair, listening to her speak, though what I really wanted to do was shout, “yes!” and “thank you!” and “You win!”
No person, no “professional”, had ever talked to me like this before, with such candid admission of prejudice, of having thought that we, blind and sighted, were not equals, that we couldn’t be equals based purely on what one of us had and what one of us did not have.
People don’t want to tell me this. I see it all the time. I see prejudice around me, from people who are basically kind, from people who would unequivocally deny their prejudice to my face and then, in the same conversation, remind me what an inspiration I am. They don’t see that in that basically “nice” sentiment lies the assumption that I should not be as independent as I am, that I should not be capable, and that the act of doing something as mundane as get out of bed and get to work makes me inspiring to someone who believes, no matter how innocently, that they are more capable than I will ever be. That it’s an inspiration that I’m even trying to measure up to them.
People are always telling me they don’t “see” my blindness. They don’t think about it. They don’t make assumptions based on it. But based on their actions, I know they do and that’s ok; what’s irksome is to be told that they’re not.
Finally, finally, in that closed office, where we could be real, someone was telling me this, what I’d always known and what no one had quite had the nerve to tell me before. That sighted people do, in fact, dismiss blind people’s skills and talents because they are blind. That sighted people do have lower expectations for blind people, because they’re just amazed that we can dress ourselves and make an omelet. Finally, somebody had enough respect for me to tell me, and also to tell me she was wrong.
The Lighthouse for the Blind is an organization in Seattle (with chapters elsewhere, too) which employs blind people who have skills working with hardware, tools, and machinery. All things that I know nothing about. All things that awe me slightly when I see someone who knows a lot about them. I say, “I could never do that”, but not because I’m blind. Because I’m closed-minded about my own skills and ability to learn. I am in awe of anyone who hammers a straight nail, regardless of whether they are blind or sighted. I try, as hard as I can, with regular checking of my thoughts, to be impressed by skill and not by my assumptions about how hard I perceive that skill to be for any particular person. I’m not perfect, I don’t always succeed. But I know what it’s like to be an “inspiration” just because I crossed a street. I don’t want to put that heavy weight on anyone else.
I’m so glad Lighthouse exists for blind people who have skills and who are overlooked because of their circumstances. I’m glad it exists for sighted people who “get it” enough to actively change their thinking by purposefully interacting with blind people, and being willing to take that hit again and again until our worth is ingrained. And, I’m glad that someone had the guts and the humility to say all this to my face. Thank you, Becky.