We disability advocates share the desire of bridging the acceptance gap. Here on Boldly Blind, we do this through two means that have perhaps become familiar to you: Encouraging each other who are blind or otherwise disabled and raising awareness among those who are nondisabled of our dignity and capabilities.
So many consumer organizations like the American Council of the Blind, National Federation of the Blind, and United Cerebral Palsy have groups that assist in the former: Live chat sessions for members to share experiences, webinars updating technological advances, and calendars of events for people who are blind living in the same area to gather live and in-person. The latter challenge is harder to achieve due in part to the big fear factors that may make our nondisabled friends and family members skittish when coming to grips with our mental, emotional, or physical condition.
“To most nondisabled people, the idea of becoming disabled is pretty scary. I get it. It’s natural to fear the unknown, and it’s tough to grapple with the idea that our bodies can change in ways beyond our control. Unfortunately, these fears often translate to stigma against disabled people, because it can be challenging to accept that another person’s reality may become one’s own. This is why we need to have open, honest conversations about disability. We need to reframe these fears and turn them into an understanding of disability as part of the human experience.” (Ladau, Demystifying Disability, p38)
A way to do this is sharing our stories. Answering those news reporter questions may give us structure: Who?, What?, Where?, When Why? and How?
What one or two factors have sent our lives in a trajectory toward better independence or self-respect? Was there a teacher, coach, or counselor that helped us turn from swimming in a quagmire of self-doubt into being confident in speaking up for ourselves? How did we start coming to grips with our disability and seeing ways it contoured our likes, dislikes, hopes and opportunities?
Each of our stories will be different. Remember Ladau’s pizza analogy from the previous post? As no two people who are physically or cognitively disabled are alike, the same is true with our stories. Yes, many of us have common touchpoints. Think on some vision rehabilitation therapist/teacher that helped you navigate your home using various shades or patterns of lighting. He or she didn’t just have book learning but the firsthand contact with others who shared your needs. That’s why being in touch with others who are blind, deaf or autistic like yourself. You learn the reality of needing not to reinvent the wheel.
Then, when you talk about your disability with a professor or admissions counselor at school or a coworker on the job, you ride the tide of much more than your own individual fight. While there are millions of people who share the experiences and impact of being blind, so many of our sighted friends may have never even encountered someone else who is. In a sense, meeting you may be an eye opening experience for them.
I can recall in college how a friend of mine brought this point home to me after I shared a struggle I had with explaining how I used my red-tipped mobility cane to protect myself from swinging doors and detect inclines or drop-offs in the sidewalk. It was so common for someone nearby to just grab my elbow, halt me mid-step or ask if I knew where I was on campus.
My friend reminded me that at our small school, many classmates came from small towns where the only bit of braille they knew of was part of a storybook in elementary school. Maybe, the only good contact they had with a guide dog was watching a special on Animal Planet or a special interest blurb on the nightly news broadcast from the nearest big city. The reality of having a disability remained more than at arm’s reach.
Of course, college campuses now have much better disabled studetn services than they did back in 1991. Opportunities for the nondisabled and disabled students to interact in class and just randomly elsewhere make person to person contact that much more frequent. Nonprofit military veterans groups like the Blinded Veterans of America and Iraq-Afghanistant Veterans Association are doing wonders in helping American servicemen transition to socializing and working in the civilian everyday world.
So what’s your story? Here’s to us who are blind or otherwise disabled finding ways to encourage one another, build each other up, and bridge that awareness gap with those who do not yet look through the lens on life we’ve been given.