cooking, empathy, hobbies, independence, perception, perfection, skills
I don’t know what it is, but I run across many people in my daily life who assume that blind people are super dependent on others for every little life task, or can do anything and everything extraordinarily well. To muddy the waters even more, there are subsets of blind people who have both spoken and unspoken rules of engagement for all blind people, regardless of ability, inclination, and work ethic. One subset, affectionately dubbed “Super blinks”, act as though ALL blind people should have the skills to cook 4-course dinners, clean floors well enough for a Royal procession, and travel independently everywhere no matter what, asking no one for assistance for anything. The other, a more defeatist point of view, feeds in to the idea that blind people should be insular and keep to ourselves, acknowledge that life is hard, and just embrace the hardships without doing anything to improve our lot in life.
Thankfully, most blind people I know and associate with regularly – both online and in-person – fall somewhere in the middle of these. Some have terrific skills and are wonderful and encouraging, pushing me and others to at least try and do new things, without judgment or condescension. Others have been kicked in the teeth by families, prospective employers, and even complete strangers, who are wonderful supports when life just sucks and a blind person feels like no one else “gets it.”
But what happens when people we know well, especially families or colleagues, assume certain lack of interest, ability or competence are the case because we cannot see? A friend was over at my house a couple of weeks ago, and she mentioned a comment that was made to her about the cleanliness of her house. She’s not the best housekeeper in the world, but it’s honestly not in complete disarray. She said she wished people would just understand: “I’m a lousy housekeeper because I just don’t give a crap; it has nothing to do with my being blind.”
Recently, a news story about a blind mom in the kitchen made the rounds of social media. It was touted as an inspiring story of a family coming together despite a very sudden sight loss, and a mother who cooks well – and enjoys it – despite not being able to see. Molly Burke, a well-known Canadian advocate for the blind, responded to this news story by stating that she’s a bad cook because she hates cooking, not because she can’t see.
As for entertainment, there are many comments on my choices of leisure activities. Personally, I don’t like TV shows much. I have a few favorites, but overall, TV and movies don’t interest me. I have always preferred to be transported to new places and meet new characters through books. Many people tell me that my disinterest in such things are because I cannot see them. I can’t possibly know if there is any truth to this, but based on how I view the world, I would say this is likely untrue. If I had perfect vision, I doubt I would be fixated on the newest Netflix series, or the next Batman movie, just because much of what is out there just doesn’t hook me on an emotional level; an author at the height of their craft does that for me as well as good cinematography does for a movie buff.
So why do we make these comparisons? Why do people who know us well assume that a disinterest or poor skills are because we cannot see, and not because we simply don’t care about such things? A sighted person who doesn’t like cooking or doesn’t clean their house well is viewed as a person who just doesn’t like cooking or can’t be bothered to clean. Why are we viewed as less capable because we have these particular preferences, foibles, or lack of interest? And unless another blind person is so defeatist in all things, what business is it of mine (or yours, or anyone else’s) if they can’t cook that four-course meal, or require assistance to navigate the airport?
I’ve said it before: to my sighted readers, we are only human. Especially if you love us, our lack of cooking ability, a tolerably untidy house, or our declining an invitation to the movies often has more to do with our own personal preferences than the fact we cannot see; please don’t throw it in our face. For those who cannot see, and want to make yourselves feel better because you have skills that someone else doesn’t? STOP IT! Until you walk in their shoes, you don’t know the life they’ve led. If they want your assistance, or you think that you can encourage them and they are receptive to advice, offer such with grace and empathy. And those who just don’t care about anything, who are rude, who think the sighted world owes you because you’ve been dealt the hand of blindness: you’re making life for yourself, for me, and for all of us that much harder the next time we’re out and hope for assistance, a job offer, or that course we’ve dreamt our whole life to take. I don’t expect everyone to get it right all of the time, but the more we view each other as humans, the more likely we are to be viewed as flesh and blood in return.
Geoff Shang said:
This thinking comes from the same place that causes us to have to prove we can do something that an able-bodied person would not have to prove. This is what happens when we are viewed as our disability first and everything else second. People in other minority groups have this problem two, at least in certain aspects of their lives, depending on their minority.
I agree that it’s very annoying, particularly when it comes from people who should know better.
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What upsets me more with the public is assuming because one blind person isn’t light sensitive, can’t see anything, or can’t cook none of us can.
Yes sometimes like my light sensitivity is because of my blindness, but I can see somethings, unlike some others.
Now on feeling I can’t do XYZ because I am blind sometimes it is, and sometimes it isn’t. Sometimes I do ask for help, but that could because of being blind, or it could because I don’t know how, or even because I can learn something from someone else.
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Exactly! Not everyone knows how to bake a cake, do their taxes, or navigate a new city. It’s frustrating that the default position of mant is that the reason we don’t succeed at these things is because we can’t see.
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Even before becoming blind I could only do one of those. But I shocked my O&M instructor by taking to using a cane well.
The fun part is when working with a dog, and freaking people out most of the time I know if the dog does it or not. Because I put more effort into it then most things.
I thought only my home was untidy. 😉
Cleaning is a bit complicated, but it also isn’t on top of my priorities in life.
Reading nonverbal cues is a bit hard too – but to be fair, I try to make it difficult for the regular-sighted people too. Wear a selfiestick or not? Or a book? Maybe a small book in Japanese (since I can’t read it anyway) and the stick in purse so I can decide later. Do I want to pass as a regular-eyes person or feel like people are judging my cane skills? (… working on that. So sunglasses on at night-time with it, hopefulyl no one I know will run to me).
I’m not a total in daily life but my dreams are. Or there’s sometimes a bit of light, color, or direction.
Sorry for sticking my nose in, but why would you care if people saw you practicing with your cane?
If you were my friend I would see it as you wanting to better yourself, but I am too new in the ”blind community”.
I just feel too selfconscious and not “blind enough”. Because being able to run daytime in the same loop close to where I live totally compensates for the not seeing the ground in night-time, right..? It shouldnʻt be a big deal to use it daytime either but I just need to get a bit more practice. (It just feels like everyoneʻs staring when using it, know what I mean?)
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Yep I get it. The feeling of eyes on you no matter how good you are it will not go away.
I still use my vision some for things as of right now I am not using a screen reader, but zoom. I see myself as not blind enough many times part of it was my mother(who I no longer live with). But then I tripped over a curb, and then got O&M lessons, and was explained to that yes I am blind even if I can see some.
I would suggest getting help from your state’s department of the blind to get lessons. Also getting help from other blind people no one who is worth anything will not look down on you. I am not the biggest fans of the NFB or AFB(family is anti union and that is what they remind me of), but they would in this situation be able to help you feel less odd.
People stare at blind and other disabled because while they know what it means we are a minatory, so we are treated like our skin is a different color. Because they aren’t use to it.
Best advice I was given people suck, so eat a bar of chocolate.
I use pretty much all accessibility features out there – when itʻs not VO, itʻs zoom and white on black, and even with all those other settings itʻs kind of impossible to read regular zoom text on screen or when I read or write emails etc. (Plus no matter which way I try to use my stuff – keeping eyes open it just hurts)
For family Iʻve got just my otehr half, but heʻs awesome and supportive. My parents are dead, and my stepsister isnʻt someone I really talk with.
I did join the NFB local chapter – because itʻs just nice to not have to feel like the weird one just because I donʻt seem to fit in either world. Now I just need to join more of their activities. – but enough of that for now, time for a glass of red and then some sleep.
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I fit in no world, but that is just me :). I also use white on black because it is easier, and brightness dropped down. Zoomtext has become my best friend. Red is good being 19 I will stick with the chocolate.
Absolutely brilliant. Thanks for this.
I have arguments with other blind people about this very thing.
Me personally, I hate fashion. I think that the greater fashion world is demeaning to women.
As a man, I think that most men are douche bags to women. Their judgement of physical appearance is completely unrealistic.
Kelly Clarkson is fat? Sorry no. I have it on good authority from an RN that she’s height weight proportioned, and her BMI is within healthy limits.
I say this because most people’s comebacks on this is “If you weren’t blind, you wouldn’t feel that way.”
Um, no. This is the way I’m wired.
It’s almost assumed that because you’re blind, you immediately don’t care about anything that requires a visual component.
As a musician and content creator, I’m always dealing with visual aspects of my career, IE the aesthetic layout of a website, album artwork and layout, photos, video editing, etc.
I have to surround myself with people who care enough to tell me when things are not visually correct, which sometimes translates to “hire a different guy, that looks bad.”
If the ethos of folks in our community whom I’ve had discussions with had applied in this sense, I wouldn’t care about any of it.
But, I can separate myself from the ridiculous “Blind=doesn’t know any better” equation.
As a right brained, free spirited artistic type, I have made comments about how I prefer doing business with folks who aren’t fixated on clothing. IE, I’d rather buy a product from a guy with weird clothes and strange hair, cause, truth be told, he knows more about the product than the douche in a suit the rival company hired because he dressed right.
Again, I’m met with the blind=don’t know better equation, and I dismiss it. Again, it’s all in the weird way I’m wired due to the places I’ve lived and the people, of whom 99.9 percent were sighted, I’ve ran with.
My profuse apologies for puking all over your post with this long rambling comment, but it’s been a while since something has resonated with me so deeply.
Thanks so much, and keep up the great work.
Puke away, so long as I get the drinks that precede such things 😛
Seriously, though, I am glad this resonates with you. As a somewhat artistic type myself (I think I’ve denied it for years), sometiems you go based on your gut rather than what polite society thinks is OK.
I used to live in a town that had a music store. The owner of the store called himself Krazy Bob, and he was a veritable legend in the local area. He never ever EVER wore matching clothes, and an unhealthy selection of vinyl records, but could find any record in his store in 10 seconds flat. You get to know some pretty awesome types if you’re not so fixated on appearance. And lest anyone say that I’m blind, I can’t see what people look like… well DUH!
It’s one thing to have a professional appearance with some off-beat touches… or even gaudy mismatched clothes because you feel like wearing it and that’s just who you are as a person. It’s another thing to dress like a slob and assume people will tolerate it because well, you’re blind, you can’t POSSIBLY know better.
OK, now it’s my turn to apologize…
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Tim McIsaac said:
What an awesome discussion. I’m reading a really good book right now called I thought it was just me, but it isn’t by brene Browne. You can get it on Bookshare. It’s primarily directed at women but as a male who has been blind since birth, I have been able to identify with every story she shares as told to her by numerous individuals she interviewed for her research.
It all has to do with being afraid and how fear causes us to feel ashamed. Unfortunately, I think that while the sighted world may have initiated the notion that we are either super human or completely helpless, we in the blind community are guilty of perpetuating these perceptions as has been articulated so eloquently here.
For myself, I feel like every day I wonder through some sort of no man’s land where I strive to be as much like a sighted person as I can, but always come up short and hate myself for it. I don’t want to be ghettoized in some sort of blind community, but I feel isolated and alone when I can’t figure things out for myself and could probably use some help from another blind person who has perhaps successfully conquered a challenge similar to the one I believe I am facing.
I am definitely a guilty party when it comes to either comparing myself to someone I perceive as less capable in order to feel better, or to someone I believe is more capable and as a result, experiencing envy, shame or jealousy, and hating myself for being too lazy or too stupid to have learned what they know or accomplish what they have.
At the same time, I know all too well that if, quite by chance, there was another blind person in my workplace, we would probably be undergoing constant comparisons with one another at the hands of our non-disabled co-workers.
As I read Browne’s book, I hope for myself to one day be able to develop, as she describes, an ability to gain power over shame by developing a resilience to it.
Christopher Sims (@cjsims) said:
This is a great post, I’m one of those who are in the middle of the 2 sets of people. While I do not cook, I’m out with the best of them. There are many cases where I have accepted help even though I could do it myself, however, if I had not accepted it was going to do more harm than good to the greater blind community.
I am curious what you mean. How would declining help do more harm to the blind community? Just curious…
Ken Sudhues said:
Excellent piece. You can count me as a sightling who doesn’t care about movies or TV either. Books are my go-to for brain stimulation. And, while my partner (who is blind and very, very able on many levels) and I do care about housekeeping, we don’t care about it so much that it happens a lot, even with guide-dog hair to deal with. That’s what the Dyson Animal vacuum cleaner is for! (And if people ask what our apartment looks like, I just tell them it’s blond!)
Thanks for posting!
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Love this! So…. do I come over for dinner next week? J/k
Mea culpa. I mean, I don’t claim my blindness is to blame for me being a bad cook or poor housekeeper , but if that’s what some people think, I let them think so. That said, when kids at the schools I visit ask how I cook, I often answer “I was a bad cook when I could see, and the miracle didn’t happen when I lost my sight –I’m still a bad cook.” From there I explain how I bake bread from scratch. That usually impresses them!
Beth, does the baking bread involve walking to a bakery? Ha ha!
Seriously, bread is fun to make… and I’ve posted about my cooking skills and inexperience on this blog, so I won’t belabor it 🙂
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I find your pieces and topics so interesting. Thanks for giving us insight into life for you!
Great post. I’m in the middling camp. I don’t really care about fashion and prefer comfort over fashion. I will dress up if i need to, but nobody will tell me how i should dress. At the same time, i do often think “i should have dressed fancy” when i don’t.
I can’t cook because my sister is the cook and she is a clean freak so she gets annoyed if i cook or clean because she likes to do it herself. She is a touch OCD. If i do clean though, whatever is usually cleaned within an inch of itself.
I will accept help if i need it because you meet lots of people that way. Sometimes it’s better to accept even if it gets you confused because people take the hump then and may be more reluctant to help in the future as i’ve often had said to me.
Keep up the good work :).
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