autonomy, blindness, dignity, employment, respect, sunglasses
This time last year I remember (and facebook reminded me) getting up for a 9:00 AM job interview. I opened my eyes and got hit with a sudden burst of intense stabbing pain… right in both eyes. I had two options: reschedule the interview (as I had already done the day before because I was feeling absolutely awful) or attend the interview with a light-sensitive migraine. If I chose the second option, I had two options stemming from that: suffer through it, or do the somehow stereotypical “blind” thing and walk in with sunglasses.
It was far from an easy decision. To me, sunglasses were for sunny days, not moderately cloudy ones, and absolutely never ever ever indoors. I looked so… blind in them (I still don’t know what I meant by that thought). When I asked several people I knew – sighted and blind – through the instant question-answer format of social media, I received so many answers, and many conflicted with each other. All paraphrasing is mine, but the general ideas went something like this.
“Absolutely not! Your interviewer NEEDS to at least have the semblance of eye contact.”
“Why not? Your eyes hurt; you need to be functional.”
“It’s SUCH a blind thing to do.”
“If they’re fashionable, wear them!”
I chose to wear the sunglasses. They had been purchased years before and were both fashionable and moderately functional for my purposes. The frames were basic black with round lenses, and they didn’t scream “blind person!” to anyone who looked at them. The instant I put them on, just before leaving my house, I felt my entire face relax, and the stabbing pain in both eyes magically disappeared.
The interview bombed. It bombed worse than almost any other interview I went on the year I was unemployed. It had nothing to do with my glasses, my headache, or anything else. The job and I were simply not a good fit.
But when I left the interview and went about my day, my sunglasses still in place, I noticed something else I hadn’t considered before.
People treated me better.
You see, if you were to look at my eyes directly, you would know that I am blind. My left eye is, for all purposes, unusable. My right eye won’t stay still. Walking down busy downtown streets that morning – even with a guide dog – while wearing those sunglasses, people seemed more inclined to make general non-blindness-related conversation with me, or accepted my assertions that I didn’t require their assistance. This old pair of sunglasses seemed, in a way, to be magical to me, to open a doorway to some previously rarely-found milieu of autonomy and dignity.
During the course of a few weeks, the more I wore my sunglasses, the less blind I appeared to others. The less blind I appeared, the more people left me alone (or at the very least respected my polite declining of their assistance, something they offered less frequently). I loved how it felt.
But those glasses I wore to that interview no longer flattered my face the way they had years ago when I had first purchased them. I needed, as a friend stated, a more fashionable pair.
So what does a girl do when she needs a stylish pair of sunglasses that she doesn’t need to see clearly through? She goes to Walmart, and finds the coolest, most professional-looking pair of sunglasses they have that also covers her eyes and flatters her face. I spent a grand total of $15 on my sunglasses, and the complements from friends, family, and strangers make me feel like I should’ve spent more. And when I wear them, people generally treat me better, like I’m any other office worker or customer or pedestrian.
I wonder why that is.
And I wondered why I had resisted them for so long.
When discussing this topic, I had no idea the types of division I would stir up. Some people were very comfortable with their choice to wear glasses, others firmly confident in their decision not to, and many fell somewhere in the middle. Comments ranged from “No blind person should wear glasses, ever, because it makes them look pathetic,” to “I wear them on sunny days because the glare bothers me, but I’m still uncomfortable doing so… it’s such a blind thing to do,” to “I wear glasses because my eyes hurt otherwise,” to “I wear them because I know my eyes are damaged due to accident or illness, so I wear them for the general comfort of those around me.” Others hadn’t considered them one way or the other, either because they were never encouraged to wear them, or because it was really never an issue; while my sunglasses made me look “less blind”, some believed that their wearing them would call attention to their blindness in a way that their uncovered eyes never do. Still others believe that wearing sunglasses means that they are hiding a part of themselves – their blind eyes – even if they are imperfect.
But one friend, whose blindness is due to Retinoblastoma, described in vivid detail being forced by parents or teachers to wear them. She would get in trouble in school if she took them off, and even now – as a grown woman – if she’s in her family’s company, the comment is made that she needs to wear them. Like it or not, she is judged on her appearance. Retinoblastoma can sometimes lead to facial scarring that may be off-putting to some, so some may argue that if it can be covered by makeup or glasses, then why not use them? And yet, my friend has a very complicated relationship to glasses today, for the simple reason that they were pushed at her so much as a child and teenager and even now as an adult.
A simple accessory to some, to others a way to make it through the day. To some they bring freedom, to others a sense of complicated shame. I had no idea that the job interview a year ago would start me on this journey of asking questions about an accessory that most people wear without a second thought. It’s opened up far more questions for me than it’s answered, and yet, I’ve made my own piece with my sunglasses. My cute sunglasses make others more comfortable with me, which makes me more comfortable with myself. I hate that this is so. And I hate that others would receive the exact opposite reaction because their uncovered eyes don’t make them look blind.
So for now, while the days are long and the sun is so bright that almost everyone has to squint to navigate the world visually, I’ll take that automatic respect that these lenses and frames seem to have granted me. Now the question is… can this continue in the winter?
I like this post! I love it because I never wore sunglasses as a child not sure why, whether it was because I feared it might block out the only light perception I had with the sun. It was about 3 or 4 years ago mum and I saw a man we have known for years. He suggested I consider wearing sunglasses to break down the barriers as when I was walking around up the street with mum in particular, young kids or toddlers would see that my eyes were closed and ask why. Mum would explain that my eyes were broken as that’s what a young child of about 2 or 3 would understand. I don’t get this now I wear sunglasses although I stress that if I’m going out with people I know I don’t really need to wear them as everybody I’m with knows me although I still choose to wear them because one never knows who might be around. The same guy felt also that wearing a name badge would make it easy for people to just call me by name instead of saying “hey you”. I have embraced wearing sunglasses now no matter what time of the year but if ‘m inside and sitting at a table for a meal they just go ontop of my head. As to the name badge thing you may totally disagree with that like some but each to their own and things are often different in Australia than they are in the US Canada and the UK. I do however notice if ‘ve been wearing the sunnies for quite a while over the course of a day or so it leaves marks on my face and if that’s the case I won’t wear them the next day I will give them a rest.
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