Today, Gregg and I have teamed up to address a topic which troubles us both. We hope that this offers some insight, even if you do not agree with our general stance. Enjoy!
Anyone reading this article is apt to have seen at least one so-called “supermom”. She’s the sort of woman who’s involved in everything her kids do, while still managing to cook, keep house, balance the family accounts and take time for herself to pursue a hobby or three. Many of these women are wonderful people, but the worst among them can be frustrating, condescending and infuriating by turns if others don’t do as they do. This particular phenomenon isn’t limited to mothers, however. A small group of blind people are guilty of much the same thing, and we commonly refer to them as “superblinks”.
Being good at a lot of things doesn’t make you a superblink. Trying to help other blind people get better at things you can already do quite well doesn’t make you a superblink either. There’s nothing wrong with either one of these things, as long as you exercise caution with the latter so as to avoid coming across as a know-it-all. Superblinks are defined by a rather strange paradox. They do as much as they possibly can, in as “normal” a manner as they can manage, to stop people from thinking they’re inept; being blind, however, means they’re going to stand out sometimes no matter what they do, and since relatively few superblinks exist, they end up seeming more abnormal than ever. Their desire to blend in makes them stand out. Central to the idea of the superblink, as well, is the insistence, to any and all around them, that their way is best. This often manifests even if the superblink in question has trouble with the task at hand or cannot fully understand why they need to do something a specific way. Many superblinks are excellent at the things they do, but some are not; for those latter individuals, doing something well becomes secondary to doing something normally.
Most of the time, it’s easy enough to let “superblinks” be. True, they can sometimes be irritating, just like supermoms who drive everyone else crazy with their insistence upon being the very best at absolutely everything. Unfortunately, there is a certain subset of superblinks who can be downright damaging to themselves and to other blind people.
It can be very taxing to associate with someone who tries with all their might to seem “normal”. They are so unwilling to accept their blindness as part of them that they do everything in their power to behave as much like a sighted person as possible. For these people, appearing “blind” in any way is undesirable. I’ve even met some people who refuse to carry canes because they don’t want to “look blind”. These people are a danger to themselves and occasionally, to others. These are the superblinks who march out into traffic without caution, explore new routes without a clue where they’re going, and refuse to acknowledge that they are different in any way. Needless to say, this lifestyle is absurd at best and dangerous at worst. No matter how hard you try, your blindness will never go away. We’re not suggesting that one has to embrace their blindness with open arms and adore that part of themselves; it’s perfectly normal to feel a little subpar sometimes. But to ignore it completely? That’s wrong on so many levels. To value normality above all other things is a grievous mistake, considering that no one really knows what normal means.
Those who dismiss their blindness can be trying enough, but still worse are the superblinks who define themselves by their disability. These are the types of people who are inordinately proud of their accomplishments in the context of their blindness. For example, someone might be very proud of their cooking skills, employment-related skills, etc. That’s perfectly fine. Being proud of one’s accomplishments is sometimes underrated. What isn’t so nice is when someone is proud of these things because they are blind and still manage to do them. Sighted people do this to us all the time: “Look! This guy is a singer/skier/teacher/lawyer … and he’s blind! Isn’t that just amazing? What a hero!”. There are people who defy the odds and take on tasks that are difficult for the blind to do. This is admirable, certainly, but there is really no need to go around singing one’s own praises. Be proud, by all means, of what you have achieved, but don’t contextualize it all the time.
I’ve known blind people who are so intent on defining themselves by their blindness that it’s almost as if they think they have “blindy” superpowers. “Look at me go! I’m blind but I can do this, this, this, and that!”. It sends the message that we’re special or heroic or worthy of adulation simply because we do what sighted people do anyway with particular skill. Certainly sighted people might admire us, and that’s not in itself a horrible thing, but we should know better than to adopt the practice ourselves. In fact, for someone who is so intent on seeming “normal”, defining all of one’s accomplishments by the difficulties caused by blindness is awfully counterproductive.
The main reason that these types of superblinks are a problem, though, is the judgmental behaviour they often exhibit towards other blind people. They assume that, just because they can do certain things well, every blind person should be able to do them equally well. “What’s wrong with you? Why can’t you do this? I can. There must be something the matter with you.”. I’ve already discussed the dangers of comparing blind people to one another, and superblinks really should know better. There’s a difference between being supportive (“You can do this!”) and being judgmental (“Why can’t you do this?”). Call me a dreamer, but I think the world would be a much better place if people spent less time judging and comparing, and more time supporting and encouraging.