“Why Are You So Angry?”

Almost every person who so much as encourages advocacy will face this question at some point, and while I don’t get it often (my writing style isn’t what you’d call vitriolic), I have been asked this multiple times. “Sure, you deal with a lot,” they say, “but do you really need to be so pissed off about it? Do you really need to write a whole blog whose purpose is to complain, and point out all that’s wrong with the world?” My answer to this is always the same: “Huh?”

I’m not an angry person. I like my life, even when it’s difficult, and I have great faith in the idea that human beings are capable of kindness and enlightenment. I spend most of my time just being Meagan, and the rest is usually spent trying to educate, not lay blame or spew hatred at the world at large. Yes, I do go on about what’s wrong with society. Yes, I do sometimes vent my frustration on a public forum. Yes, I get angry sometimes.

Do I spend my life in a state of perpetual fury? Do I direct hostility toward the sighted population? Do I focus more on being a malcontent than on trying to make the world that little bit better? Nope. I’d much rather bring positivity into this world than anything else, even as I’m being direct and unyielding concerning my rights as a human being.

 

I must confess that I’m shocked at the public’s expectation that we should be virtuous angels, patiently awaiting the day when the world will give a damn about the injustice that is built into society’s very structure. I am amazed that people are surprised when we object to systemic discrimination and harmful stereotyping. I mean, would they shoulder these things with unwavering grace? I don’t think so. That said, do we have the right to reject all efforts to reach out to us? I think not.

 

I did not create my blog with the intention of using it as a source of fatalistic ranting. I set out to maintain a safe space where ideas could be shared, questions could be answered, and advice could be dispensed. I’ve always kept one goal in mind: how can I foster empathy and understanding? How can I describe what my life is like, and how can I use that insight to help others?

I’d like to believe that regular readers realize I’m prone to seeing the good in the world. I hope they have noticed my tendency to right wrongs and offer solutions rather than condemn specific individuals and the mistakes they make. I hope, most of all, that I make my readers feel inspired, not hopeless, and determined, not angry. I resent those disabled people whose sole purpose appears to be making “normal” people miserable. I don’t expect them to maintain a sweet disposition when they’ve been fielding the same ignorant questions and withstanding the same discrimination for years on end. It’s acceptable to indulge anger; it can be a powerful tool if it’s used correctly.

That, of course, is the key: one must use anger judiciously. There’s enough rage-fuel online without worsening the problem. It wastes time and energy we could be devoting to initiatives that improve our lives. Accessibility and inclusiveness benefit us all, whether we’re disabled or not. We can all share in the fruits of disabled people’s labour. We can all read and write blogs like this one. If we get a bit angry sometimes? Well, I’d say that’s human, wouldn’t you?

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So You Like To Pet Service Dogs…

As I watch you encourage your child to engage with a working dog, even after the handler has asked you to stop, I cannot help but feel angry: angry that you, a stranger, feel that your child’s right to interact with a cute puppy dog is more immediately important than the handler’s wishes. I am angry that you would argue with a firm denial, even when it is given with respect and gentleness. I am angry that you are showing blatant disrespect for the safety and comfort of the dog’s handler. I am angry that you are teaching your child to disregard the proper treatment of service dogs. I am angry that you, as the parent, are refusing to live by example. I am angry that you are ensuring that service dog handlers everywhere will have to keep saying “please don’t pet the dog” indefinitely.

I understand: the dog is beautiful, and friendly, and a pure delight to touch. Your child adores dogs—probably, the dog adores children, too, and would welcome a little affection. You are a dog lover, and hate to deprive yourself or your child of the opportunity to indulge in a bit of doggie-interaction. You don’t want to disappoint your child. I’m a dog lover, too. I understand. But …

I’m here to tell you that it doesn’t matter, because you may choose an unsafe time to distract a working dog, thus inconveniencing or even endangering the handler. It doesn’t matter, because the dog has a million distractions to contend with already—dropped apple cores, other dogs, and tantalizing bits of popcorn—without sudden attention from a strange human. It doesn’t matter, because you should never touch someone else’s property without permission—and yes, the dog does count as property in this instance. It doesn’t matter, because you were told no. That, on its own, ought to be good enough.

Many of my friends are dog handlers, so I can guarantee that they don’t enjoy telling an eager child that they can’t touch the puppy. They don’t enjoy saying “no” three times a day. They don’t enjoy denying you the company of their dogs. They just want to get where they’re going without fuss, and the last thing they feel like doing is disciplining a complete stranger. They are not part of a conspiracy to ruin your fun. So …

Why do you do it? Why do you insist, even when you know better, upon continuing to violate another person’s space? Why do you continue to place handlers in awkward positions where they must discipline your child because you refuse to do so? Why do you care more about touching that sleek coat than you do about whether the handler makes it across the street safely? Why do you care more about your right to go to pieces over the cute doggie than another human’s right to autonomy? The dog is an extension of them, and when you touch the dog, you’re effectively intruding on their personal space as well.

If I placed a wandering hand into your stroller to give your child’s head a stroke, wouldn’t you be a bit nervous? If I reached over and grabbed your arm to say hello, wouldn’t you be annoyed? If I insisted on distracting you while you were trying to do an important job requiring vast concentration, wouldn’t you wonder where my manners were? So I will ask it of you: where are your manners?

Yes, we’re talking about a dog here, but that doesn’t exempt you from the rules of basic human courtesy. Maybe the dog would love to be stroked just now. Maybe the dog has had a long day and would love to flop down and have its belly rubbed. Ultimately, though, the dog has a role, whether that’s guiding a blind person, or alerting the handler of an approaching seizure, or assisting a police officer. That role precludes them from being an ordinary dog while they’re out and about. When that harness is on, the dog is not a cute little puppy you run up to—it is another living being, hard at work and deserving of your respect. Even more importantly, the dog is attached to someone who is depending on them, and that person is also deserving of your respect.

To those who pet the service dogs: no excuse is good enough. Please, for the sake of safety and common decency, stop.

What Do We Want? (Accessible Pin Pads!)

I love using my credit card for just about everything. I’m loath to spend my emergency cash on, say, that Starbucks coffee or carton of milk. Cash may be quicker—and for Canadians at least, perfectly accessible—but I’d rather save it for times when debit machines break down. I hate to ask a cab driver to stop at an ATM, for example.

There is a trend toward pin pads that are partially or totally operated via a touch screen, and it’s not an accessible one. Despite the fact that technology exists to make touch screens usable for blind people (just bring headphones), I have yet to encounter a machine that I can operate independently. If I’m lucky, the number pad itself is tactile. I’ve not been lucky.

Normally, I don’t make a huge deal of partially or wholly inaccessible products unless they seriously impact my and other’s lives (even though accessibility makes sense). This definitely counts as a product that does. What do you suppose happens when I face an inaccessible pin pad? That’s right: I have to reveal my pin. Usually, I’m with a sighted friend whom I trust implicitly, but since I do run errands on my own, as most blind people often do, I’ve had to give my pin to complete strangers. Yes, the likelihood of my pin being stolen is small, but it’s still possible and, with the theft of pins and replication of cards becoming more prevalent, it’s a real risk.

I feel that, for something as basic and necessary as payment methods, we have the right to total accessibility. I’m not aware of the advantages of touch screens, though I imagine they must exist or people wouldn’t be manufacturing them, but I’m not sure if they justify putting a chunk of the population at risk. Blind people aren’t statistically common, but we are definitely out there, and we deserve to keep our credit and debit cards secure, just like everyone else.

Since the technology exists to make these machines accessible, I see no reason at all for continued failure to implement it. I suppose this might involve a financial burden, especially if the machines are replaced rather than modified, but even if they are produced more accessibly in the future, that would reduce and eventually eliminate security risks for blind people. Once that’s done, we will face the same safety risks as everyone else. Machines will still be compromised, but at least we’re not being expected to give our pins away to people who could exploit them.

 

As fellow blogger Blindbeader points out, these touch-screen pin pads don’t just inconvenience blind people. They pose accessibility challenges for other populations as well: “I know several people who have good vision, but who have challenges using touch screen due to other concerns with their hands and fingers. To say nothing of the installation of such pin pads so high up that they cannot be lowered to those using wheelchairs.”

 

I understand that these things don’t always occur to manufacturers at first, but if we play our cards right, they’ll know, and then they’ll have no excuse.

So what do we want? (Accessible pin pads!)
When do we want ‘em? (Um…at a time that is sensible and financially feasible?)

Chill Out, People: I Am Not Contagious

I take the bus, and there are several empty seats around me, conveniently placed right up front. Someone embarks via the front door, and walks quickly past me to take a seat waaaay at the back. I sit down for a lecture, noticing that most students are clumped together, while others have gone out of their way to give me a wide berth. I flop down in a seat in a study lounge, only to have the person next to me gather their belongings and sidle over to a seat across the room. Anyone seeing a pattern here? Anyone? Anyone?

I’m not even sure if people are conscious of this, but I am beginning to think they’re convinced that blindness is contagious. Unless you have an eye infection and enjoy swapping mascara with strangers,, you’re probably not a threat to anyone else’s eyes, but I’m often treated like a leper. Some people undoubtedly move away because society puts a premium on personal space. Others, however, do so because I make them uncomfortable, which I understand is a common experience for many disabled people. Mothers drag their children away from the oncoming blind lady, while students shift restlessly when I sit down near them. It’s common enough for people to leave space between each other; Canadians aren’t really used to tight quarters unless they live in Vancouver or Toronto. Even so, people’s attitude toward me seems a bit too blatantly fearful to be blamed on a desire to avoid human contact.

There are a litany of reasons to avoid sitting near someone: I wouldn’t blame you a bit for avoiding the person sniffling noisily in the corner. Nobody likes icky cold germs, but unless I have ominous substances pouring from my red nose, there is no logical reason to steer clear.

I usually just shake my head and move on—what else can I do? I’d be lying if I claimed it didn’t hurt a little, though. I’m a nice person who is reasonably friendly. At the least, I’d never encroach upon another person’s space, and I might even provide good conversation if they only gave me a try. Students are especially prone to engaging strangers on campus, but they tend to ignore me unless they think I need help. I want to say to them, “I cannot give you blindness, okay? Mine is a genetic condition, so unless you’re my secret half-brother, please relax. You’re fine.”

Social exclusion and general discomfort are the order of the day for a lot of visibly disabled people, and all one can do is bridge the gaps as best one can. Sometimes, though, my snarky side prevails, and I feel the urge to shout, “Come sit near the freak, why don’t you? I don’t bite (hard)!”

So, friends all, take a seat by me. It’s okay. You’ll leave as healthy and sighted as ever–I guarantee it.

Dear Sighted Friend…

I’m going to get a bit more personal this week, but my hope is that you will all find a bit of universality in this post, and share it with anyone to whom it might apply.

A few weeks ago, I lost a very dear friend unexpectedly, and her passing brought the value of her friendship into even sharper focus. She was one of those sighted friends who took everything in stride, made mistakes and learned from them, and viewed me as her friend who is blind, not her blind friend. I want to write about her today. I hope you see some of your friends in her. If you do, take a moment to thank them for their friendship. We don’t say these things enough; I know that now.


Thank you for taking the blindness thing in stride so quickly. It took you a little time, but you saw me, not my broken eyes. You supported me while I learned this adulting thing, and hardly considered it “helping”, even when it was. I worried about that dynamic far more than you ever did.
Remember when I would text you with all those blindy emergencies? You made living in a new city, a new neighbourhood, a new building, seem not only bearable, but fun.

Thank you for being unflinchingly honest with me, always. You confessed, early on, that you took me to lunch that first time because you thought I seemed lonely, and felt a bit sorry for me. Once you realized that blind people aren’t hopeless by default, you relaxed into being my friend, not my personal Mother Teresa.
Remember all those times you were blunt about being unsure how to treat me? You were so open and so kind about it, even when it hurt a little at the time.

Thank you for learning from your mistakes, and helping me learn from mine. You had some false impressions about blindness, and you were eager to clear them up. You didn’t know how to guide properly, but you soon learned. You sometimes said things that cut deep, but when I pointed out why, you focused on healing the harm rather than justifying yourself. Most importantly, you helped me grow by clearing up misconceptions of my own.
Remember when you almost walked us both into traffic, then burst into hysterical laughter because the guiding thing was distracting? You were so glad I wasn’t upset by it. Everybody messes up sometimes; you rarely did.

Thank you for your outstanding sense of humour. You were always cracking jokes, once you knew I was okay with them, and you let me laugh at myself in total comfort and solidarity. You approached everything with a willingness to laugh at hardship, and move on.
Remember when you proclaimed yourself to be my “guide dog?” We named you Scout. You always bugged me about getting a dog of my own (only so you could have “snuggles on demand”) but this was as far as I got. Your “guide dog” gallop was legendary.

Finally, thank you for being so much more than my sighted friend. Thank you for considering me as much like everybody else as any disabled person can be. Thank you for treating me, with a very few exceptions, like Meagan, not like blind Meagan. Thank you for blossoming into everything a sighted friend ought to be.
Remember when I wrote that blog post about friendship, and you took the time to remind me, for the umpteenth time, that I was so much more than your blind friend? I do. I always will.

I hope every disabled person can have someone like you around to make them laugh; to prevent them from taking themselves too seriously; to remind them that they are normal in all the ways that matter; and to help them grow.


I love you, Scout. Rest easy.