Dead Ends: 6 Battles I Refuse To Fight

I’m a fan of healthy debate, and since I can see grey in just about every conceivable area, I’m all for engaging with everyone about nearly every topic. However, I’m finding it progressively less useful to engage with certain types of people, who continue to pick fights with others about debates that should, in my opinion at least, have been retired long since. Some perspectives are simply too antiquated, inaccurate, or unconstructive to be worth examination, and today I’ll present a few of the arguments I’ve promised myself I will never become embroiled in again. Part of a healthy lifestyle is knowing which battles to fight and which are lost causes, and this is a list of arguments I believe we need to put to bed, once and for all.

1. Cane versus guide dog: travel is intensely personal, and any cane vs. guide dog debate needs to account for individual preferences, needs, and abilities. Guide dogs offer numerous advantages, but they are not the only efficient mobility tool. Some blind people don’t like dogs, dislike guide dog travel, feel more confident with a cane, and/or are unable to afford a dog. Additionally, canes offer their own advantages. You don’t need to feed, relieve, or plan your schedule around a cane’s needs, and the cane provides tactile feedback some blind travellers, like me, consider essential. So, however you might feel about it, please stop arguing with people about which is better. Instead, focus on the advantages and disadvantages of both, leaving it up to each blind person to decide for themselves. Blanket statements and definitive answers simply aren’t useful, so there’s no point in resorting to them.
2. The duty to educate: I have always valued my ability to educate able people, and am usually open to answering questions and spreading accurate information. Education is one of the primary purposes my blog exists, and was the original reason I began it at all. I don’t align myself with those who insist it is every disabled person’s duty to educate, though. If you enjoy it, and find yourself routinely annoyed by people’s ignorance, then you should certainly raise awareness and answer as many questions as you’d like. If you’re more concerned with going about your business unencumbered by other people’s curiosity, or if you just don’t like putting yourself or your ideas out there, by all means refrain from doing so. Ultimately, you are the only one who should dictate how you spend your time, so I hope people will eventually stop squabbling about duty and purpose and obligation.
3. Public versus mainstream education: I spent grade school and postsecondary school in mainstream education—that is to say, I attended publicly funded institutions and did not generally receive specialized education tailored to blind students. The only school for the blind in my country was too far away to be a viable option, and in any case I preferred to be integrated into the sighted world as much as possible. I’ve heard horror stories about schools for the blind. People talk about lowered academic standards, inadequate enforcement of social skills, abuse that went unchecked, and a serious lack of encouragement when it came to helping blind people prepare for independent living. By contrast, I’ve heard other students praise their schools, having learned valuable skills mainstream schools usually cannot teach, and being among people who understood them and their struggles intimately. My own experiences with public school were mixed. I had to balance the benefits of inclusion with the severe lack of resources my rural school was able to procure. All in all, I don’t think it’s useful or wise to argue back and forth about which type of education is objectively better. The reality is that the subject is too varied and too personal to debate properly, so while it’s fair enough to pick apart the merits of specific institutions, making general statements demonstrates a disregard for nuance that seldom does any good.
4. Sighted versus blind partners: I covered this topic extensively in previous posts, and that’s the last I really want to say on the matter. It’s all very well to discuss the merits of dating both types of partners. Blind partners are able to understand us on a gut level, which can be enormously comforting. Sighted partners are typically able to provide assistance, such as driving us around and helping us navigate unfamiliar areas, which is an awfully nice perk. I fail to see the point of telling fellow disabled people whom they should date. Regardless of personal preference, we shouldn’t be meddling in anyone else’s love life. Let people exercise agency, because goodness knows able people love to badger us as it is. Promote freedom of choice, and otherwise keep your nose out of other people’s romantic lives.
5. Language policing: this is another topic I’ve covered before, and once again, it’s an argument I refuse to revisit. It’s one thing to be sensitive to other people’s wishes and keep up with the evolution of language, but when you are describing yourself, do so however you see fit. No one—and I do mean no one—has any right to insist you should change or criticize you for using incorrect labels. You are in charge of your self-concept and identity. Don’t let anyone convince you that you’re “doing it wrong.” Everyone is entitled to their opinions, but that doesn’t mean you have to listen.
6. Doing blindness the right way: there is no such thing as “doing blindness wrong.” Really, there isn’t. There are harmful behaviours and unwise practices, but disability is just a personal trait. Just as there’s no right or wrong way to be queer or female, there’s no wrong way to be blind. That doesn’t mean you’re above reproach and should be insulated from criticism; part of a community’s job is to watch out for each other and call each other out, but anyone who tries to claim there’s only one way to live this life is hopelessly narrow-minded. They can share their definitions of a life properly lived, but you don’t have to care.

Do you find yourself sick to death of any dead-end arguments? Feel free to share them in the comments; I’d love to hear them.

How Do You … Coordinate Your Clothing?

Lately, the blog has focused more on introspection than education, so it’s high time I returned to that theme. This week, I’ll introduce a new series of explanations on how I accomplish certain tasks as a blind person. I get so many questions on various topics that I think I’d like to devote a short series of posts to them, so in addition to regular posts, I’ll be writing this series as well. If you have questions or suggestions, please get in touch!
While I cannot speak for all blind people, and may not use the best techniques out there, there is enough public interest that I feel posts like this will be of use to someone (and may cut back on the zillions of questions I answer while trying to go about my business)!

How do you coordinate your clothes?

Dressing well is one of my top priorities. I’ve never been a fashion enthusiast, and I tend to favour comfort and utility over style, but I still value my appearance. Few things make people take me more seriously, both professionally and personally, than a well-chosen outfit. There persists an unfortunate stereotype: the sloppily-dressed blind person, wearing inside-out tops, unsuitable combinations, and mismatched socks. (This last is okay, in my book, mind you.) Since this is what so many people expect from me, I’m careful to prove them wrong.
I’m fortunate to live in a time when blind people are no longer universally advised to dress as neutrally and uninterestingly as possible. Taking risks with clothing, making fashion statements, or seeking individuality is no longer as discouraged as it once was. The public may still look at unusual outfits and assume that the poor blind person was just clueless (God forbid we exercise agency when we dress unconventionally), but we’re working to abolish this notion. We are realizing, as a collective, that we have every right to experiment and embrace our own sense of style. We don’t have to restrict ourselves to a dull, uninspired wardrobe simply because we can’t see.
So, how do I do it? I tend to cheat a little: I have enough usable vision to discern at least some colours, so this helps me keep track of which colour combinations I’m using. Understanding on a gut level which colours clash is never something I’ve been able to grasp, but I can at least go along with conventional wisdom.
One important thing I do is solicit feedback from sighted people I trust. Going shopping with someone whose eyes are fully functional reduces anxiety and helps me choose clothing more confidently. Learning to prioritize my preferences over other people’s opinions is still a struggle for me, as I have too little faith in my sense of taste, but I’m working on balancing sighted people’s opinions with my own instincts. I’ve been criticized for my love of ankle-length skirts, for example, but when I actually wear them, people realize they suit me well. Colouring inside the lines isn’t always the best choice, I promise.
Finally, I tend to choose clothing that’s both diverse in style and easy to coordinate. I go for dark-coloured skirts and pants so that I can wear virtually any colour of top and get away with it. I used to avoid anything that wasn’t black or white for fear of messing up, but I now experiment with brighter colours and more interesting outfits. My other strategy is to pick clothing with a distinctive fabric or shape, so I can distinguish, say, a yellow tank top from a white one. One day, I may have to use special tags or clothing labels to keep my wardrobe organized, but for now my memory works best.
Do I make mistakes? Absolutely, but more often than not, I receive praise for being so well-dressed. That’s good enough for me.

It’s The Little Things

So often, it’s the little things that spark my frustration. True, the broad, sweeping issues matter more in the grand scheme, but the minor, day-to-day irritations eat at me the most. Instructions I can’t read, inaccessible features of a website, people asking rude questions–these annoyances burrow beneath my skin and make me curse my disability (or, more accurately, the way the world treats that disability).
There’s another side to this, however. Just as I’m most ruffled by the tiniest details, so too am I cheered by equally inconsequential things. A door opened at just the right time, a person taking the time to describe an image, information provided in an alternate format—these are the gestures and accommodations that remind me the world is not falling apart. No matter how hopeless I feel, how acute my frustration, how black my outlook, there will always be some mundane occurrence or other to soothe my spirit, at least for a while.
My fundamental mistake, I think, is failing to acknowledge these happenings and give myself the space to be grateful. It’s easy to express gratitude for the landmark victories and grand gestures, but I’m less likely to stop what I’m doing and spend a moment simply appreciating the good that’s quietly and often anonymously done in the world each day.
My regular readers know just how averse I am to trumpeting positive mantras and ignoring uncomfortable truths. Disability advocacy is still sorely needed. The world has a long, long way to go before the personhood and humanity of people with disabilities is fully recognized and integrated into society’s structure. So many great leaps have yet to be taken, and there are a thousand battles left to fight. I’m aware of this, and so are fellow disabled people.
Yet, for my own well-being, I’m compelled to devote more energy to revelling in the simple kindness and thoughtfulness of others. Thanking a developer for prioritizing accessibility is, for now at least, just as important as calling another out for failing to do so. Writing social media posts about kindness, generosity, and hope should be as habitual as writing about injustice and prejudice. Venting my frustration is necessary, but expressing gratitude is necessary, too.
Even as we tell others how they have done wrong, we ought to tell them how they have done right. They may not listen or even care, but if we don’t give people the tools to improve, they never will. If we censure fellow disabled people, we must also build them up, for we all walk the same path.
I won’t close my eyes and make believe that the good outweighs the bad. I won’t ask anyone else to do that, either. Keep calling out what’s wrong in the world; your voice is vital, and if we do not speak, no one else will do so for us. In your own life, though, among those you come into direct contact with, focus on the good, as well. If a stranger does something you like, tell them so. If a disabled peer does something of which you approve, let them know.
Yes, we need to be watchful. We mustn’t become complacent and hide in a cocoon of warm, fuzzy feelings. That doesn’t mean we wouldn’t benefit from a few moments of happiness now and then, though.
So, take a moment. Think of the last time someone understood you, or supported you, or treated you the way you want to be treated. Reach back to that point—I hope it wasn’t too long ago—and remember how it made you feel.
Don’t forget.
It truly is the little things…

Hello Guilt, My Old Friend…

After months of being unemployed (or underemployed, if you count sporadic freelance gigs), I finally got a full-time job. I have, for the first time in my life, gainful, permanent employment. I have achieved what I’ve been hoping for, and it feels indescribably satisfying. I feel grateful, even though I earned the job. I interviewed quite well. I conducted extensive research on the organization before coming in, and proposed plenty of ideas which the interviewers seemed to love. I dressed well, spoke confidently, and wrote a cover letter of which I can be just a little bit proud. I had the necessary qualifications, useful background knowledge, and a passionate interest in the organization’s work. In short, I did everything right. I was, I think, offered the job on merit, and the accommodations I’d need were treated as a matter of course, not a burden.
I probably shouldn’t feel grateful at all. Nondisabled people don’t generally feel lucky when they get a job. If they’re qualified, they probably feel, if not entitled, then at least deserving. There’s no question of whether they can actually do the work; it’s assumed that they can until there is evidence to the contrary. Gratitude has a place in my life—quite a significant one, really—but it’s not something I really want to be feeling right now. I’ve been lucky, yes; in the current economic climate, just about everyone struggles to find work. Still, I did the legwork and I think the organization will continue to see me as an asset.
There’s another emotion that is harder to ignore though, and I consider it far more toxic. I feel overwhelming guilt—guilt that I, who have only been searching for a handful of months, got a job so soon. I feel guilty that my supervisors have absolute faith in me, never seeming to regard my disability as anything other than a personal trait. I feel guilty that a bachelor’s degree and scant experience were enough to land me the job, when far more qualified veterans of their fields couldn’t find a job if they begged. Most of all, I feel guilty that my highly-experienced, educated, and talented disabled friends are still out of work, still searching frantically, still wondering how they will make mortgage payments.
Again, I know guilt is not something I need to feel. None of my disabled friends would dream of resenting me. They are far too happy for me to feel something so petty. They’re overjoyed that I’ve found employers who value and respect me, and they’ve all emphasized how proud I should feel. (I don’t deserve my friends, I really don’t.) If anyone, disabled or otherwise, felt envy or resentment, they’ve hidden it well. The only person feeling anything other than pride and happiness is me.
From what I’ve gathered, this is a very normal emotional place in which to be. Disabled people have often confessed guilt when good fortune befalls them, no matter how hard they worked to be successful. So much of life is governed by luck, which is why people like me can find work and other, far more worthy candidates cannot. Yes, I slaved for my degree, and yes, I have an impressive-looking portfolio, but I’m certainly not the ideal candidate for most jobs. Yet here I sit, employed and happy.
I know better, but some dark, vindictive part of me thinks, “How dare you? How dare you rejoice when your friends are struggling? How dare you tell them all about your job and how great it is when they’re attending interview after interview without success? Are you so callous that you can enjoy your good fortune when people you love aren’t so fortunate? Really, how dare you?”
I’m doing my best to ignore that malicious little voice. I know full well that my happiness in no way robs others of opportunities. I know that my success will not hamper anyone else’s, and that the most productive, sensible course of action is to throw myself into the work and support my unemployed friends as well as I can. I know all this, but knowing a thing and believing it are two very different things.
I hope that I, and others in my position, will learn to eliminate or at least ignore these feelings of guilt. They are a waste of energy, and can even lead to self-sabotage if they are strong enough. There is no need to feel guilty, and certainly no good can come of it.
If you’re out there, and if you’re listening to that nasty little voice inside your head, do your best to tune it out. You are allowed to be happy. You are allowed to feel blessed without devaluing your effort and talent. Seriously, you’re allowed. Be there for your peers, give them a shoulder to cry on, and help them in whichever ways you can. That, friends, is all you need do.

Acknowledgements, Thanks, And Praise

Well, today’s the day: this is my one hundredth post on Where’s Your Dog. Some of you may be surprised to find out that I never, ever thought I’d reach this milestone.

This blog began, not as a noble attempt to educate, but as a combination of joke and experiment. I’d been talking about blogging for years, even before I’d known about the disability blogosphere, but I never imagined I’d actually go through with it. I always said I’d call it “Where’s your dog?” just to highlight the absurdity of stereotypes in general, and in a fit of inspiration one day, I went ahead and entertained the idea. Next thing I knew, Where’s Your Dog had taken off, and here we are.

Instead of writing the usual content today, I decided to stray into meta territory and thank the many people who have supported me throughout this project, and who I expect will be with me for as long as it lasts.

First, thank you to those who encouraged my writing, always, and were the first to pounce on my blog with enthusiasm. Family, friends, and teachers were chiefly responsible for the existence of this blog–as well as my writing career in general–and I cannot express how grateful I am for their steadfast faith in me.

Next, I want to thank the contributors who have offered quotes, ideas, and whole blog posts to enrich my own writing. You’ve given this space a diversity and depth I could not achieve on my own.

Bucketloads of thanks are in order for all those who have shared and commented consistently during the last two years. Whether you tweeted an article here and there or read faithfully each week, I am aglow with happiness when you take the time to read and share. The sheer volume of support from all quarters humbles me every day.

I must take a moment to thank readers who, even when they were complete strangers to me, went out of their way to write to me personally and tell me how much they enjoy the blog. At least one reader overcame shyness to write to me, and for that, I’m supremely grateful.

Finally, I must acknowledge those who lend me space on their own blogs. Blindbeader has been kind enough to link to me often, and promote my work as though it were as important as her own. So, to all the bloggers who have boosted my blog: I thank you from the bottom of my considerable heart.

I hope my readers will stick with me. I don’t know how long this journey will be or where it will take me, but I hope to see you all there at the end of it.

Age, Sex, Location, … Eye Condition?

“So…what have you got?”
“How…how did it happen?”
“Have you always been blind, or…?”
“So, what’s your eye condition? Mine’s ___.”

These are common icebreakers, coming from sighted and blind people alike. They are sometimes probing questions—people love a tragic story—but they’re usually well-meant attempts to start a conversation. It helps them start somewhere, especially if blindness is a novelty for them. It’s perfectly understandable that blind people would also ask these questions. They’re looking for solidarity and common ground. It makes sense.

Increasingly, however, I’ve grown weary of answering the questions. People have posed them before they’ve even bothered to ask my name, as though my blindness is the only immediately relevant detail. Others zip through the usual pleasantries, then lean forward in a confidential way and ask, in hushed tones, how it happened. In all these cases, I’m left feeling just a tiny bit miffed. While I’m happy enough to answer general questions, my eye condition is the least interesting fact about me, in my opinion, anyway. I’d much rather spend time chatting about my career aspirations, musical interests, and even the weather. Discussing these points makes me feel less like a novelty and more like an ordinary human. Worse, focusing on my eye condition gives me less to work with when I try to get to know you, especially if you are sighted. Throw me a rope, if you can, because discussing a disability you don’t have doesn’t give me much of a springboard.

I’ve noticed another variation of this tendency, wherein I mention a new blind person my sighted friends or family have never heard of. Almost invariably, the first thing out of their mouths is “Oh, what’s their eye condition?” I’ve seen people become annoyed and even frustrated when I draw a blank.
“Do you know…I don’t think I even asked.”
“You’ve known them for how long and you don’t even know that? Isn’t that sort of a basic thing to know?”
“It just…never came up.”

Yes, I have friends I’ve known for years whose eye conditions I either never knew, or forgot somewhere along the way. While I can usually tell you how much vision they have, if any, it’s a challenge for me to remember the exact details.

Why am I incurious? I don’t really know, but I do know I’m not the only one who isn’t very curious and who doesn’t really think it’s an important thing to know about a person. A friend was venting recently about her family’s obsession with eye conditions, after which she guiltily remarked that she could no longer recall mine.
“Don’t worry,” I said, “I doubt I even told you.”

Is it a sin to break the ice this way? No, of course it isn’t. Are there better, more tactful ways to get to know someone? Absolutely. While many blind people are amenable to discussing their eye conditions, you might have a more enjoyable conversation if you investigate their personalities and interests rather than the specifics of their blindness. Just a tip.

So, friends, I challenge you to go forth, break thou some ice, avoid mentioning eye conditions, and see what you discover.

The Problem With Naming And Shaming

It’s hard to escape our culture’s love of the practice of naming and shaming. Social media has provided fertile ground for this urge, tempting many a person to call out specific people for their mistakes. Where once we would have contented ourselves with disgruntled grumblings over a consoling cup of tea, we now take to Facebook and Twitter to denounce what we perceive to be mistreatment, ignorance, offence, and disgraceful behavior.

It’s quite understandable, really, even if it does bring an unsavory part of our culture into stark relief. The steady stream of likes and comments (and maybe even a mention on someone’s blog) are irresistibly gratifying. They create a cozy echo chamber, and any who dare to disagree or at least express empathy for the other side are silenced. It’s considered rude and even foolish to chime in if you disagree, because you’re “asking for it.” This argument is akin to the belief that people deserve death threats when they speak about controversial issues. It should not be the norm to be attacked when contributing thoughtfully and respectfully to a conversation on social media, no matter how strong the opposition.

This practice has dire consequences—consequences few people actually understand or even know about. When you name and shame a specific person, do you consider how this might affect their lives? More than once, a person’s life has been effectively ruined by some careless mistake they made, even when they have explained themselves. Can you imagine how you’d feel if you made an honest mistake and found yourself being torn to pieces for all to see? Serious offences, especially when committed knowingly, might merit this treatment (and it must be done judiciously even then) but sometimes we need to move on, if not forgive. Calling out a business, institution, or politician is one thing, especially when dealing with discrimination; calling out the average Joe for something they did to offend you is another. These people have feelings, and reputations, and a right to dignity. Even if you are deeply hurt and on fire with rage, think before you spew that invective on social media.

Yes, it’s frustrating when someone pets your service dog. Yes, it’s infuriating when someone treats you like a child. Yes, it’s demoralizing when someone grabs you without permission while you walk down the street. Yes, you have every right to be angry and, yes, you have every right to post about it. Goodness knows I do. No matter how upset you are, though, you still need to think carefully about consequences before you call someone out by name.

Don’t be lulled into a false sense of security because your privacy settings limit visibility, either. People get in trouble for shaming coworkers all the time, because all it takes is one person sharing screenshots of your post for your actions to become public knowledge. I think most of us have either done this or at least felt the pull—I know I have—but it’s time we gave this more thought. Sure, some people exhibit irritating and dangerous behaviour, and we should definitely shame that behavior in general, but is eviscerating the person on social media going to accomplish much beyond catharsis?

I do not think we should all remain silent when oppressed or genuinely hurt. I also think it’s reasonable to discuss bad behavior without naming specific perpetrators, as I do on this blog with regularity. However, we’d do well not to get too comfortable in our snug little echo chambers, even though they make us feel vindicated. If you want validation, call a friend you trust. Talk to a counsellor. Vent in safe spaces. Don’t use a public (or potentially public) platform to vent your spleen. In an age where everything we reveal online is preserved indefinitely, for anyone to stumble upon and bring to the fore even decades later, impulse control is more important than ever. If self-preservation isn’t enough for you to think twice, at least consider the impact your emotion-fueled condemnation will have on another human being—a human who wronged you, but who has a right not to be dog-piled by an angry mob.

So, think before you name and shame on social media. You never know what the long-term consequences might be.