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.

You Should Date A Blind Person, Because…

While some are busy advising us to date sighted people, others are equally busy insisting we date within the blind community. These people are influenced in part by a belief that sighted people are either inferior or superior, and that it’s best for us to stick to our own kind. They think you should date a blind person, because…

A blind person will understand you.

It’s always comforting to have people in your life who “get” you. I’m fortunate to have friends to rant to about inaccessible software and the exorbitant cost of braille displays. It’s hugely cathartic to have heart-to-hearts with other blind people who know where I’m coming from when I talk about the demoralizing aspects of blindness. But…
I have blind friends for that. I can join support groups and forums. Understanding of this sort is not difficult to find, thanks to the internet. I do not need to have a relationship with a blind person to experience this catharsis. While I was romantically involved with a blind man, I found that our blindness had little to do with our success as a couple. Our deep emotional connection was not dependent on our mutual understanding of what it’s like to be blind. It was convenient to be able to complain to him about something and have him understand me on a gut level, but I can go elsewhere for that connection, so it’s not his chief selling point, nor is it mine. Now that I’m with a man who has functional vision, I don’t feel the lack. We’re humans, and sighted people can understand us pretty well.

A blind person will accept you.

It’s certainly true that there’s a lot of prejudice out there. I recently discussed the sighted population’s tendency to reduce us to a fringe group, entirely unsuitable for romantic involvement. So, yes, it’s accurate to say that not all sighted people will accept us as we are. The fear of disability is alive and well.
Not every sighted person is this way, however. In fact, I’d say many sighted people are not this way, especially once they’ve met a few of us and realized we’re pretty normal. While I wouldn’t go so far as to disclose my blindness on a dating profile (opinions vary widely on this point), I know that being blind is not a recipe for a lonely life. It may take sighted partners time to do so, but many of them will eventually accept us.

A blind person will have more in common with you.

This idea usually comes from blind people who have been quite sheltered and have not ventured beyond the blind community enough to feel comfortable on the “outside.” They have somehow confused mutual understanding with general human compatibility, and do not necessarily know what it’s like to have things in common with someone who isn’t exactly like them. Most of my friends were and are sighted, though my network of blind friends and acquaintances has grown considerably in the past few years. While there were situations where they did not understand me, we generally get along like a house on fire because we enjoy the same activities and share some of the same views. A friend and I may not be able to hold long conversations about screen readers, but we can ramble on about various hobbies we both enjoy. One of my oldest and closest friends and I bonded because we were both introverted and both adored books. Another of my oldest friends was introduced to me through a mutual love of musicals. My blind partner and I bonded over a love of literature, a thirst for knowledge, and the same idea of what is absolutely hilarious. My current partner and I enjoy shared values, adventurous spirits, similar senses of humour, and mutual respect for each other and for the wider world. Most of the conversations that take place in my life are not about blindness-specific thoughts. They’re about animals, and books, and music, and education, and human relationships.

A blind person will let you be yourself.

If you’re lucky, any partner you choose will let you be yourself. It’s sort of the point of finding someone to spend your whole life with. You may as well throw your lot in with someone who won’t expect you to live a lie just to please them. The blindness-specific argument usually goes like this: blind people are abnormal by default; blind people cannot control their odd behaviours; blind mates will tolerate this; sighted mates will not. Ergo, blind people should stick to their own kind, so they don’t have to live under constant stress.
Okay, so sometimes being around a sighted person makes me nervous, because I feel scrutinized even when they’re looking the other way. I start to agonize over the way I’m accomplishing various tasks, like cooking, for example, in case I’m being eccentric about it. I now know that this pressure is compounded by choosing a sighted mate, because I want to remain attractive to him. If you’re choosing responsibly, though, you’ll try to find someone who will let you get on with life, and allow you to abandon the quest to appear as normal as possible at all times. Ideally, you’d choose a mate who won’t cringe with embarrassment every time you bring out the cane.
Then we come to the other part of this argument—that blind people are always abnormal and can’t do anything about it. Blindisms, like rocking and hand-flapping, can be difficult impulses to suppress. I was about twelve before I was able to stop eye-pressing altogether. It does take some dedication, for some blind people, anyway. Subscribing to the belief that we can’t rein ourselves in and that we shouldn’t even try is disempowering and blatantly false. I’m not saying that deviating from normative behavior in any way is automatically wrong, but if you want to be part of the larger world, you’re going to have to fit in to at least a small extent. It’s how life works, and sighted people with peculiar habits need to cultivate the same self-control. Dating a blind person so you won’t have to be too normal is a harmful lifestyle choice.

The moral of the story is this: date people because you like and are compatible with them, and not because they have or don’t have a disability. Get it? Got it? Good.

You Should Date A Sighted Person, Because…

Anyone with a love life knows full well how much people enjoy meddling in it. Everyone has an opinion about the ideal mate, and by God, they want you to hear about it. These opinions are sometimes sound enough, but they’re still just opinions, and not necessarily reflective of your needs, preferences, and values.

I, like many blind people, have heard all kinds of opinions about how I ought to manage every aspect of my life, down to which mobility aid I should use and how passionately I should desire a cure. When I began dating my previous partner, who happened to be blind, people were quick to loudly and emphatically express the opinion that I should choose a sighted mate, because…

“A sighted person can take better care of you.”

We begin with the pervasive assumption that blind people can’t take care of ourselves. Some simply mean that we struggle more with everyday tasks (which is often true). They point to the driving issue: wouldn’t it be so nice, they suggest, if your partner could drive you everywhere? They could come pick you up when you get lost, or help you shop so you wouldn’t need to bother the customer service people, or find your keys when you drop them, or walk with you so you don’t get hit by cars.
While some of these arguments might have merit, I don’t particularly need taking care of, at least not to the extent to which I’d need a live-in caretaker. Besides this, I don’t think most sighted people would appreciate a mate who selects them in whole or in part because they could act as caregivers. Even if a sighted person got off on that idea, I’m not interested in being someone’s source of validation. No thanks.

“A sighted person makes more money.”

Okay, so there’s no denying that many, many blind people find ourselves chronically unemployed. The job market is more limited and less welcoming. Despite diversity quotas and affirmative action, it’s still difficult for us to land and keep jobs, even when the economy is booming. So, technically, choosing a sighted mate would mean that at least one of us would have an easier time finding gainful employment. But…
Blind people can still work. We still establish and maintain high-paying, fulfilling careers. We attain the same level of education as sighted counterparts, and are still more than capable of making a living independently.
We’re supposedly past the stage where we believe women ought to have a man so they can be supported financially, so my argument is that, if I can live independently as a single, educated woman, than I can live with a blind guy, whether he is or is not rolling in it. Again, who would want a disabled mate who chose them because of their employment prospects? Seems a little shallow, no?

“A sighted person will keep you normal.”

Blind people, like many other disabled populations, are usually perceived to be alien. Sometimes, we are socially awkward, hesitant, and even a little sheltered. Some of us never outgrow common blindisms, like rocking, eye-pressing, or hand-waving. These are techniques we use to self-stimulate as children, and while some of us left these things far behind as we entered the adult world, others have more difficulty eliminating these habits. Beyond these very specific issues though, blind people are about as normal as any others, but sighted people don’t always believe this. They think of us as having our own little tribe, and encourage us to mix with sighted people to dilute the blindy weirdness as much as possible.
So, the logic follows that, if we date sighted people, we’ll be forced to stay as normal as possible to retain our attractiveness. There will be no room for letting things slide, or sinking to a lower standard of behaviour. Blind people, after all, encourage each other to act strangely, and don’t value normal human interaction, right?
All I’ll say to this is, there are a hell of a lot of strange sighted people in this world, and most of my blind friends are as normal as can be. Besides, I’m capable of befriending someone without adopting their exact lifestyle and mannerisms. So, even if I dated the wackiest blind guy alive, I’d probably be the same, normal-ish Meagan. (Hey, why are you laughing? Stop that. I can be normal! Seriously!)

“A sighted person is more of a catch.”

So, so many people are under the impression that I was settling by choosing a blind mate. I chose him because he was attractive and compatible with me; I did not settle for less by dating him. Sighted people are not better mates by default, even if they do have an easier time getting a job and are able to drive me to an unfamiliar place. My current partner, who is closer to being fully sighted than he isn’t, is also attractive and compatible with me. I selected him for the same reasons as my blind ex, and benefit far more from his sweet disposition and kind personality than from the various perks his vision can offer me. My relationship with a blind mate failed for reasons independent of disability, and my current relationship thrives for reasons unrelated to my mate’s sight.

If you liked this post, drop by next week for its companion piece, in which I discuss the reasons we should only date fellow blind people (and why they’re totally ridiculous).