I Need You To Need Me

While on a camping trip one summer, my cousin came over to my chair, plopped her infant son into my lap, handed me some grapes to feed him, and headed off to do something or other with her hands. I sat frozen for a moment, taking this in. For the first time ever, someone automatically assumed I’d be able to look after their child while they were busy. I felt so normal and useful and…human. Never had I been allowed to cuddle a child without some concerned sighted person hovering anxiously at my elbow, offering to take them back after half a minute. Never had anyone trusted me to babysit. Never had anyone asked me to so much as change a diaper. Here I was, at long last, snuggling a baby like I was a normal person or something.

Disability is a package deal, and there’s no point denying it. Along with all the obvious stuff, like the inability to accomplish certain tasks, there is the dynamic in which you are receiving help and support more often than you give it. With notable exceptions, blind people are all struggling with that dynamic with varying degrees of success. I’m sad to say I’m one of the not-so-successful ones, though I’m trying mightily hard.

All relationships require interdependence—healthy ones usually mean the ratio is equal—and that’s okay. Humans should need each other; we’re social animals and supporting one another is what social animals do (when we’re not tearing each other to pieces over competition for resources, that is). This raises an important question, though: how much is too much? At what point does an imbalance of dependence in any relationship become unhealthy for both parties? I’m not sure that question has a definitive answer, but what I do know is that most blind people seem to have at least one relationship that is slightly unhealthy simply because of increased dependence.

Worse than this, though, is the common perception that we need more help than we actually do. Many people assume I need help with just about everything, but this is simply not the case. What does this misconception lead to? Well, many things, but the one I’m zeroing in on is the fear of “burdening” us by asking us to help out. Whether we’re talking about household contributions, childcare, or party planning, it comes to the same thing: people are loath to need us in any way…and we desperately want to be needed. Being depended upon is excellent for confidence and general mental health, so it’s imperative that we find a place of usefulness within our relationships.

The main issue is circular reasoning: we’re incapable because we’re never allowed to learn new skills, and we can’t learn new skills because we’re incapable. It’s a tough cycle to break, and can involve growing pains on both sides. We require a degree of trust from sighted people. We’re asking them to overcome their anxiety and trust us with difficult tasks. They hate to give us responsibility, thinking we either don’t want it or can’t possibly manage it on our own.

To add icing to this distressing little cake, (I’m hungry, and hunger always justifies bad metaphors), we end up proving people right because we are awkward and inefficient while learning something new. Instead of treating this as normal and letting us get on with it, people jump in and finish tasks for us because it’s quicker and easier. So, we never get to learn, and they never get to lean on us.

It saddens me that I have so few memories of being trusted with complex and vital tasks, and I’m sadder still that those few memories stand out in my mind with such clarity. I should not be ecstatic over being allowed to hold and feed an infant without anyone hovering over my shoulder. That should not be an aberration, and it definitely should not be as fulfilling as it was. Times like that make me realize how starved I am for the feeling of usefulness. I want to matter to people beyond, say, my ability to sing them a pretty song or act as a sounding board for their problems. I’m sick of being given busywork, or being ignored by other students because they think I can’t do the same work they do. I’m sick of being passed over because of the mythology surrounding blindness. I’m sick, most of all, of feeling helpless.

At the moment, I do feel appreciated for being a good friend and a good writer, but my friends don’t call on me when they need babysitting done, or when they need house-sitting done, or even when they need food to be brought to a gathering. More than once, I was told not to bring any food to a party, only to discover that everyone else had been asked to bring something. I am capable of cooking, even if my repertoire isn’t huge, and I’m more than able to just go out and buy something. The Martha Stewarts of the world might clutch their pearls in consternation, but most people wouldn’t care.

The only remedy I’ve found is to be pushy about what I can do, and to be honest about what I can’t. I barge my way into a situation where I think help might be needed, insisting I would like to pitch in and not leaving people any room to protest. I’m adamant about assisting where I can, and also more insistent when it comes to learning a new skill. After numerous discussions with blind people from all walks of life, I have concluded that this is the only way forward for us. I hope that, in time, things will get better. Until then, I ask only that sighted people open their minds and allow me a way in. I can be useful, too.

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10 Ways To Be a Good blind Person, Part II

As I mentioned last week, the “rules” governing the conduct of blind people are a tangled mass of contrary ideas, making it impossible to get it right. I’ve essentially given up trying, but I still feel it important to illustrate the end of the spectrum I did not cover last week. It is the end I like to call “dependence, abnormality, and extreme expression”. While last week’s rules focused on blending in, emulating the sighted, and feeling subpar, this side of the spectrum focuses on playing up the blindness to levels I consider unhealthy and absurd. While this set of rules is likely observed by far less people than last week’s set, they are doubly significant because they are, if possible, even more damaging than the others. It’s time to call these out for the ridiculous, self-defeating falsehoods that they are.

 

 

  1. A good blind person understands that disability automatically and permanently bars one from competing in this sighted world in any meaningful way. Any attempts to be competitive should be restricted to the Blind Community, for it is only there that one can hope to stand out in a way that matters. If sighted people try to draw a blind person into the wider world, they should be strongly discouraged.
  2. Blindness is an inextricable part of one’s identity, and should be treated as such. Those wishing to suppress their true selves by avoiding blindisms (EG: rocking, head bobbing, hand flapping etc.) are guilty of trying to fit a hopelessly square peg into a round hole. Blindness is all of what we are, and striving to seem normal is both futile and disloyal to oneself and the Community.
  3. A good blind person acknowledges that disability invariably breeds dependence on others. Asking for help—even when one could help oneself—is inadvisable. Because we are so disadvantaged, we should accept that our lives were meant to be made easier by are more capable sighted counterparts. Blind people who devote themselves to becoming more independent than is natural are merely in denial, and will eventually realize that disabled means dependent, no matter who you are. After all: what kind of logic would permit a person to do something for themselves, often with undue hardship, when it can be done for them?
  4. A good blind person will immerse him or herself fully and completely into the Blind Community, especially where blindness-related technology, education, social networking, and other such pursuits are concerned. Championing causes aligned with greater independence, especially in the work force, are unnecessary. There is no point in wasting one’s energy trying to make this world easier for us to live in. It is much wiser to accept the altered (and cloistered) life that blindness affords us.
  5. A good blind person blossoms when surrounded by the unique solidarity, comfort, and support only fellow blind people can offer. Trying to fit in with sighted friends, coworkers, (assuming one bothers to work), and love interests is a disaster waiting to happen. We only fit in with those who are like us, and the sighted should only be interacted with when absolutely necessary. Only with fellow blind people can we truly be ourselves, and being true to what one is is the golden rule. Blind people professing to be at ease with sighted people will be dismissed as arrogant; it is likely that such people have delusions of grandeur in any case.
  6. A good blind person will live a life that adequately displays his or her self-love and self-acceptance. It is perfectly acceptable, therefore, to live off government assistance, avoid working at all costs (no one would hire us anyway), and spend the bulk of one’s time browsing social networks for the blind or associating with blind friends. Longing for a normal life is silly and unproductive; one should instead enjoy what the disabled world has to offer. So go ahead: name your cane; write long and detailed social networking posts about your guide dog (preferably from the dog’s point of view); put “blind” into your every username or alias; wear your mismatched, faded clothing with pride, and don’t be afraid to spin in a circle with your arms in the air; don’t let anyone, sighted or blind, advise you on what looks “normal”, even if your observers’ opinions might matter. Of course, one should be prepared to demonstrate the proper level of indignation should people marginalize a blind person when they behave this way. There is a certain glory in abnormality; learn to embrace it.
  7. Following the above, a good blind person is always totally content with is or her lot. Anyone lamenting the fact that they cannot see for any reason (even for matters of practicality) can only be unable or unwilling to accept his or her true identity. If one seeks a cure, one is turning away from the Community that would otherwise have nurtured and protected them from all outside forces. Being blind is wonderful in its way, and if one is not specifically proud of themselves in the concept of one’s blindness, serious issues will arise. Persistently indulging in such thoughts will result in an outright betrayal of oneself and of one’s Community.
  8. A good blind person should treat the sighted population as the strangers that they are. They are not like us, no matter how much we may want them to be. They are even inferior in some ways—with their groping about in the dark, their constant reliance upon their fallible vision, and their insistence upon worrying about silly things like physical appearance and blending into the landscape. It is perfectly acceptable to mock them with epithets like “sightie” or “sightling”. Sighing over their peculiarities and failings is encouraged. While they are convenient to have around, they are not our peers. Do not ever think otherwise.
  9. A blind person must accept that true competence is beyond them. One does not have to cook, clean, or keep house for oneself. One is not under any obligation to work, or play a productive role in the wider society. All that matters is that one is an active and useful member of the Blind community. Escaping into the sighted world and trying to carve out an existence there is a most grievous offense.
  10. A good blind person remembers that we live in a sighted world, but that there is a separate Community to which we all belong. All that is outside this Community is frightening, hostile, and cold. We will never find happiness or success there. Because we have been severely disadvantaged and are destined to lead diminished lives, we must remember that society owes us the luxury of getting more out of life than we put into it. Even if we mostly dismiss the sighted world at large, we should still recall that accessibility is our right, inclusion our privilege, and admiration our due. Disability sets us apart, and that we must respect; we are not like them, and they are not like us.