In Defence Of “Internet” Friendship

“So, where did you meet your friend ___?”

“We used to post to the same blindness forum, and–”

“Oh…so not, like, a friend friend.”

“A friend friend?”

“You know, like a…real friend. Someone you actually know.”

Friendships forged through online interaction have gained considerable legitimacy since I was a young teenager first experiencing the internet, but it’s dismaying how often online friends are casually dismissed by people of all ages. Apparently, there was an authoritative friendship conference several years ago that resulted in an unofficial friendship hierarchy, which influences the way friendship is viewed by everyone ranging from seniors to high schoolers.

According to this mystical hierarchy, you can’t measure a friendship in love, but rather in geography. If you only see your childhood friend once a year for a quick coffee and cursory catchup, that still ranks higher than an “internet” friend whom you haven’t met in person but with whom you communicate daily. Friends who live across the street usually carry more weight with people than a friend who lives across the world, regardless of intimacy, frequency of communication, and overall satisfaction derived from the friendship. (This also applies to romantic relationships, as I learned to my immense chagrin while dating men I’d met online.)

Besides the fact that I find this arbitrary standard inflexible and anachronistic, I also feel it comes down heavily on disabled people, who seem to have an especially large number of online friends. Anyone experiencing loneliness, isolation, and/or a lack of typical social opportunities can benefit from online social networks, and reducing internet interactions to something pale and second-rate targets a population that is already marginalized. While many disabled people can and do seek social opportunities within their geographical sphere, the internet is an enticing place where the playing field feels more equal and the supportive communities are numerous.

My isolated childhood is a living advertisement for the value of online friends. I was an introspective soul who struggled to make friends in traditionally-accepted ways, and internet social circles were far easier for me to embrace. Online, I didn’t have to be the awkward, introverted blind girl. I could talk to people who were older and wiser than me, share resources with fellow blind peers, and enjoy a sense of social freedom that couldn’t be found in my small-town ecosystem. I treasured the offline friends I did make, but they didn’t offer the diversity and understanding I found online.

Now, as my life becomes busier and my chronic pain limits my social activities, I appreciate my supportive online network of disabled and non disabled friends more than ever. The love, encouragement, assistance, and companionship they offer are as real and meaningful as anything provided by my equally-adored offline friends. As my heart breaks with the death of an online friend’s husband, and soars with joy at another online friend’s success at work, I do not doubt the gravity and significance of friendships conducted and sustained via the internet.

My internet friends are indeed “real” friends. When they are troubled or grieving or frightened, I comfort them. When I need a friendly ear in the middle of the night, there is always someone to call. My online friends send the best care packages, letters, and virtual (but no less heartfelt) affection. We pay astronomical amounts to visit each other, and make memories we cherish for years. We assist each other financially, emotionally, and spiritually. My online friends may not be able to drive me to an appointment or hold my hand when I’m ill, but they can provide love, advice, compassion, empathy, and laughter.

Never let anyone disparage your online friendships. The internet is a fickle friend, and you may certainly find dangerous, duplicitous people there–people whom you will befriend and later delete from every social network, wondering why you were ever naive enough to trust them. But more often than not, you’ll find people who are excellent friendship material–people who will fuse your happiness with theirs and do everything in their power to enrich your life. Whatever people say, however much they scoff, appreciate and cherish the friends you make online, and always measure your relationships in love and respect, not geography and popularity.

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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.

Life Ain’t Easy (For a Disabled Person’s Sibling)

If you’ve been fortunate enough to grow up with siblings, you know how much they matter. Whether we are plotting their imminent deaths or singing their praises, they’re always present in our lives and, if you’re lucky like me, poised to pick up the pieces when life shatters us.
People overlook the fact that, while having a disability makes for a tough life, being a disabled person’s sibling comes with its own challenges. Inspired by my own sister, I give you just a few of the many reasons we should all thank our siblings

They often take the back seat: Parents and families tend to lavish a lot of attention on us, whether we appreciate it or not. It’s usually because we need more assistance and support. My parents didn’t have to fight for my sighted sister’s right to an equal education. Still, siblings are so often shunted to the side, even when they could use a little support of their own. The admirable bit is that they rarely complain. It’s just the way it is, and they understand that.

They are irrevocably connected to us: Anyone who knew me back home immediately connected me with my disability, at least initially, and my sister couldn’t escape the association, either. Being the older sibling helped her establish her own identity outside of mine, but she was often asked whether she was “Meagan’s sister,” and quizzed about what it was like to have a blind person in the family. The situation is even worse for siblings of those with more severe disabilities, who rarely evade the harsh light of other people’s scrutiny. We mustn’t forget that they’re people, too, with individual roles beyond “sibling of disabled person.”

They become secondary parents: Blind people can sometimes avoid this, because we tend to be reasonably independent souls. Even so, siblings often take on part of our care, especially when are parents aren’t around. My sister drove me to countless engagements, helped me coordinate outfits, and ensured that I was getting along okay, just generally. She was asked to shoulder more responsibility than any sibling should, and she usually did so without complaint.

They are asked to work harder: while some families are more egalitarian than others, it often happened that my sister ended up with the bulk of the “difficult” chores. While I did the dishes, she went out and picked rocks, or mowed the lawn, or changed the oil on a vehicle. My family’s subtle aversion to tasking me with anything too hard prevented me from learning some concrete skills, and it also meant my sister often got the shaft where household responsibility was concerned. Mostly, she dealt with that dynamic gracefully, only occasionally giving into a (justified) rant or two.

They become fierce defenders: My sister is a nonconfrontational person, but mess with me and you’d better hope you’re not within glaring distance. As we strolled through the mall, being gawked at by strangers, my sister dispensed cheery waves and bright, toothy smiles with relentless determination. She’s shamed more than a few people into looking away guiltily, and she can’t bear to watch me being mistreated. I learned not to tell her about any bullying that went on in my life, lest it enrage her. I don’t need protecting, but it’s still comforting to know that someone will be angry on my behalf when I’ve been treated unfairly.

They grow up too fast: siblings of disabled people learn about sacrifice, hardship, injustice, and inequality very early on. My sister was presented with living proof that life is not often fair; that people sometimes get rare and incurable genetic diseases; and that the world is not kind to anyone with a disability. My sister also had to learn self-sacrifice early and often, sometimes missing out on something she wanted because I needed something else more. She had to settle for less time and attention. She even had to forego certain visual experiences because I’d be left out. These are things she’s forgiven me for, and they are things I still feel guilty about.


If this sounds like your sibling, send them a text, give them a call, or link them to this article. Seriously. Do it. Right now. I’ll wait.

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.