My Words Are My Own: Language Policing In The Disability Community

“Don’t talk about yourself that way!”
“You shouldn’t devalue yourself!”
“You should always use person-first language. Do not put your disability before your personhood.”

I remember the first time I encountered the language police, and experienced the odd sensation of having my own words criticized and found unsuitable. It’s one thing to be careful when addressing other disabled people and the community as a whole; words are powerful and should be used with care. Even so, I’m not sure I’ll ever get used to being told that the words I use to describe myself are objectively wrong.
If you are at all familiar with the disability community, you’ve probably seen an article or three about the importance of person-first language: “person with disability” supposedly places the person before the disability, preventing people from letting disability define them in any way. (The policing of individual identities has long puzzled me. What is the deal with that?)
I’m perfectly willing to address and describe others in the way they prefer. Respecting individual preferences is a practice I value very highly. Autonomy is a luxury we are so often denied. Far be it from me to take it away from someone else, especially if their voice is not as loud as my own.
However, when it comes to my own identity and disability, I consider my words and preferences to be above everyone else’s. I do not say this out of arrogance or dismissal of the beliefs of others. My ears are always open, and the way I define myself has shifted with time and experience. That said, if I want to call myself visually impaired instead of partially sighted, disabled instead of differently abled, or normal instead of special, that is my prerogative. I do not feel that anyone has the right to dictate how I ought to view myself, particularly not on my own blog. (Besides, I find “person with a disability” clunky, especially when it comes up multiple times. It’s just quicker and easier to say “disabled.”)
For the most part, this misplaced desire to correct and police my language comes from misguided, well-intentioned able people, who do not understand that just because that one blind guy they know doesn’t mind being called special doesn’t mean they’re at liberty to assume everyone feels that way. I’m constantly running into the frustrating notion that disabled people’s wishes are not as important as nondisabled people’s. I am angered and dismayed by the idea that they know better than we do, and it seems that even those with minimal knowledge of the community are willing to tell us we’re wrong.
Surprisingly, though, some of this policing comes from fellow disabled people, who seem to think that I am somehow harming or degrading myself by using terms they deem offensive. Offence is ultimately an individual experience, and I do not believe anyone can seriously expect to know what should offend me and what should not.
I personally find euphemisms like “differently abled” and “handicapable” repugnant. I see them as proof that society still wishes to tiptoe around disability, remaining unable to fully accept and make peace with its existence. Branding me special or differently abled takes away from the fact that my condition is basically just a hardware failure. No, it does not have to define me, and no, it does not consume my whole life, but yes, it’s a meaningful part of me—one I’ve learned to live with in relative contentment. There is no need to gloss it over or refer to it using roundabout language designed to make able people feel better about it.
Please do not police my language when I describe myself. Please do not presume to know how I should treat my own identity. Please do not shame me for the way I choose to look at myself and my place in the wider world. By all means, let me know your perspective on the best terms to use in general, but do not take it upon yourself to set me straight when I’m talking about myself. When it comes to my blindness, and mine alone, I know best.

It’s a Human Thing

Over dinner with a dear cousin of mine, I was waxing pathetic about how much it grieves me that I can never slice vegetables in a straight line. My cucumbers and carrots end up being very fat on one side while dwindling to a mere ghost of themselves on the other. I was going on and on about how I can never get the angle right, and that blindness really gets in the way. I told her that I imagined there was some kind of mystical trick to it, because there’s no way that everyone was messing up the way I was.
“Meagan, that’s not a blindness thing. That’s a human thing. I can’t cut straight either.”
“Oh…really?”
“Really.”
“You have no idea how much better I feel right now.”

Sometimes, blind people hold themselves to much higher standards than sighted people do. I think it’s because expectations are tragically low: a blind person is lucky if their sighted family and friends think they’ll be able to feed themselves and hold down a job. These low expectations can force some of us to aim very high—even higher than the average sighted person might.

There is this drive to be totally independent (never mind that no one is entirely independent). Even sighted educators and consultants have fallen into this trap. They expect a blind person to go the extra mile to be an excellent student, a fantastic cook, an immaculate housekeeper, a highly successful employee … and on and on. As Leo once said, few sighted people aspire to or manage these things, especially in this age of convenience.

Sighted people aren’t perfect by default. They aren’t even particularly successful by default. Sighted people make many of the mistakes that blind people attribute to their failings as a blind person. Revelation after revelation has led me to the point where I’m not nearly as ashamed of my own struggles, because I now realize they’re a result of being human, not of being blind.

Some sighted people don’t eat neatly, while I generally do, depending on what I’m eating. Sighted people spill things, knock things over, and drop stuff; I rarely make messes, because I’m very careful not to “seem too blind.” Many sighted people don’t know the bus system, while I berate myself for not being familiar with its every component. So many sighted people aren’t great cooks, so now I don’t hate myself for being a mediocre one.

I look around at the students I’ve gotten to know, and I find that even the older ones aren’t as capable as I thought I had to be at, say, sixteen. If they can pop a bowl of soup in the microwave, deal with their leaning tower of dishes, and occasionally vacuum, they’re doing okay. I was taught to see that lifestyle as the lowest point you can ever experience. I thought that, if I wasn’t perfect, then I was being a bad blind person. I was exemplifying all those lowered expectations, while simultaneously failing to meet the much higher standards others had imposed upon me.

While in junior high, I struggled to complete an art-based science project on my own. I’m very creative, but not when it comes to using my hands. My idea of arts and crafts is to put random beads onto a piece of string. Maybe I’ll glue a feather and some seashells onto construction paper and call it a collage. I wasn’t an art person in any sense, and being blind didn’t help, of course. While I was struggling with this exercise, my EA came over to show me a gorgeous science project some blind girl at another school had made. The assumption, I suppose, was that if she could do it, I should be able to do it, too. You’d never ever say to a sighted student, “Someone in a completely different school made this. What’s wrong with you? Why can’t you make this, too? Why can’t you go the extra mile?” Yet, when it came to me, my inability to equal her work was attributed to laziness. I must be an underachiever, right?

I’ve written about why it’s a mistake to compare blind people on more than a superficial level. Having different strengths and weaknesses than another student is not a blindness thing, but a human thing.

Once a blind person grasps this, they can start living a more relaxed and contented lifestyle. Once educators and other professionals who work with us realize this, too, everybody will be happier for it.

Another dear cousin (my cousins are awesome, what can I say?) once gave me this advice:

Ultimately, the only person you have to live with all your life is you. The only person who will always be there is you. Therefore, the only person you have to please, in the long run anyway, is yourself. Live up to your standards, and nobody else’s.

Whether she knew it or not, that advice altered my thought processes and, by extension, my self-concept. It has, in short, changed my life. I hope it changes yours, too.

I’m a Real Girl!

A few months ago I was enjoying lunch at a pub with some friends. We were chatting idly about Lush Cosmetics, a particular weakness of mine, when the server approached to bring us drinks. Interrupting, she said, “Oh! I’ve heard of Lush, but don’t really know anything about it; I’m not a real girl.”. And this got me thinking…

 

What does it mean to be a “real” girl? Or, more appropriately, what does it mean to be a real woman? Some claim it’s motherhood—that the ultimate purpose and design of woman is to bear children. Our society has moved a little beyond such a primitive and restrictive view, but what hasn’t It moved beyond? Some say it’s about being “girly”. But what does that mean, exactly, and at what point aren’t you girly enough to be “real”?

 

When I was growing up, my lack of “girliness” was keenly felt. Not only was I a practical person who didn’t like to spend my precious free time jabbering constantly about makeup and boys, but I was also unable to fully appreciate many of the pursuits my girlfriends enjoyed. Sure, I could let someone give me a makeover, but I couldn’t look into the mirror and appreciate the full effect. I was not comfortable doing anyone else’s makeup either (though there are many blind women out there who do makeup, hair, and nails with confidence—I applaud their courage!). So, the common sleepover parties didn’t really appeal to me; they were filled with trying on each other’s clothes, giggling a lot, an drooling over “cute” boys I’d never even spoken to before.

 

There are many small things I have not and will never do for myself that would make me a more “real” girl. I didn’t get to pick my own grad dress; my sister and mom, both being possessed of excellent taste, did most of the “choosing”. All I could tell them was what I liked, and having been exposed to very few dresses of that grandeur, I really had no opinion. I soon realized It wasn’t about comfort or the feel of the fabric or any other element I could actually understand. It was all about the look. Similarly, I will not be able to independently choose my own wedding dress. While I’ll definitely have a say in the matter, I won’t be able to comprehend on a gut level how it flatters my body, or skin, or eye colour, or any of the rest of it. Even when I do occasionally let people do my makeup for me (it’s not something I bother with on a regular basis), I can’t say it’s a huge source of excitement. I appreciate the glow of being told I look beautiful, but that’s about as far as it goes in a lot of cases.

 

For a long time, I felt horribly ostracized. I worried that I wasn’t “real girl” material. I fretted that not being enthusiastic about fashion and general cosmetics made me inferior, somehow, even a step lower than someone who can see but who chooses not to get excited about such things. But that server in that pub got me thinking, and she made me realize something: I am as real as it gets. I love perfume, and fragrant tea, and artisan soap, and candles, and pretty dresses. I love picking out skirts and fancy high heeled shoes it’ll take me ages to learn to walk in at any speed. I like Lush Cosmetics, and The Body Shop, and Rocky Mountain Soap Company, and even Scentsy. So, I must be a real girl, right?

 

Hang on, though: if these are the measuring sticks by which we measure a “normal”, “real”, or even “successful” girl/woman, is that not just as primitive as the idea that it is motherhood which defines us? Some girls like things that smell and look pretty, but others don’t. Some girls plan to have children, but some can’t or won’t. Is there some arbitrary threshold past which you are an acceptably real girl and before which you’re straddling the line, not quite belonging? We should be past all that. We should be relating to each other as human beings who like the same things, not as “girls” and “guys”. If my male friend likes candles, then we’ll go candle shopping. It doesn’t mean he’s not a “real” boy.

 

It’s okay to generalize, but when you start pushing people out—especially for reasons they can’t control, like personal preference or in my case, visual impairment—that’s your cue to draw the line. We put people in neat little boxes enough as it is. Let’s all just focus on being real human beings, shall we?

Can You See Me?

A few years ago, I performed an informal little social experiment while in the grocery store: I began by walking just behind the cart (I was pushing, my sighted companion steering) with my cane out and plainly visible. After a few minutes, I folded the cane and put it in the cart so that it was out of sight. I have “normal” eyes, so I don’t look conspicuously blind; if the cane isn’t easy to see, people don’t always realize right away that I have any sort of disability at all. Since I was just pushing the cart, the blindness really wasn’t obvious. You may well ask what the point of such an experiment could be. Here is what I discovered: while my blindness was on display, as it were, I got pitying, fascinated, or outright terrified looks. Mothers instinctively pulled their children from my path, even when they were in no danger whatsoever of colliding with me. The elderly and the very young gazed at me as though I were some foreign creature they’d never seen before. It was clear that while everyone was looking at me, they weren’t seeing me, the human woman. They were seeing a blind person, and no more. When the cane was out of sight though, people either didn’t notice me at all, or (in the case of the young male population, anyway) looked at me with interest. (This is not vanity; my sighted companion was the one who told me of this!)

 

What have I learned from experiments such as these? Well, quite a few things. One is that people are inherently afraid of (or at least fascinated by) what they don’t understand. Another is that people will never be completely comfortable with difference, no matter how hard we work to encourage tolerance. A third thing is that those with disabilities are hypervisible and totally invisible at the same time. We are either the centre of attention (in a zoo-creature kind of way) or we don’t exist at all. We are either being asked to speak on behalf of all disabled people, or we’re being completely overlooked. We’re either being asked if we need help (or other more intrusive questions) or we’re being severely marginalized. Our canes, dogs, wheelchairs, cochlear implants, talking phones and computers…these all ensure that we are very visible to everyone and anyone who is curious, frightened, or hostile. Yet these things also make us totally invisible as human beings. We are not individuals. Instead, we are archetypes, or representatives, or ambassadors. If we’re not any of those things, we’re not anything at all.

 

These are general observations; do remember that. Before you indignantly point out that not all people treat us this way, please keep in mind that I’m aware of that. I am surrounded by wonderful friends, family, instructors, employers, and total strangers who treat me with dignity, respect, and courtesy. Most of the people I know think of me as an individual and not as a spectacle to be gawked at.

 

The trouble is, there are also many people who do treat me like a spectacle.

People watch me perform every little minor task, exclaiming over it and pestering me with endless questions. I am hypervisible.

People discuss me well within earshot, sometimes complimenting but often just speculating about what might be wrong with me. I’m invisible.

People stare openly at me while I enjoy a day at the mall, being careful not to actually interact with me in any way. I am hypervisible.

People confuse me with other blind people because they recognize the cane but don’t recognize my face. I am invisible.

 

My life is not a spectator sport. My identity is not simply made up of disability and the quest to overcome it. As I’ve said time and time again, there is far more to me than what I can’t do. I don’t want to be anyone’s representative. I don’t want to be “special” just because I’m the first person to take a certain course, or work at a certain organization. Many people with disabilities find themselves pioneering and paving the way (more on that in upcoming posts) but we seldom enjoy it. It’s just another reminder that we’re less an individual person and more a symbol.

 

I understand that you’re curious. I understand that you mean well (mostly). I also find that the open, discourteous way people often stare at me bothers the people who love me far more than it bothers me. Just ask my sister; she’ll tell you what she thinks of people who do that. (She has been known to smile and wave at them until they are shamed into looking away, because she’s gloriously protective. I’m very lucky.) I understand that difference will always be intriguing, and scary, and daunting. I get it. But…

 

Please don’t watch me eat. Please don’t comment on every little thing I do as though it were the most interesting thing you’ve ever seen. Please don’t observe me with an eagle’s eye, leaping to react to my every movement. Please don’t talk about me like I’m not in the room. Please don’t make fun of other people with disabilities (derisively) when I’m present…

 

Please try to see past my cane and get to know my face. Please get past the fact of my blindness and get to know me as Meagan—the professional communications student who loves cats and hates mosquitoes.

 

Can you see me?

My Eyes Are Broken…But I’m Not

I can’t count the times people have discussed a cure for blindness as though it were a life-saving miracle. They treat it like the one thing in the world that would fix me—make me into a normal, functional, and ultimately happy human being. If I dare to question this idea, I’m immediately dismissed because “…well, if you knew what it was like, you’d change your mind, trust me.”. The problem with this argument is that it only represents one perspective: to a sighted person, seeing is the most essential thing in the world, and they are incapable of imagining life without it. Therefore, sighted people assume that my life must be a dark, terrifying, lonely place full of uncertainty and suffering. Gregg, who has been totally blind from birth, observes that, for many sighted people, losing their sight is almost akin to losing their life—a kind of death, so to speak. They rely upon it to the extent that going without it seems horrifying beyond words.

 

And yet, people lose their sight all the time, and most of them go on to live full, happy lives. Certainly it’s difficult at first; the adjustments that must be made are impossible to quantify. Still, they make it work, and many of them find their existences fulfilling enough, even without their sight.

 

Imagine, then, how a person who has never seen must feel. Having never relied upon sight for any aspect of their daily living, a world without it is perfectly natural and, for some at least, even desirable. To return to Gregg’s perspective for a moment:

 

I define the world by the things I can hear, taste, smell and touch, and in almost thirty-one years I’ve learned that there are many details found in these four senses that people with good vision often miss or ignore. I wouldn’t ever want to give that up for purely aesthetic reasons…

 

I can say that, in my own experience, there are many subtle details sighted people never appreciate, because sight is such a dominant, all-consuming sense. It is, as I like to refer to it, the greediest sense humans possess. I notice, for instance, the smell of fresh ice at a hockey game, while everyone else is busy exclaiming over the sport. I love the smooth feel of a loonie in my hand (it’s my favourite coin) while most people only notice the inscriptions on it. I can hear my surroundings with such precision that I hardly need more than echoes and a few landmarks to get around. While none of these things diminish the value of sight, they do mean that life in darkness isn’t so colourless as you might assume.

 

When I try to explain this to the average sighted person, they can hardly contain themselves, so exasperated and incredulous are they: “Butt…what about sunsets! Or the faces of the ones you love! Or…like…photographs! Wouldn’t you love to see all those things? Aren’t you curious? Don’t you care?”. The short answer is, sort of. To quote my good friend Alicia, also blind from birth, “I’m certainly curious about colours, and sunsets, and cats, and what people look like…” but she goes on to say that “I don’t live in hope, or even think about a cure all that much.”. This holds true for me, as well. There is no denying that it would be very, very cool to be able to see all those wonderful things I’ve been vicariously appreciating all my life, but I don’t find myself with a passionate desire to lay eyes on them, either. It feels like a perk more than a necessity, and I certainly don’t live my every waking moment hoping for a cure. Particularly for those who have been blind from birth, it’s pretty tough to miss what you’ve never had.

 

Now, one cannot have a nuanced discussion about cures for blindness without conceding that being sighted makes life considerably easier. If ever I become frustrated with my lack of sight, it is because of practical problems, like wishing I could drive myself somewhere instead of calling a cab or trying to figure out bus routes (or worse, bumming a ride). When I drop my keys and spend five minutes groping for them, I dearly wish I could just look down and find them instantly. The employment perks don’t hurt, either; as I’ve said in previous posts, the blind are chronically unemployed, and even when we do find jobs, we have to work extra hard to prove that we’re worthy of them. All that being said, civilization has evolved to the point where we can live reasonably independent lives, and most of the things we can’t do by default can be accomplished with the help of technology. It’s not as though we live in a wasteland with no connection to the outside world, and no meaningful place in it. It can be argued (and often is) that someone who willingly refuses a cure because they’re happy with their lot is a drain on resources. Why should the public help such a person when they have chosen this life for themselves?

 

This argument leads me to the crux of the matter: a cure is not a perfect solution. It’s comforting to think of it as a Hollywood-style magic moment where the patient opens their eyes, looks around, and becomes overwhelmed with the beauty and wonder of the world at large. This might be difficult for a sighted person to imagine, but humour me: try to picture (pardon the pun) what it would be like to suddenly gain an entirely new sense halfway through your life. All the feedback your brain is receiving is new to you, and you have no idea how to process it. If you’ve ever watched those viral videos in which deaf people are given cochlear implants, you’ll notice that the moment they begin to hear, they burst into tears. These tears aren’t necessarily those of joy; they are, more likely, brought on by being intensely overwhelmed. It is not as though a newly sighted person could look at the nurse beside them and think ‘okay, that’s a human dressed in scrubs’. They would have no concept of colour, shape, visual context, or even light and shadow; it’s all so new, and totally foreign. As CrazyMusician and Gregg have both mentioned to me, the rehabilitation process for a newly-sighted individual could take months or even years. They would essentially have to relearn how to do every little task that they have previously done without the use of their eyes. Even if the rehabilitation went smoothly, the mental and physical exhaustion brought on by processing so much information would be potentially debilitating, at least initially. This isn’t even taking into account the invasive and risky procedures a cure for blindness would require. Fiddling with detached retinas and faulty optic nerves is no mean feat. Since few have actually undergone such procedures, it’s impossible to say how successful a cure would really be. If you’re curious about what it’s like for someone with partial vision to be given enhanced vision, even for a short time, read this excellent post by Leona Emberson. While she enjoyed her experience with her electronically enhanced eyes, she went back to her regular vision rather gladly. For those who’ve lost their sight later in life, a cure makes a lot of sense. For people like me, though, it’s risky at best.

Don’t get me wrong: I understand why sighted people push so hard for a cure, and seem so baffled when I tell them I’m not actively hoping for one. However, until you’ve walked a mile in my shoes, you can’t understand what my life is like, and cannot, therefore, make judgments about what would make mine better for me. Only I can make such judgments, and I’ve already made them. I remain open-minded, of course, and should a relatively low-risk cure come along one day, I may go for it. The point is that I don’t have to; I don’t have to submit to being “normalized” just for the sake of it. As Chris Swank so eloquently puts it, “I’m not broken, even if society thinks I am.”. There’s a great deal of difference between broken eyes and broken people.

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.

Things That Go Buzz In The Night

Summer is drawing to a close, and to make myself feel a little better about the autumn chill in the air, I’m going to take this opportunity to discuss creepy crawly buzzy creatures you only find during the otherwise idyllic summer months.  Who knows? It might just make you feel better about the impending cold, too!

 

 

Insectophobia is one of the most common phobias worldwide. Its effects can range from mildly irritating to devastatingly crippling. Some people won’t even leave their houses for fear of encountering even the most inoffensive of insects.

 

I didn’t always identify as insectophobic, reasoning that my fears did not impede my life enough to qualify as bona fide phobias. I’ve since changed my mind, and use the label quite freely. I am irrationally afraid of many different types of insects, and I’m not alone. Many of the people I know have similar fear or disgust reactions to bugs like wasps, bees etc. What people may not realize, though, is that being blind can add a further dimension to this fear, making it harder to cope with and more severe in nature.

 

Sometimes, coping with insects when you’re blind is no more difficult than it would be for a sighted person: as you’re lying in bed, drifting off, the insidious whine snaps you back to alertness. Then, you search vainly for the mosquito, intent upon murdering the insolent little nasty before sleep is possible. Turning on the light doesn’t help; the mosquito usually vanishes until darkness returns. Mosquitoes are easy enough for me to kill in any case; they’re usually too stupid or too slow to escape a swat once they’ve landed. (I’m not yet at an emotional point where I’m fully capable of letting mosquitoes get near enough to land on me at all, but I’m working on it.)

 

Unfortunately, it’s another matter altogether where bees, wasps, hornets, and other bugs are concerned. There are generally several tasks that blindness makes more challenging. First, you have to identify the insect. What are you dealing with? Is it a mellow bumblebee, high on nectar and enjoying life? Is it a slightly more threatening honeybee, looking for a snack but not unwilling to attack if frightened? Or is it—horror of horrors—an evil little wasp, just waiting to launch its vile assault?

 

Second, where is it? Sometimes, insects that make especially loud noise can seem closer than they actually are. Is the bug near enough that any sudden movement will disturb it, or is it far enough away that escape is possible? And do you dare find out?

 

Third, how should you go about eliminating the threat? I’m as big a bleeding heart as anyone I know, so my first instinct is usually to put a harmless spider or lady bug outside rather than ending its little wee life. I’m not near as philosophical when it comes to creatures that buzz, however. My fear of insects is sometimes so acute that the mere sound of an insect—even a house fly—will set me so on edge that most thought processes simply stop. I want to either escape, or see the creepy-crawly slaughtered (hopefully by someone who isn’t me).

 

I’m not alone, either. Alicia tells me that she finds the mere idea of being trapped in an enclosed space with an unidentified insect terrifying in itself. If there’s an insect in her house, she’ll avoid it rather than trying to kill it or put it out. Even worse, she hates the knowledge that she may not know a bug is around until it crawls on her, at which point she has no warning, no sense of what the bug might be, and virtually no time to evade it.

 

Once, while alone in a car, I noticed that there was an awful lot of buzzing going on directly behind my head, right against the back window. I knew there had to be at least four or five different insects there, but I wasn’t entirely sure what they might be. They sounded like they could be flies, but they also could be bees or wasps for all I knew. Positively quaking with fear, I hunched down, put my head between my knees, and stayed curled like that until my friend turned up. “Oh my God!” he exclaimed, opening the car door, “There are about six bumble bees in here!”. … I still shudder at the thought.

 

I’ve been by turns laughed at, scoffed at, sympathized with, and coddled because of my all-consuming fear of big buzzy things. While a lot of the fear is quite normal and part of being human, some of it is directly related to being blind, and I wanted people to understand that feeling as much as possible. It starts to make a tad more sense once you step into my shoes for a moment. Keeping in mind that not all blind people react this way (my boyfriend, for instance, feels little more than irritation with most bugs), I beg my readers to cut me some slack when it comes to things that go buzz in the night.