If I Had A Million Dollars…

When I become a rich and famous copyeditor (stop laughing, damn it), I know exactly what I will do. Forget the posh beach vacations and the shopping sprees and the sumptuous dinners (okay, I’m keeping the dinners). When (not if) I have a million dollars at my disposal, I’m going to get … a personal assistant.
Yup.
That’s it.

Just imagine it, friends: I could say to this assistant, “I have a job interview. I don’t want to be late. Could you drive me please?” (Naturally I’d ask, because Canadians do things like that). I could say to this assistant, “I don’t understand what this bizarre Facebook video even means. Help!” and they’d describe it to me. I could say to this assistant, “Does this outfit work?” and they’d say “…it does, but you might want to turn that top right side out…” and I’d skip off, safe in the knowledge that a crisis was averted. (Just kidding, guys! That never happens. Never ever.)
I can just feel the heavy weight of blind-person frowns. I can hear the mutterings: “Meagan, you are perfectly capable of coordinating your own clothing, and calling a cab or taking public transport. What do you need an assistant for? Aren’t you a strong, capable, independent blind woman?” (I’ve fooled you all so well, ha ha!)
To this I answer, yes. Yes, I am capable of calling a friend and asking for a description of a confusing video. Yes, I’m capable of jumping on the bus or calling a taxi. Yes, I’m capable of going through the store with a customer service agent and collecting what I need. Yes, I’m *capable*. But…

But what if I don’t wanna?
That’s right, I said it. What if I don’t feel like calling the Edmonton Transit Service and trying to figure out which bus goes where, while dealing with fuzzy directions and confusion on both sides? What if I don’t know quite what I want in the grocery store, and just want to browse? What if I don’t want to wait around for a kind friend to describe that video? What if, like any sighted person, I just want to get something done–quickly, efficiently, and without fuss? What if?

Yes, you’re still frowning at me, I know. Most of the time I prefer to get things done on my own, it’s true, even if it’s not always quite as efficient as it might otherwise be. Still, I don’t think customer service workers at the local grocery store would appreciate me asking them to read every single tea they carry so I can choose just one. It would be so lovely to know that someone was being paid specifically to walk around with me and tell me what they see. If a sighted person can hire someone to wash their floors and book their plane tickets—all things they could do themselves but choose not to—surely I can pay someone to be my eyes for a while?

I used to judge, too. Even a couple of years ago, when meeting someone with a PA for simple shopping and traveling, I might have frowned nice and deep, and said, “Don’t they value their independence?” (Judge judge judge.)
Then I did a little more living in this fast-paced world of ours, and I realized that this PA thing? It’s damn handy.

So, I will continue to get things done on my own, usually as efficiently as any sighted person, but not always. I will not waste my precious coin on personal assistants, spending it instead on the necessities of life, such as tea and books. (What are you frowning about now? Stop that!)

But a girl can dream.

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In Praise Of L’Occitane

I tore excitedly into a parcel sent by a friend in the UK, knowing there would be plenty of luxury inside. Sure enough, nestled among the high-end chocolate was a bottle of lavender-scented body milk. I didn’t notice anything special about the bottle, besides its impressively authentic scent, until my friend went over the contents of the box with me.
“The brailled stuff is L’Occitane. It’s very, very high-end. Don’t share it with anyone.” (In fact, I did share it, though I sent some of it to a friend in hospital to make her stay a little more bearable, so it was a good cause.)
Confused, I reexamined the bottle. Sure enough, there was braille inscribed right on the bottle itself: it read, “body milk” … and I fell even more in love with this French cosmetics company.
It’s such a simple gesture, labeling a product in braille, but it carried considerable weight with me. Here was this bath and body company, known for its posh products and sophisticated scents, bothering to braille almost every single product so we could shop with more ease and accessibility. Here was a company with, as far as I’m aware, no specific affiliations with the blind community, making a concerted effort to enhance our ability to shop independently. I had to know the story behind this, so I did some digging.
The story goes that L’Occitane founder Olivier Baussan noticed a blind woman browsing the perfume section of his store, taking in all the different scents with obvious concentration. He realized, then, that he had to make a change. From then on, more and more L’Occitane products with braille labels began to appear on shelves around the world. Even glass perfume bottles, which are difficult to inscribe with braille, came in brailled boxes. Their shower gel bottles look exactly alike, but I no longer have to pop them all open to tell them apart. My L’Occitane collection is well-organized anyway, but each time I take down a bottle of hand cream or some roll-on perfume, I know exactly what I’m holding before it even reaches my nose.
As I said, it sounds like an excessively simple courtesy to be grateful for, but for whatever reason, L’Occitane’s commitment to accessibility makes me incredibly happy each time I think about it.
So, thank you, L’Occitane, both for your excellent products and your efforts to make my life just a little bit easier. It hasn’t gone unnoticed.

10 Ways To Be a Good Blind Person, Part I

Many of the blind people I know have an unspoken code of conduct, consisting of their opinions about how a typical blind person should behave. Most of us don’t expect anyone else to follow them, but we hold ourselves to these standards, determined by nothing more than personal preference. Even so, for as long as I’ve interacted with other blind people, various rules have been passed along to me, determining how a “good” blind person should behave. Besides the fact that it is restrictive and judgmental to try to tell another individual how to live his or her life, these rules are often a mass of contradictions, making it impossible for me to figure out how I’m supposed to reconcile so many conflicting views. To illustrate how ridiculous this can sometimes get, I have written out 10 “commandments” of sorts, which I’ve taken from one of the more extreme ends of the spectrum. You might call this the “independence, normality, and suppression” end of the spectrum. They are quite extreme, but make no mistake: people out there really do believe this stuff, and look down on those who don’t. Next week, I’ll give you 10 more (and completely contradictory) rules from the “dependence, abnormality, and major expression” end of the spectrum. Placing these posts side by side should demonstrate how utterly impossible it is to please the blind community at large. It all comes down to that time-honoured piece of advice: when you try to please everyone, you end up pleasing no one. I hope these make you laugh, but I hope they make you think, too; just remember, while you’re giggling over these silly commandments, there are people out there right now trying with all their might to follow them.
1. A good blind person should always be mindful that, first and foremost, life is a competition. Regardless of circumstance, the exemplary blind person will strive to be equal to or better than every other blind person they know. Should another blind person point out that it’s okay to find certain things difficult and that we’re all friends here, be sure to gently remind them that they shouldn’t go giving us all a bad name. We are all ambassadors, and must therefore take responsibility for impression management on behalf of the entire blind population.
2. A good blind person must attempt to be as normal as possible as often as possible. This begins with the relatively simple task of eliminating blindisms (i.e. any behaviour associated with blindness but not typical of the general sighted population), and should culminate in seeming as sighted as one can without actually being able to see. This will mean dressing, acting, speaking, and thinking in normal, generally accepted ways. For example, anyone found to be using “blind” in their internet usernames shall be considered deviant and will be encouraged to change their online handles to something more “sighted”. While one should accept that passing for sighted will never be achieved, one should still expend enormous amounts of time and energy trying. Should a fellow blind person deviate from the general standard of normative behaviour in any way, be sure to express the appropriate amount of scorn, lest they draw attention to their differences and make us all look abnormal.
3. A good blind person shall remain as independent as humanly possible. He/she shall seek to be an island at all times; asking for help is frowned upon, and attempting to be at peace with one’s disability in any sense is strictly prohibited. If one is forced to accept help under dire circumstances, one must display the proper level of embarrassment and despair. Despite the natural human need for interdependence, good blind people will rise above this weakness, showing the world that they don’t need anyone at any time for any reason.
4. A good blind person will be as active as possible in any blindness-related cause, campaign, community, etc. If one is not actively involved in as many blindness-related causes as are available, one shall be considered a detriment to the betterment of one’s own future and the future of others. Exceptions only apply where the cause, campaign, or community encourages dependence and/or self-acceptance. Outright disinterest in the blind Community at large will not be tolerated.
5. That said, a good blind person will take care not to become too close to other blind people beyond the level that is necessary to further the advancement of the blind in general. One shall make as many sighted friends as possible; one shall choose a sighted mate; one shall socialize with sighted groups whenever the opportunity arises. Associating with other blind people strictly for pleasure or support is frowned upon. Anyone actively inclined to surround themselves with other blind people will be considered an embarrassment to the Community as a whole. Sticking to one’s own kind is an affront to the Community’s efforts to assimilate itself into the world at large.
6. A good blind person will take on as many normal pursuits as possible. A good blind person is involved in several clubs, has tons of friends (preferably sighted ones), has a bursting social calendar, at least one college or university degree, a steady (ideally impressive and difficult) career, and of course the requisite marriage and children. Any blind person who finds contentment in a less than hectic lifestyle shall be considered unambitious and will therefore be a stain on the entire blind Community.
7. A good blind person should be unhappy with his/her lot at all times, forever wishing to be sighted, normal, and therefore on par with other humans. Any attempt to accept oneself as one is will be met with disgust and, if the attitude persists, outright exclusion from the Community. If any type of cure (or even a hint at a cure) should become available, one should jump at the chance to try it, and loudly dismiss those who are more hesitant, or who may be content with their current state of being. If necessary, a good blind person will point out that such people are a tragic drain on the system and ought to be purged from this world.
8. A good blind person should worship the sighted with due reverence and respect. They are, after all, our superiors, and ought to be treated as such at all times. One should forever strive to be exactly like them, so much so that any disability all but disappears. If one cannot emulate a sighted person perfectly, one should simply not leave the house ever again, lest they risk inconveniencing the sighted. Any sighted person trying to deny his or her superiority should be dissuaded.
9. A blind person must be perfectly competent in all that he/she does. This competence must be independent of one’s skills, talents, abilities, and knowledge. Regardless of one’s strengths and weaknesses, one must be an excellent cook, an immaculate housekeeper, a highly successful employee/employer, and an exceptional spouse/parent. Good blind people understand that they should hold themselves to a higher standard than do sighted people, meaning that they must settle for nothing less than perfection in every area of their lives.
10. A good blind person remembers that we live in a sighted world, and will, therefore, accept that they have no rights or privileges beyond what the benevolent sighted choose to allow them. Any request or demand for accessibility, if denied, should be immediately retracted with all grace. After all, the sighted world owes us nothing; we merely rent space here, and do not deserve to expect equal treatment, even when that treatment is guaranteed under law. In these cases, we must do what we do best: keep quiet.