In a Zombie Apocolypse…

I was bonding with my parents yesterday evening, watching The Walking Dead, as one does. It got me thinking (as every little thing seems to do): in a zombie apocalypse, who would survive? Not me!

Besides the fact that I tend to freeze in life-or-death situations, I’m disabled. In the majority of cases, I’d be a liability, and there’s no point sugar-coating it. It’s not that blind people can’t defend ourselves. We can take self-defence classes like anyone else, and many of us are very adept at looking after ourselves. In a fight to the death, though, I wouldn’t put money on most of us, and certainly not on myself. Those walkers would reduce me to a mass of steaming entrails faster than you can say “On your left!”

So, why does this matter? Well, it highlights a simple fact of life: in many situations involving physical altercations of any sort, there is no replacing the human eye. While I have great reflexes (I can stop on a dime as soon as I hear a noise that frightens me), these would not help me much in a situation requiring a lot of unpredictable movement. The walkers aren’t going to stop growling menacingly long enough to tell me they’re coming at me, and very little other than Lady Luck would swoop in to save the day.

Lots of girls are used to being coddled unnecessarily, and this type of coddling is ubiquitous when you have a disability on top of your presumed feminine weakness. (I can’t speak for men, but I’m sure they face similar presumptions.) In a stressful situation, people’s first instinct is to bundle me into a safe corner and tell me to stay put while they deal with the scary, difficult, dicey stuff. No need to burden me. And, as is my custom, I try to understand where they are coming from. They are trying to do the right thing, and the worst of it is that they are sometimes correct that I can’t help out.

I joked about being a liability in a wizard duel, but that has darker implications, ones which I’ve never really been able to ignore. A few years ago, my house was broken into. Two men, intent upon stealing and nothing else, thank goodness, thought my house was empty and barged inside, trashing the house and, to my consternation, tracking mud all over the carpets (how dare they?!). I was in my bedroom on the second floor, cowering in fear and totally incapacitated by panic. Instead of doing the sensible thing and making my presence known, I trembled, and cursed, and hyperventilated, and pictured all the ways I might be brutally disposed of by these terrible monsters. (Fellas, if you’re reading this, thanks for not killing me, but next time, take off your damn shoes, okay?)

It turned out all right. One of the men opened my door, saw me, and just about lost his mind. They fled so quickly that I didn’t even have time to cross the hall and grab the phone before they sped away. I guess I’m scarier than I thought.

I did realize, on an intellectual level, that most fifteen-year-olds, weighing all of 120 pounds, would have been pretty helpless against these men even if they’d had a weapon. Even so, part of me was convinced that if I’d been sighted, I could have done more, or at least stood more of a chance. Maybe I could have identified them, or caught sight of something I could use as an improvised weapon—who knows? No one ever dared blame me for it or even comment on my particular inability to defend myself, but they really didn’t have to: I was all too aware. There are plenty of blind people who could have held their own; I’m not one of them.

It’s pretty depressing, really, knowing that in plenty of cases, I can’t be of much help to myself or others. If there ever was some kind of global crisis, God forbid, I would be classified as a liability and lumped in with the elderly and ill. I would be that lone straggler in the herd of caribou, just waiting to be snapped up by a pack of opportunistic wolves. Sure, I could fight, and sure, I could flee, and sure, I’d have normal human instincts, but I still don’t like my chances.

So, okay, an apocalypse is very unlikely. Life-threatening situations, however, are not. People find themselves in them every day, and there’s a decent chance I might be in one again. How would I handle it? Would I be defenseless? Would I be rendered even more powerless by my disability? If I was with others, would I be useless, or worse than useless? Would I be in the way? Would I cost someone their lives because they were trying to defend me along with themselves? Deep questions, folks, deep questions. So far, I don’t like the answers.

I’ve had enough of zombies for now. Excuse me while I go watch something involving fairy princesses.

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5 Reasons Hogwarts Would Be A Terrible Idea (If you’re Blind)

Ah, Hogwarts. Harry potter fans worldwide would secretly love to receive an acceptance letter—and that includes grownups. A Hogwarts education would make my communications degree seem pretty dry in comparison. Who needs PR skills when you can modify someone’s memory after the latest publicity scandal? Who needs powers of persuasion when you can slip someone a love potion? (I’m known for my ethics. Ask anyone.)

Since we enjoy overthinking, Gregg and I put together a post that explores what it would be like to be a blind student at Hogwarts as we know it. As with most areas of life, blind people have to face the music: Hogwarts, as described in Rowling’s books, anyway, would be a nightmare. We’d soon be begging to go home to screen readers and staircases that don’t lead somewhere different every day. Speaking of which …

1. Accessibility would be a distant dream.

These days, blind people in developed countries take certain things for granted much of the time. In Hogwarts, though, most of those coping mechanisms would be quite out of reach, owing to the school’s negative effect on electricity and technology in general. Computers, the internet, cell phones, embossers and scanners would all be useless at Hogwarts, forcing blind students and their professors to find inventive ways around these limitations. We would likely be limited to braille, and would need an educational assistant who could transcribe our work and assignments for us. While sighted students could take a trip to the library in order to do research, we would have to get a considerable amount of help to find not only the books we wanted, but the materials within them.
(Can you imagine asking Madam Pinse to help you search through an entire shelf of books? I wouldn’t dare, personally.)

Classes themselves might also be tricky. Potions and Transfiguration often rely on colour as an indicator when a spell or potion has been done right. (Good luck asking Snape to help you with anything ever. Unless your last name is Malfoy, forget it.)
Divination relies very heavily on sight, since most of it seems to involve studying tea leaves and crystal balls. Astronomy might be a little easier, but stargazing without working eyes is out of the question. At higher levels, nonverbal spells which give some sort of visual signal when cast would be much harder to dodge if you weren’t able to see them coming. Courses like Ancient Runes and Arithmancy might present unique challenges, since braille signs would have to be invented for specific symbols. Overall, being a blind witch or wizard would pose significant accessibility problems which, without proper preparation, would certainly make the lives of students and staff much more complicated.
(Uh, Professor? Where is my accommodation letter?)

2. Life would be a game of dodgeball

Hogwarts offers many forms of potential misery for a blind student. Objects always seem to be dropping or flying through the air, and not all of them are as soft as a copy of the Daily Prophet. Charms class is notorious for this, as students are often asked to transport objects from one point to another. The high number of inexperienced witches and wizards around us increases the already high chance of being hit by errant and unintended projectiles. And then there are the owls. Imagine sitting peacefully at breakfast, toast in hand, only to hear a thundering mass of birds descending from on high, most of them bearing objects that they are all too willing to bomb you with as they get close. Speaking for myself, this is not my idea of a good start to the day.
(Oh, look! There’s an owl in my milk jug again!”)

Take orientation and mobility, for instance. Can you imagine how difficult it would be to try and map routes to your classes when hallways and staircases aren’t always in the same place? And speaking of staircases, how about vanishing steps? Every ascent or descent would be an exercise in both patience and luck, as we hoped and prayed that we didn’t find ourselves trapped when a solid stair suddenly disappeared beneath one foot. Many of these trials might be alleviated by helpful students and professors, of course…but what of the portraits? The halls of Hogwarts are full of paintings all too willing to lend their voices to the chaos, and it would be easy to end up in even worse trouble by following one well-meant bit of advice or another.
(Um, thanks, Sir Cadogan…but I think I’ll just follow my heart.)

3. Get ready for the practical jokes.

We all know how much students enjoy messing with each other via hexes, jinxes, and bewitched sweets that make you turn into a canary. Imagine making yourself even more of a target simply by revealing that you’re blind. The slytherins would have a field day and, let’s be honest, Fred and George might, too. We’d like to think the twins have a sense of morality, but who really knows?

We can’t see spells coming or react to them very quickly. Even if we are expecting them, we’d have to remain in a state of constant vigilance (see what I did there?) at all times. School is stressful enough without having to hide in the common room under a pile of books we can’t even read. Madam Pomfrey would get to know us in a real hurry.

Who says all the interference would come from students? We wouldn’t put it past Snape to slip something in our drinks if he suspected we’d been stealing his bezoars again. At Hogwarts, nothing is sacred.

4. Say hello to mass marginalization.

Blind people are marginalized enough in our own world, and we don’t imagine the wizarding world would be any kinder to us. Forget (mostly) harmless practical jokes: we might be facing total exclusion from significant portions of Hogwarts culture. Picture it: the Great Hall is buzzing with excitement. A quidditch match—the most important of the season—is about to begin. We go outside to the pitch, and try to follow the game using the patchy commentary Rowling’s characters tend to provide. We’d have access to tiny snatches of what’s actually happening, but pick up most of our cues from crowd reaction. This is not unlike other sports, but with other sports you have professional commentators. Oh yeah, and forget actually playing quiditch. Even if we could devise a way to play, I don’t think anyone would be willing to let us try.
(Oh, well, we would…but the paperwork, you know…)

I can’t even guarantee that Dumbledore would step in. He’s not exactly known for being on the ball. He’s a great man, we know, we know…but pensive and constantly-absorbed would be putting it mildly.

Then, there’s the darker side of the coin. The wizarding world is as filled with bigotry and hatred as our own, and since the community is so insular, it’s even worse. We already know how shabbily “half breeds” are treated; even gorgeous, powerful centaurs aren’t immune to ministry prejudice and control. Imagine, then, how blind people might be treated? At best, we’ll be “taken care of”, and at worst, we’ll be the recipients of unspeakable hatred. I don’t think Voldemort and his band of merry Death Eaters would object to polishing us off for the fun of it.
(Where am I? Where am I? C’mon, guess! How many fingers am I holding up? Crucio!)
This brings us to our next point…

5. We would always be a liability.

Time and time again, we’re told how, in the heat of battle, it is difficult to dodge all the deadly curses flying about. As we’ve already mentioned, being endangered by flying things would be one of the most significant issues exacerbated by blindness. As Rowling has already shown us, Hogwarts is not a perfect stronghold. During the multiple battles that have taken place there, we would not have stood a chance. Even if we were capable of avoiding stray spells long enough to duel with someone, I doubt many wizards would allow things to get that far. Dumbledore would hide us behind reanimated statues, and the rest would banish us to dark corners where we won’t be hurt. Of course, what this translates to is “You can’t hold your own, and you’re a liability. I don’t want to have to worry about you while I’m fighting the good fight.”

The general assumption that blind people can’t defend ourselves is completely bogus, though there are some undeniable disadvantages that make us prime targets. However, all the self-defence skills in the world won’t save you from a ricocheting killing curse.
(On your left! Your left! Sorry—my le–Oops…)

It’s pretty depressing to be “in the way” all the time, and that would only get worse at Hogwarts, where people are in a lot more peril than any “normal” kid would ever be.

But wait—it’s not all bad!

With all the things that might go badly for a blind Hogwarts student, we would be remiss if we didn’t mention a few potential perks. Whether or not they act as suitable compensation for all the headache, though, is up for debate.

You might be immune to the basilisk’s stare. I say “might” because we frankly don’t know enough about how exactly that petrification spell works. And nothing stops the beast from biting you just because you can’t see it, so this is a mixed blessing.

Invisibility cloaks aren’t quite what they’re cracked up to be. In the novels, when Harry and friends don the cloak, it’s as if they disappear completely. People rarely hear, smell or sense them as they pass. Being blind means that we’re likely to be more aware of what our other senses are telling us; as such, it would be harder to slip past us while wearing an invisibility cloak.

The Mirror of Erised would be powerless against us. This device is supposed to show you your greatest desire when you look into it, but without the ability to see, the mirror would be nothing more than a sheet of glass in a peculiar frame.

So, friends all, don’t despair if you don’t receive your Hogwarts letter. You can probably put your time to better use anyway. For example, you could go out into the community and be a general inspiration! Wouldn’t that be nice? Who needs witchcraft and wizardry, anyway? Not us!