In Praise Of My Mother

It’s been a long time since I’ve posted something warm and fuzzy, and I think Mother’s Day is a perfect excuse to do so. I was blessed with terrific parents, and what better way to honour them than with a blog post?
Today, I write a tribute to my Mom, who taught me the meaning of strength and perseverance, even when you’re tired and you’re frustrated and you just don’t wanna.
Don’t worry, Dad: yours is coming in June.

“It hurts to be beautiful,” my mom would say as she pulled my unruly hair into a ponytail, “now hold still.”
I did not want to hold still, however. I wanted to read a book, or run around the yard, or sing to myself in a corner. Ultimately, I wanted to do anything but sit, unmoving and docile, while my hair was tugged and twisted and manipulated in ways I was sure must violate some kind of child abuse law.
“I don’t want to be beautiful!”
“Yes, you do,” Mom would mutter distractedly through the pins in her mouth.
“What’s the point? I don’t care what I look like.”
There it was: the argument that was difficult to win when dealing with a blind child who treated “girly” like a curse. I was usually okay with playing dress-up and so on, but when it came to the everyday agonies of making oneself presentable, it took me a lot longer than I’d like to accept that, even though my own eyes didn’t work, other people’s did—and what they thought mattered.
Even if I’d been an obliging child, raising me would not have been easy. Mom’s responsibilities extended far beyond wrestling me into some approximation of “well-groomed” after all. Raising a child with a disability meant both my parents were forced to recognize that sometimes life simply isn’t fair. Having a blind child, though challenging, was probably the least of Mom’s problems. Society has always gone out of its way to shame mothers, and Mom was not exempt. If anything, raising a disabled child actually made her more vulnerable to it. More than once, another mother has told her that, had I been their child, I’d have turned out better—more independent, perhaps, or more competent, etc. In these cases, Mom, who is a far nicer person than she has to be, has simply shrugged it off, reasoning that “if they knew what it was like, they wouldn’t be saying that.” Let’s just say I’m glad I won’t be having kids; I don’t think I could be half so tolerant.
Yes, having a disabled child means that several parents you meet, regardless of how ill-informed and inexpert they may be, will feel comfortable telling you all the ways in which you’re messing it up. Some are so confident that they’ll insist they could do it better, and as the parents who actually know how difficult it can be, mothers like mine are left to shake their heads and get on with it.
Then, there is the mama-bear instinct to channel or suppress, whatever the case may be. The world is a cruel place, and Mom had to come to terms with the fact that not everyone wanted to make that world easier for me. She had to learn that we live in a world where a teacher could tell her, to her face, that she should be grateful I was allowed to go to school at all. She had to listen to me cry while dealing with accessibility issues and unsympathetic educators, all the while knowing that this was the new normal. She was forced to stand by while a potential employer refused to hire me solely because I would be defenseless against armed intruders (yes, that is the excuse they used). She had to understand—and I imagine this is an ongoing process—that my life was going to be a little harder than it should be, and that she could not shield me. Instead, she’d have to let my independent spirit do the shielding, while offering support from the sidelines. There is a time to be your child’s fiery advocate, and a time to step back and let her figure it out. It’s a hard lesson to master.
There is so much we owe to our mothers, whether we are disabled or not. While all mothers have plenty of trials to face, I believe mothers of children with disabilities, illnesses, and other traits that make them seem abnormal to the rest of society have an especially heavy load to bear. Mom gets extra points for dealing with me; sadly, I can’t blame my difficult daughter status on blindness, as convenient as I’d find it.
So thanks, Mom, for shouldering all of these things while managing to treat me like a “normal” kid, and raising my sighted sister at the same time. Thank you for putting up with my grumbling long enough to make ponytails and take me clothes shopping and all the other unspeakable tortures about which I was so vocal. Most of all, thank you for keeping your head up when society wasn’t kind. Being a mother is tough when all the odds are with you, and you didn’t have that luxury.
Happy Mother’s Day, Mom.

If you haven’t yet done so, give your mom a call and thank her for whatever special gifts she’s given you over the years. Moms like it when you call.

Acknowledgements, Thanks, And Praise

Well, today’s the day: this is my one hundredth post on Where’s Your Dog. Some of you may be surprised to find out that I never, ever thought I’d reach this milestone.

This blog began, not as a noble attempt to educate, but as a combination of joke and experiment. I’d been talking about blogging for years, even before I’d known about the disability blogosphere, but I never imagined I’d actually go through with it. I always said I’d call it “Where’s your dog?” just to highlight the absurdity of stereotypes in general, and in a fit of inspiration one day, I went ahead and entertained the idea. Next thing I knew, Where’s Your Dog had taken off, and here we are.

Instead of writing the usual content today, I decided to stray into meta territory and thank the many people who have supported me throughout this project, and who I expect will be with me for as long as it lasts.

First, thank you to those who encouraged my writing, always, and were the first to pounce on my blog with enthusiasm. Family, friends, and teachers were chiefly responsible for the existence of this blog–as well as my writing career in general–and I cannot express how grateful I am for their steadfast faith in me.

Next, I want to thank the contributors who have offered quotes, ideas, and whole blog posts to enrich my own writing. You’ve given this space a diversity and depth I could not achieve on my own.

Bucketloads of thanks are in order for all those who have shared and commented consistently during the last two years. Whether you tweeted an article here and there or read faithfully each week, I am aglow with happiness when you take the time to read and share. The sheer volume of support from all quarters humbles me every day.

I must take a moment to thank readers who, even when they were complete strangers to me, went out of their way to write to me personally and tell me how much they enjoy the blog. At least one reader overcame shyness to write to me, and for that, I’m supremely grateful.

Finally, I must acknowledge those who lend me space on their own blogs. Blindbeader has been kind enough to link to me often, and promote my work as though it were as important as her own. So, to all the bloggers who have boosted my blog: I thank you from the bottom of my considerable heart.

I hope my readers will stick with me. I don’t know how long this journey will be or where it will take me, but I hope to see you all there at the end of it.

In Praise Of NV Access

There is a lot wrong with the world, and disabled people deal with a good bit of it. We see the ugly side of people, corporations, and institutions. I spend plenty of time discussing these issues, and I’ve decided to add a little positivity to the blog. In addition to posts about the world’s problems, I’ve decided to begin a gratitude series. Each week, I will highlight some corporation, person, or institution for which I am grateful, and devote a post to thanking them for their efforts and spreading the word about their achievements. I hope these will be shared as enthusiastically as my other posts, as we need to spend time supporting the initiatives that make our lives better and easier. This week, I’d like to praise the good folks at NV Access, who are responsible for the outstanding (and free) screen reader called NVDA.

In high school, during which I depended upon my laptop almost exclusively, the unthinkable happened: JAWS, my commercial screen reader, stopped working quite spontaneously. Until I figured out that the problem was a Microsoft Security Essentials upgrade that had somehow messed with JAWS, (thanks ever so, Windows) I spent several months without it. Since my school division’s tech support team was reluctant to let me perform a simple reinstallation on my own (I’ll never understand this), I was forced to look for alternatives. Being something of a rule-follower in those days, I waited far too long to get fed up and reinstall JAWS anyway. They never even bothered to check up on me, so they never found out. I was rescued by NVDA, and while JAWS remains my primary screen reader, I rest safely in the knowledge that NVDA will always be there for me.

The screen reader has improved dramatically in the past few years, as more features are added and support for the project continues to grow. NV Access relies on donations from grateful users, and while they do receive enough to keep them going, the user base could probably afford to be much more generous. If I paid what NVDA is worth, my wallet would be considerably lighter.

The open source nature of the software allows people to get creative with clever add-ons and enhancements, making it easier to customize the experience to suit a wide array of needs. The blind community is diverse, and there are many enterprising developers out there who want to improve NVDA so it can serve more users. It has a little way to go in terms of competing with commercial screen readers, especially concerning specific software in professional settings, but I am continually astounded and overjoyed by how far it has come.

To the hardworking people at NV access, thank you, from the bottom of my heart. Keep doing what you’re doing. Once I find gainful employment, I will be contributing more than praise, I promise you.

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.