When I go outside, take a walk to the shops or hop on the bus, many people will see me, as they will see you. There are the people who pass you on the street, the people who are looking out of their windows, the people on the bus, or in the shop, or in passing cars or bicycles. Everywhere around us there are people, and as much as you see them, they see you, and they see me too.
do you ever wonder what there first thought is when they see you? Do you ever think about what their immediate impression of you is, just from one split-second glance? Maybe they’ll notice your clothes, or your hair, or the fact that one of your shoelaces is undone. Maybe they’ll see that your bag is open, or that your bracelet is slipping rhythmically up and down your arm as you walk at a set pace.
Unlike most people, I know what people’s first impression of me will be, without hardly a doubt. It’s one of the few times where I am able to read people’s minds without een being able to see their faces, or know that they are there, let alone that they’re looking at me. I’m confident that either in their heads, or aloud, whispered to a friend, the first thing they think of when they see me is: “Look, there’s a blind boy”.
Why is that, then? in society today, there are so many different people, each and every one of them unique. some people are disabled, some have temporary disabilities, like a broken foot or sprained ankle, whilst yet others use wheelchairs, oxygen tanks, mobility scooters – the list goes on and on. And yet, whenever people see someone with an obvious disability – like blindness, where a long white cane or a guide dog is used -, there is still the same automatic thought, as if someone just a little different to them needs to be pointed out, examined and made the focus of everybody’s attention.
Trust me, as a pre-teen, I couldn’t walk down my own street without half of the neighbours saying within the day to my parents: “Your son was walking down the road today”. I know they’re trying to be helpful, but I don’g et it. If I was sighted, or didn’t have an obvious mobility aid, there would be no comment; instead, someone might notice the t-shirt I’m waring, or the bag I’m holding. But the minute you throw a disability into the situation, things change.
This is anperfect example of society teaching us to point at anything that is different to us. Anything that is not ‘perfect’ is suddenly a lesser being, or at least something to be noticed, stared at and remembered. Things won’t change then until the first thought in someone’s head can be: “I like his jeans”, and not: “BLINDIE ALERT! BLINDIE ALERT!”
another prime example of my disability suddenly becoming my identity – for this is surely what this example shows – is when people refer to me. Countless conversations have taken place where I’ve been spoken about, or referenced, and, in that awkward pause where one member of the group is still trying to figure out who I am, the storyteller has said: “you know, the blind one”.
Why, suddenly, does my disability stand for more than even my name? I’m not me any more, but rather a faceless being who’s only attribute is his disability. This doesn’t make me sad, or inspired to make things change, although I suppose really it should. No, this makes me angry. People feel that they can decide to replace me, my whole identity, with an attribute of my life which reflects me in no way whatsoever.
How does being blind reflect me? Of course, it’s difficult to describe yourself as others would describe you, but I’d rather be described with an adjective that is not my disability.
Because I’m not my disability.
I am me.