My Response to 'But You Don't Look Blind!'

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Man in Target: “Why can you bring your dog in here?”

Me: “She is my guide dog and allowed under federal law.”

Man: “But you don’t look blind! Are you sure you just aren’t faking to bring your dog in?”

Me: “Not all disabilities are visible.”  *and walks away*

Me: *walks out of dorm room directly into a college tour*

Lady: “Oh! You can have pets?”

Me: “She’s a guide dog.”

Lady: “Wait, you’re blind?”

Me: “Yes.”

Lady: “Oh. I’m sorry, but you don’t look blind!”

Women working the order counter at a restaurant: “What side would you like with that?”

Me: “What are my options?”

Women: “They are written behind me on the menu.”

Me: “I can’t see the menu. I am blind. Could you please read them to me?”

Women: “You don’t look blind! I just assumed you were lazy.”

Teenage boy: “Why do you have that stick thing?”

Me: “I’m blind; it’s my cane.”

Boy: “But, you look normal, not blind.”

I am blind, but I will admit I don’t match society’s perception of what blind looks like, and because of this I have these conversations on an almost daily basis when in public.

Before I say anything else, please never ever tell someone they don’t look blind/sick/disabled! Ever. Many illnesses and disabilities are not visible, and when you tell someone they “don’t look blind/sick/disabled” you are not complimenting them. Just don’t do it.

As a sociology major we talk about society perception of different minority groups a lot, but rarely do we discuss what society perceives about people with disabilities. Here’s what I believe society’s perception of blind people is. Society thinks we, as blind people, are incapable of living successful lives and looking “normal.” Blind people are portrayed in media as having no eyes, deformed eyes or eyes that are always closed, and for many people this is just not the case. Society expects blind people to be incapable of doing simple mundane things such as walking and eating. It’s not “amazing and inspirational” that myself and others who are blind get up every day and participate in simple aspects of daily living. A person who is blind is just as capable of being a fully functional member of society as someone who is fully sighted.
Most people who identify as blind are not actually completely blind. The vast majority of people who are considered legally blind (A visual acuity of 20/200 or less in the better-seeing eye with best conventional correction or a visual field of 20 degrees or less.) see something. This “something” could be only light, only shadows, rough outlines or enough vision to function without the use of assistive technology. It is important to remember that someone who says they are blind may have some residual vision. If a blind person ever asks you for help, assume they have no vision and adjust the amount of assistance you provide as they tell you.

Not all people who are blind/visually impaired use assistive devices such as canes, magnifiers or guide dogs. The devices someone uses is based solely on that person and their needs. Don’t assume that since someone doesn’t use a cane or guide dog they have perfect vision. If someone says they are visually impaired and ask for your assistance, give it to them. Don’t question their need for that assistance.

The bottom line is, never judge someone’s abilities or disabilities based solely on their outward appearance.

The Mighty is asking the following: Describe a moment you were met with extreme negativity or adversity related to your disability and/or disease (or a loved one’s) and why you were proud of your response — or how you wish you could’ve responded. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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When I Doubted My Abilities as a Legally Blind Teacher

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I am a year and a half away from graduating with my bachelor’s in special education and a minor in sociology, and it is absolutely terrifying. Once I got through my core classes like algebra, biology and physics, I was able to take only curriculum and instruction and special education classes, and get As. It was a wonderful feeling to be able to internalize and remember the things I would need to put into practice in a short time. I have been in school for 15 years, and soon I will have my own classroom.

Emily Parma, ready to teach.
Emily.

And then my entire physical being trembled with fear. Could I really teach students when I was struggling with facing my disability in the academic setting? In high school I was able to get by with barely any accommodations, and no assistive technology. Math and geography were always the hardest for me, since the nature of those classes are visual, but I got by. The teachers who tried to push me to help myself — to sit closer to the board I could not see — just made me frustrated. I refused the help and barely passed those classes. I had testing accommodations, but I pretended not to need help during activities or class presentations. Truth be told, I used my own adaptations to do the work. If I feared not being able to read a PowerPoint, I memorized it. High school flew by, and I graduated with a goal to become a teacher. At that time, I still ignored the part of my identity that needed extra help to succeed. I thought I had figured it out.

So here I am in my first block class (the part of an education major’s classes that prepares for student teaching), and I have never been so overwhelmed before. The first block is ESL (English as a second language), and we are expected to create lesson plans, present methods for teaching, observe teachers in elementary schools, and various classroom activities. Unfortunately, I grew to hate this class because my disability was in the way.

I have been forced to grasp the part of me I pretended was not there for so long. I am learning to teach and learning how to adapt to my needs. There have been many tears shed during my years here at school, because I fear I will not be able to teach. I know it is what I am meant to do, but because I never used technology in my education career before, I have to teach myself how to use adaptive technology now, like a CCTV or zoomtext on a computer.

It is exhausting. Some days I have to opt out of classroom activities because I cannot read the text, and then I have to explain why to everyone. Of course they ask if I wear glasses, so I have to further explain that I am legally blind, and my contacts or glasses only help so much. Answering people’s questions is not my main concern — it is the fact that I am expected to already know how to help myself, because I’ve been in school for so long.

In my teaching classes, we have spontaneous assignments where we are given a text and we have to present the information we find. For a student with a disability, this is the most anxiety-creating assignment a teacher can give. There is no extended time given to read the text or figure out how to present it. Put partner work on top of that, and I have to make sure I write it down so I can read it, or memorize it. By the end of the class, I am exhausted, and terrified of teaching. Some classes are like that when I do not know how to help myself.

I had to do something. Was this major really for me? I was afraid my future students would not respect me. Was there someone I could talk to? I remembered my first special education professor I had last semester, and how she said her office door was always open for students to approach her with a problem.

I found myself in her office that very week, in tears because my heart knew what I was meant to do, but my mind had doubts. It was overwhelming. But she told me she believed in me, that I was one of her best students, and she needed my head in the game. I needed to hear that. She also reminded me that if this is what God wants me to do, I must go forward. I know not everyone is religious, but everyone needs something to motivate them, and for me, it was being reminded of where I believe God has me. Then my kind professor told me she knew just who could help me. Her best friend is legally blind, and has been teaching for decades. I finally had a mentor, and it turned out we were more alike than either of us realized. It was a good feeling to find someone who can relate to my struggles and guide me in finding the most helpful technology to use when I am a teacher. Now I have one less thing to worry about.

I wish I had not been so shy about my disability in high school, because maybe then I would not be working as hard now to learn how to adapt. Reaching my breaking point in college and asking for help was the best thing I did for my future. I will always have insecurities that come and go, but now I have people in my life to talk to about them. I will forever be grateful to the professor who spoke truth to me, and to the role model who will help me be a better teacher. Thanks to them, I now know I can be an effective teacher, and I will do whatever it takes.

The Mighty is asking the following: Share a conversation you’ve had that changed the way you think about disability, disease or mental illness. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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The One Regret I Live With as a Person Who’s Legally Blind

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I like to live with no regrets. By believing out of every mistake comes a lesson learned, I have been able to stay positive — most of the time.

Growing up, my parents helped me believe I could do anything I set my mind to, disability or not. As a child, I’m sure this was easy to believe because I was so happy and carefree. Not to say that I’m not happy now, but as an adult, I’m more aware of my strengths, weaknesses and limitations.

Emily Parma
Emily.

It wasn’t until I was sitting in a college class that I realized I do have one big regret. As I sat and listened to a guest speaker talk about her life as a fully blind person, it moved me. She talked about how people in her school said she couldn’t play sports, and yet she ran track. She ran and ran well.

She explained how she had a partner with her at every track meet, using a rope that they each held in their hands. When her partner ran, she ran, and when the rope tugged right, she ran to the right. She never let her disability stop her.

My stomach began to turn inside. Why couldn’t I do that? I too was told in high school that I couldn’t play sports because of my disability. I sat out during P.E. I accepted this then, growing up in a house that really had nothing to do with sports. I hated running and pretty much every sport out there.

I remember going to high school football games with friends, and no matter where I sat, I couldn’t tell who was who or where the ball was. It made me feel embarrassed and somewhat depressed.

I hated going to sports events. Everyone on the field looked the same, and I only knew where the ball went when the people ran in that direction. I went anyway, but I vowed I would never go again.

It’s a secret I held for so long — why I hate sports. I guess I was jealous of others’ abilities, and going somewhere where I couldn’t see what was going on made me sad.

It wasn’t just sports events; I also hated going to dance performances. I would sit in the crowd and cheer friends on without truly knowing who was who on the stage. I refused to use binoculars, of course. So I quit going to shows altogether. Avoiding it all was easy.

Here I am, three years into college, thinking about what that guest speaker said and regretting never giving what was hard a chance. If someone with no vision at all can run, then what is stopping me from learning to swim, to run or to play tennis? I want to prove to myself that I can do it. Surely there are resources out there for someone like me who is legally blind.

But as an adult, is it too late for me? I’m a huge advocate for the visually impaired, but I can’t fully advocate if I let my own disability hold me back.

The Mighty is asking the following: What’s one thing people might not know about your experience with disability, disease or mental illness, and what would you say to teach them? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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When Praying Away My Disability as a Teen Didn't Work

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woman in red and white robe holding her hands up in prayer
Mandy.

As a kid, I grew up the Catholic way. I went to doctrine classes every Wednesday and made my sacramental milestones, from my First Reconciliation, my Holy Communion and then finally my Confirmation. My grandmother is a devoted Catholic whose nightly ritual was based on prayer cards and rosary beads. I even had great aunts that were nuns.

During my studies, I read many stories about Jesus healing the blind and the “crippled and lame,” and at one point, I was totally convinced that one day, I could pray my rare form of albinism away.

I spent many nights praying; rosary beads and prayer cards became a cluttered mess on my end table. I watched shows like Benny Hinn’s in the morning, hoping he could beam some of that magical energy my way and I’d be cured. I prayed every night I would have friends, that nobody would ever hurt me again, that I would be happy.

At age 12, my doubts became real. My nose stuck in a Bible during class wasn’t because I chose to. It was because I needed to make my family happy. Plus, my Game Boy on mute kept me from too much boredom.

I eventually gave up believing because at one point, there seemed to be nothing to believe in. I had a hard journey going through my teen years, trying to find out who I was and whether or not life would get better for me.

Little did I know that God wasn’t the only thing I had to believe in. Turned out I needed to make that change for myself. Wishing on a crucifix was not my only option. Turned out I could heal myself through hard work and determination. And eventually, things did get better.

Despite the fact that I wasn’t “healed” the way the Bible says, meaning I still am legally blind, I feel as though my life has come full circle. Those dreams of my preteen self have finally come true. I finally have friends and a meaningful life.

I still question my faith every now and again, and I’m not as religious as I used to be, but I do believe someone, somewhere, has pushed me in the right direction. It may not be the God that raised me, and I can’t take all the credit. But somehow here, I am thriving and surviving and overcoming adversity every day.

To whatever guiding force is up there, thank you for helping me see things as they are.

Follow this journey on Legally Blind Bagged.

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Why I Can Relate to ‘Zootopia’ Having Grown Up Legally Blind

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“Zootopia” has been one of the top movies for weeks. I originally thought it was just another silly kids’ movie, but it has brought me great inspiration, thanks to a little bunny known as Judy Hopps.

Mandy Ree and friends
Mandy (left) with her friends.

Judy reminds me of myself. Growing up as a person who’s legally blind, I faced prejudice due to my differences. I was always told by my peers that I would never fit in and wouldn’t accomplish anything in my life. Judy was just a wee little bunny, and I was just a “blind kid.” And yet, despite the odds against me, I still had the determination to chase my dreams even though the neighborhood “foxes” would taunt me and try to bring me down.

Like Judy, I also had compassion for my fellow “prey.” I always stood up for those who were facing challenges and wasn’t afraid to call someone out for any “predator-like” behavior. I was always a protector of the differently-abled, even if it meant getting beat up and taking one for the team.

Judy’s ultimate dream was to leave home, head to the big city, go to the police academy and chase her dream job. It was the same with me. When I graduated from high school, I took a chance and moved to the big city. I wasn’t afraid to take life by the horns and chase my dreams. In those years while trying to find out who I was, I met my version of Nick Wilde, Judy’s sidekick, in my friend, Bill. Like the fox protagonist in the movie, Bill knew what it felt like to be different and judged because of his wheelchair, and yet he somehow never let it get the best of him.

Like Judy, I failed many times trying to reach my goals. I eventually dropped out of college because of the economy and had to go back home to my small town for a few years. I missed the big city, but I eventually found my way back.

What made “Zootopia” even more inspirational for me was the song Shakira sings at the end called “Try Everything.” The lyrics nailed my life experience to the T. I wanted to try everything even if I thought I would fail. But I didn’t give in, and I reached the top, making my dreams a reality.

Life has its many challenges, and whether you’re a bunny trying to be a cop or a girl who’s legally blind trying to make it in the big world alone, you could find your way back to the top. It just may take some time, and a little help from a fox BFF, or, in my case, a man in a wheelchair.

I know it may sound silly to compare myself to a cartoon bunny. But unless you see the prejudices that people with disabilities face (or those faced by the species, as played out in the movie), you may never fully be able to see life on the other side of the fence.

If a bunny and a fox can team up to fight crime, imagine what humans with and without disabilities can do together united as one.

Follow this journey on Legally Blind Bagged.

The Mighty is asking the following: Describe a scene or line from a movie that’s stuck with you through your experience with disability, disease or mental illness. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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Facebook's Automatic Alternative Text Gives Photo Descriptions to Blind Users

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Facebook just launched a program that reads keywords related to images on users’ newsfeeds. Automatic alternative text, or automatic alt text, uses object recognition technology to offer a “richer description” of the photo content.

On its Newsroom press page, Facebook stated that 2 billion photos are uploaded across its family of apps every day, and with “more than 39 million people who are blind, and over 246 million who have a severe visual impairment, many people may feel excluded from the conversation around photos on Facebook.”

“Each advancement in object recognition technology means that the Facebook Accessibility team will be able to make technology even more accessible for more people,” the social network added. “When people are connected, they can achieve extraordinary things as individuals and as a community — and when everyone is connected, we all benefit.”

Automatic Alternative Text from Facebook on Vimeo.

In the video above, one user with a visual impairment says:

That whole saying of pictures being worth a thousand words — I think it’s true, but unless you have somebody to describe it to you, even having three words, just helps flesh out all of the details that I can’t see. That makes me feel included and like I’m a part of it, too.

Prior to this advancement, people using screen readers only heard the name of the person who shared the image, followed by the word “photo.” Now, when they scroll through their newsfeeds, they might hear, “Image may contain three people, smiling, outdoors.”

Automatic alt text is first being launched on iOS screen readers set to English, but Facebook plans to add the program for other languages and platforms soon.

“Facebook’s mission is to make the world more open and connected,” the social network concluded in the video above. “And that goes for everyone.”

You can read more about the development of automatic alt text here, and learn more in Facebook’s Help Center and at facebook.com/accessibility.

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