Growing up, there were two secrets about me I wanted no one to know. I had “weird feelings” — what I later understood was being transgender — and I was and am very visually impaired. Both were and are hard for some people to deal with. Both are visible to those around me. Both mean that people ask odd questions sometimes. ”What do you see?” ”How do you use that big stick?” ”Do you need help?” ”Can’t glasses fix it?” ”You’re faking, you can see some.”
The trans questions are often both more frustrating and more unkind. ”What’s it like?” ”What surgeries are you going to have?” ”Why did you choose to be this way?” ”Do you like guys or girls?” And the worst, ”You could just be a lesbian, you know that, right?”
I am not a girl, I was just born in a female body. While I am legally blind, I have some vision, and I can for the most part do things without help. If I need help, I will ask.
Sometimes I wonder what causes people to ask what is “wrong with me” more — the cane, or the fact I neither look straight or totally male or female by society’s standards. Hormones will change my appearance over time, but for now I am at the crossroads of gender. In a sense I am the same way when it comes to my vision; I am somewhere in between sighted and blind. I have enough sight to see a person, though not much else. I have fallen off curbs, walked into things, and all those experiences visually impaired and blind people know all too well.
I wish people would understand that my visual impairment hasn’t broken me. I still ride horses, still live my life, and still am me. Being transgender, being female to male or as I think of it a trans man, doesn’t make me a monster; it doesn’t mean I need to be fixed. It means I was unlucky enough to be born in the wrong gender, and I have to take hormones and have surgeries to get to the true me.
I am not someone who is going to hurt your kids, nor do I need to be prayed for. I am simply the blind guy standing on the street corner, who is hoping he will get through his day being gendered correctly, and not walk into any stop signs.
The Mighty is asking the following: Are you in both the LGBTQ and disability/disease/mental illness community? What is one thing you want society to know about your experience?Check out ourSubmit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.
June 27 has always been a personally significant day for me. It’s the anniversary of my first date with my husband. I guess it’s safe to say that date went fairly well because exactly three years later, he proposed. A year after that, June 27, 2002, we took the plunge and got married. Fast forward 18 years and we’ve had our very own Lifetime Movie version of marriage. Cancer, family drama, blindness and oh yeah, two toddlers. However, it wasn’t until after I lost my eyesight that I realized June 27 is significant for another reason — it also happens to be Helen Keller’s birthday. And when you’re a blind woman navigating vision loss, you need to stop and pay homage to the woman who paved the way.
No elementary school education would be complete without learning something about Helen Keller. She was born in Tuscumbia, Alabama, to Arthur Keller, a retired Army Captain, and Kate Adams. Helen was actually a healthy baby but contracted what doctors referred to as “acute congestion” (possibly from scarlet fever or meningitis) at 19 months old, essentially causing her to become both deaf and blind. My youngest daughter, Aoife, is 20 months old and I can’t imagine the fear Arthur and Kate must have felt as they watched their little girl make that transition, especially during the 1800’s.
Helen was a smart cookie. She tried her best to understand her surroundings by using her remaining senses of touch, smell and taste. However, in her autobiography Keller admitted she was pretty frustrated and perhaps understandably pissed off (my words, not hers) that she could not communicate with her family though traditional modes of conversational speech. By the age of 6, Helen resorted to a way many children express their anger; she began having tantrums, and by all historical accounts they were epic.
Her parents were beside themselves and knew they had to do something to help their daughter. They began to search for a teacher. Several candidates were hired, only to quit after receiving a dose of Helen’s raging behavior. Helen’s mother contacted Perkins School for the Blind Director Michael Anagnos, who sent Annie Sullivan, his prized graduate, to Tuscumbia in March of 1887.
Annie had a reputation for being a bit of a badass herself. Also visually impaired, Annie was sent to Perkins School for the Blind after the death of her mother and brother. She was a Perkins educated, strong-willed woman, dedicated to her profession. But little Ms. Keller wasn’t about to make Annie’s job easy for her – not by a long shot. While Helen eventually referred to her and Annie’s initial meeting as her “soul’s birthday” – ever grateful for the impact Sullivan had on her life – the relationship started out as more of a Ramsey Bolton versus John Snow battle, cirque Game of Thrones 2016.
Helen liked to fight, and the chick fought dirty. She hit Annie. Punched her. Kicked her. It’s even documented that Annie Sullivan lost a tooth as a result of Helen’s rages. And if the daily smack downs weren’t enough, Keller’s parents also interfered with Sullivan’s teaching methods.
Eventually, Annie convinced the Kellers she needed to be alone and independently control Helen. She moved into a small cottage on the family’s property. Through patience, perseverance and consistency, Annie finally developed a trusting relationship with Helen Keller that blossomed into a mutually respectful working relationship. Sullivan taught Helen “finger-spelling” – signing letters for words into the palm of her hand. Annie adapted some of the methodology she learned at her time with Perkins to incorporate Keller’s fascination with nature. The real breakthrough occurred when Helen learned the word “water” while Annie pumped it onto her hands from the well located just outside her home. From that point forward, Helen Keller was a force to be reckoned with in changing the world’s attitudes towards the disabled community, especially for deaf-blind people. Here are six amazing facts about Helen Keller that prove why she deserves our utmost R-E-S-P-E-C-T!
1. Helen Keller was brilliant. By age 10, Helen Keller had mastered braille and the manual alphabet. She even learned to use a typewriter. When she was 16, she spoke well enough to enroll in preparatory school. In 1904, Helen Keller became the first deaf-blind person to graduate from a college. But in typical Keller style, she didn’t just graduate, she finished cum laude from Radcliffe College.
2. Helen Keller had an impressive posse. Yeah, that’s right, I said “posse.” Helen rolled with the big boys of her generation. She was friends with everyone from Alexander Graham Bell to Lyndon Johnson. She also had a very close relationship with author Mark Twain, who actually coined the endearing term “miracle worker” for Helen’s teacher, Anne Sullivan.
3. Helen Keller was an “OG” feminist. Helen Keller didn’t just advocate for the disabled community; she took an active interest in a lot of issues, especially those relating to the woman’s suffrage movement. Keller had an opinion and she wasn’t afraid of sharing it on every subject from politics to birth control. She used her disability as a platform to explore these issues and proved to the world that she was an independent thinker.
4. Helen Keller was an accomplished writer. Helen wrote her first book, an autobiography about her life, when she was in college. She authored 12 books in total and countless articles reflecting her experiences as a deaf-blind woman and other causes she was passionate about. In the mid 1950’s, Helen’s writing inspired a television movie about her life which was then produced into a successful Broadway play. Eventually, “The Miracle Worker,” became an Oscar-winning film – landing both Patty Duke and Anne Bancroft with the coveted golden statues.
5. Helen Keller was a frequent flier. Between 1930-1950, Helen traveled to over 39 countries, changing perceptions about people with vision loss all over the world. Her mere presence was so impactful in some of these communities that blind schools and rehabilitation centers were established as a direct result of her visits.
6. Helen Keller was a passionate activist. Helen Keller lobbied on behalf of the American Federation for the Blind for 44 years. During World War II, she specifically sought to help blind veterans, orphans and refugees. She received several awards and citations for her dedicated activism from both the U.S. and abroad.
Since losing my eyesight four years ago, Helen Keller has become more than just an elementary school history lesson. She’s more than the infamous “Miracle Worker” scene of Patty Duke pushing on that water pump. Helen Keller is the woman who laid the foundation. She taught the world that the disabled community can do more than merely exist within society; we are capable of contributing to it. As someone who, like Helen, lost my sight from an unforeseen medical condition, I believe her birthday is something to be celebrated. Thank you, Helen Keller for being a strong, deaf-blind woman. Thank you for using your disability as a platform to educate the world. Thank you for paving the way for me to live successfully as a blind wife, mother, social worker and blogger! Like you, I will never lose sight of life, love and laughter. Happy Birthday, Helen Keller!
The Mighty is asking the following: Share a powerful moment you or a loved one has had with a public figure. Or, write a letter to a public figure who you feel has helped you or a loved one through his or her work.Check out ourSubmit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.
Even though a few months ago I left for the first time, this feels more real and substantial for some reason. Maybe it’s the fact that I’m going alone. Not that I’m flying alone, but that I’m going to really be “on my own” when I get back to my orientation and mobility training program in Seattle. This time, no one is coming with me to help, but it’s not a bad thing. Neither I nor my parents have any doubts — I can handle all of this.
To a lot of people, this kind of thing happens naturally and isn’t a big deal. But even though I’ve always been intelligent, things were more difficult to learn because I had much less vision than others in a sight-dependent world.
After graduation, I decided to take a gap year. Even though many young people do this, I wasn’t excited about it at all. I didn’t want to be any more different from other people than I already am. It turns out, the problem was really my perspective. Living and working with other blind and visually impaired individuals at this program has really opened my eyes (pun intended.) It hasn’t been easy. Going to this program feels like your disability is being shoved in your face every day, and that’s hard, especially knowing I am going to lose more vision as I get older. Everyone there has a lot of emotions about their situation. Each person has a story, none of us are perfect and we don’t always get along.
Blindness doesn’t discriminate. Rich, poor, tall, short, thick, thin, all kinds are affected by this impairment. To put it simply, the OTC (Orientation Training Center) is a lot of imperfect people trying to make the best life they can for themselves despite the challenges they face. That’s not a mantra or anything, just my personal assessment.
At first, I was a little disappointed looking at my friends’ college pictures, thinking “that should be me.” I got over it, though. This year was my chrysalis. I have two acceptance letters plus scholarships to great colleges and a ton of possibilities. I love myself and have more confidence than I ever have before. To be honest, it’s a wonderful feeling.
Although I’m surprised and proud when it comes to my metamorphosis, I didn’t write this solely for that reason. School was really hard. I was a caterpillar at one time. Sixth grade to 11th felt like I was crawling on my belly, trying not to get eaten. In 12th, amazed I survived to that point, I started to make my chrysalis. I know I’m not the only person who felt like school was more about survival than having a good time. You don’t know me, and I don’t know you, but if you’re thinking about giving up on yourself, don’t do it. Not for me or your S.O. or even your mom, but because if you give up, you will never get to know all the wonderful things you can be.
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? Check out ourSubmit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.
Meeting the world on its terms after losing much of my eyesight was difficult. Prejudice, inequality and inaccurate presumptions, though not new, were now based on my disability.
“As she steps forth to face the crowds
Some will stare, some will pass.
Captures attention as she goes
What do they really know?”
You’ve probably heard the phrase “you don’t know what you don’t know.” For example, I didn’t know I couldn’t see until I put on my first pair of eyeglasses. Prior to wearing eyeglasses, I functioned quite well because I wasn’t aware of what I couldn’t see, so as far as I was concerned there were no limitations to what I could achieve.
“She walks on by, her head held high
Opinions form in minds.
Some only see the stick she holds
What do they really know?”
Likewise, while I knew there was a significant disparity between the abled and disabled communities, I was stunned to find myself caught in the middle of two worlds. Many times I felt alienated for not being fully sighted, yet also not fully blind.
“I’m sick of people staring at your cane. It’s 2016, why do people still stare at people who use mobility devices?” my son asked me when we were on a recent outing.
“With cane in hand she proves she’s strong.
Breaking through opinions
She’s changing minds, she’s changing views
Shows them what they should know.”
I am grateful that I can’t see the gawking, however this is the reality of living with low vision in the sighted and non-sighted worlds. Sighted people can’t comprehend why a person who appears to see uses a white cane, and on the other end of the spectrum, blind people can take offense to people who aren’t totally blind being referred to as such.
Acceptance, the one thing most people yearn for, can seem especially elusive when living with a disability. However once we become confident enough to accept ourselves with our disability, we can begin to meet the world on our terms.
We are living in an era where people with disabilities are aggressively finding creative solutions to overcome the obstacles we face. Abigail, the poem by Jazmin Ruiz contained within this article was inspired by the stylish new white cane icon.
“Strength and beauty is what she holds.
Walking tall, head held high.
And there she goes achieving goals
That’s all they need to know.”
Abigail has sight loss, yet she is fabulously chic as she walks confidently with purpose, letting her white cane guide the way. The icon was designed with a two-fold mission in mind: to embolden women who are blind or have sight loss to embrace their individual greatness, and to eradicate the stigma around all kinds of visual impairments.
As a society, let’s begin a clean slate, operating from a standpoint of “we don’t know what we don’t know” to view people with an open mind. Let’s cease placing people with disabilities in a box of conformity based on what we think they can or cannot do. Once we are able to do this, we eliminate limitations.
The Mighty is asking the following: Describe your experience of not quite fitting under one specific diagnosis or a label your community identifies with.Check out ourSubmit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.
Plantiff Scott Magee, a resident of Louisiana who is blind, visited a McDonald’s franchise on foot one night in August 2015. Finding that the restaurant’s lobby was closed for the night, Magee sought service from the drive-thru. According to his suit, attendants “refused service to him, laughed, and told him to go away.”
Magee believes this constitutes discrimination, saying in his suit that “blind people must hope for a companion with a car or paid taxi services to assist them in selecting and purchasing McDonald’s food.”
Magee and his lawyer, New Orleans-based Roberto Luis Costales, filed a class-action lawsuit against McDonald’s Thursday in Chicago’s federal court.
According to the suit, the burger chain shows no “concern whatsoever for the accessibility of the late-night drive-thrus to the disabled.”
Neither McDonald’s nor Costales, responded to The Mighty’s request for comment.
I can only imagine your feelings as you’ve been thrown into this whole new adventure of life with a visually impaired child. There will be joy, sadness, determination, frustration and triumph throughout this new journey you now face, but please remember you aren’t alone. Here are four things I want you to know as a person who is legally blind:
1. It’s OK to feel sad, scared and uncertain of the future.
You more than likely never imagined your child would be visually impaired, and now a doctor has given you a diagnosis you may not even be able to pronounce, but everything will be OK. It’s more than OK to be scared and to feel uncertainty for what the future holds. Chances are you don’t know anyone who’s blind or has a child who’s blind, but I can promise you there are thousands of successful people who are blind all over the world. Blindness will now be a part of your life forever, and it will change your life, but for the better.
2. Reach out and find what services are available.
First of all, find an eye doctor you love, trust and who knows your child’s diagnosis. Do some research and ask around about what services are available for your child nationally and in your town and state.
Ask about early intervention services, support groups and awareness organizations. Most eye conditions have national organizations dedicated to awareness and support for a specific diagnosis. The more services you take advantage of the better. Meeting others who have your child’s eye condition and/or parents of children who have it will be one of the most rewarding, educating and supportive things you do.
3. Don’t limit your child and always let them try.
Your child is a child first and can do most everything any other child can do, with a few modifications. Your child will set their own limits as they grow and develop into an individual just like any sighted child would. Let your child grow and blossom beyond their disability and become who they want to be. If your child wants to try baseball, let them try. If your child wants to try to learn to ride a bike, let them try. If your child says they can do something on their own, let them. Your child will learn to figure out what help they’ll need and what they can and can’t do. Your child may surprise you; the sky really is the limit.
4. You will become an advocate.
Being a parent of a child with a disability means you’ll have to do quite a lot of advocating for your child until they’re able to do so for themselves. The world isn’t designed for people who are blind or visually impaired, and because of this, advocating for your child’s needs and best interests will become a part of your everyday life. Your child has certain rights pertaining to their education and may be eligible for specific services.
To receive most of these services, advocacy is needed on your child’s behalf. As your child grows and matures, he or she will begin to be able to advocate on their own needs — let them. Self-determination and advocacy skills are extremely important for your child to learn and develop. Once your child is ready, support them as they advocate for themselves until they’re able to do it on their own.
Teach your child they have a voice and can use it to advocate for what they need to succeed. (If you ever get to a point where you need legal help, there are organizations that provide services free of charge.)
The Mighty is asking the following: What is a part of your or a loved one’s disease, disability or mental illness that no one is aware of? Why is it time to start talking about it?If you’d like to participate, please check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.