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When You're Living in the 'Gray Area' of Blindness

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While sitting in a classroom, many students around me have no idea that I am legally blind. They may see me walk into the class and find my seat guided by a beautiful black Lab, notice the large text on my laptop screen, or even hear my text-to-speech software before I get my headphones plugged in. Other students may notice my face being a few inches from my laptop, or how I have my phone so close to my eyes, I could use my nose to select things. They may notice how I wear my sunglasses more often than not, and if I’m not, they may see my eyes wiggle back and forth.

What the don’t see is what it has taken to get me to this point — the point of blending in like any other college student who is still half-asleep during 8 A.M. lecture.

It’s complicated. I’m blind, but I can still see. I often get asked questions about my vision, and have conversations like these:

Young woman in Starbucks: “Excuse me, can I ask you a question?”

Me “Sure.”

Young woman: “I see you have a guide dog, but I also noticed you just read something on your phone. So, um… can you see?”

Me: “I’m legally blind,  so I do have some vision, yes. I was reading the online menu because I can’t see the one on the wall.”

Young woman: “Thank you for answering. I had no idea people could see and still have a guide dog.”

This is a common misconception. Many people believe that someone who identifies as blind must see nothing, but this is not the case. Most people who identify as blind are actually what we in the blindness community refer to as “partials.” This means that we do have some usable vision. Many of us within the blindness community take a much wider view when defining blindness. We consider ourselves blind if we must use alternative techniques in order to complete any activity a fully sighted person would use their vision to complete.

I live in the gray area between visually impaired, legal blindness, and blindness. According the federal definition, I am legally blind. I can see, but not enough to have useful vision in many aspects of my life.

As a child, I was “not blind enough” for certain things. I had enough vision that I was not considered legally blind under the federal definition. My vision was poor enough that I still qualified for services from the state school for the blind, but I wasn’t “blind enough” for Braille or full-time cane usage. Now, as a young adult I am “too blind” for certain things. I am too blind to: drive, read a “normal” textbook, or complete daily living skills without using non-visual techniques.

That’s OK, though. Even though I’m “too blind” to do things the “normal” way, I can still do just about anything a fully sighted person can do, I just may do it in a different way. I can cook, clean, take pictures, learn, swim, babysit, and so much more. I’m happy with the way I am and have accepted what my disability means to me.

Originally published: October 10, 2016
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