Membership Is a Privilege

By William H. Grignon

I have a confession to make: for most of my life, I have been a pretty lousy blind person. I have RP (Retinitis Pigmentosa). For the first thirty years of my life, I saw well enough to pass as just someone who needed glasses. At the age of thirty, I lost the rest of my usable sight, but I did not think of myself as a blind person.

I did not learn Braille. I fought the cane. I felt sorry for myself and made myself and everyone around me miserable.

Slowly, I stumbled into the world of those with vision loss. I did not join any organizations, but I did get some O&M and I learned to use JAWS. I saw myself as a stranger between two strange lands, neither blind nor sighted, a kind of maverick outsider, forging his own destiny against an indifferent universe. And I took pride in my isolation: I was different, I was better, I was a jerk.

Again, slowly, I met other people with vision loss, I heard their stories, and I realized: I am not unique. This revelation was both dispiriting and comforting. On one hand, I was not special; the things I was thinking and feeling and doing were not special; indeed, I was going through a typical gauntlet of denial, anger, depression, and bargaining. On the other hand, I was not some kind of freak; the things I was thinking and feeling and doing were just the things other people with vision loss were thinking, feeling, and doing. I was not unique, but I was also not alone.

And so, I joined the Southwest Florida Council of the Blind and the Pennsylvania Council of the Blind, and I held offices and I chaired committees and I wrote articles and I participated in hands-on advocacy and I shared during peer support group. In sum, I belong to a community of individuals who share an existential fact: vision loss. For most of us, vision loss is not a defining characteristic, but for all of us, it is a fact that we deal with every day. Being in this community has given me perspective, nurtured empathy, spawned compassion, and, hopefully, made me a little less of a jerk.

It’s been said that membership has its privileges. As a member of SWFCB and PCB, I have been privileged to know many cool, smart, funny, and courageous people with vision loss who are getting out there and doing what they need to do to make lives for themselves. They don’t climb Mount Everest, but they do have jobs, manage households, care for their families, and don’t let vision loss trap them inside the low expectations of an ignorant world. They keep it real and, in turn, keep me real and I am a better man for knowing them.

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