By Yvonne Garris
I know there have been many articles looking at the word “blind.” It still makes me scratch my head wondering why it is considered such a bad word. Ten years ago I was fully sighted, but due to illness I lost most of my sight within three months. I still find myself saying that I am legally blind; I think that is because I am hoping that people might understand that I still have some sight. When people hear the word “blind,” it doesn’t matter what else you say; most people assume you cannot see anything. The other thing that I have come across is the phenomenon that people think that because I can’t see very well, I also can’t hear, think or speak for myself. So I ask, “Why is it that being blind, either legally or totally, is such a bad thing and why is it so feared?” It has been said that blindness is more feared than public speaking and in some cases even death.
I am also wondering why people say they are sorry to me when I am talking to them on the phone and I tell them that I’m blind. Did they have a hand in making me blind; can they do something about it? I do not want their sympathy, the only reason I have told them is for a valid reason having to do with the conversation at hand. I know they are just trying to be nice, but I don’t want them to feel sorry for me. I think I would rather they would just not say anything when I tell them that I’m blind or just say okay, like it is just a fact, not something that makes them feel bad for me.
There have been many well-known successful blind or visually impaired people such as Helen Keller and Louis Braille who really started letting people know that the blind are still people. There are the famous musicians Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles, and Ronnie Milsap. When I did a Google search, Wikipedia gave a list of notable people who are blind. Here are a few that I found interesting: James Holman, a British man known as the “Blind Traveler”; Tofiri Kibuuka, a Ugandan-Norwegian athlete who was One of the first three blind people to reach the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro; Erik Weihenmayer, the first blind person to reach the summit of Mount Everest; Bob C. Riley, a former acting governor of Arkansas; and Thomas D. Schall, a former U.S. Senator from Minnesota. To see the complete list please go to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_blind_people
There are many more successful blind and visually impaired people, including my personal favorite, Christine Ha. She is the season three winner of Master Chef and is also known as the “blind cook” on her blog. Week after week she surprised everyone by cooking and presenting both tasty and beautiful dishes. I had the pleasure of meeting Kristine, and I know that she has about the same level of sight that I do and she is okay with being called blind. On the other hand, David Paterson, the former governor of New York, also has limited sight, but does not want to be seen as blind. What makes the difference?
So again I ask, “Why is ‘blind’ still a bad word?” Isn’t it time we change the stereotype? In my opinion, we need to work on changing how people see the blind and visually impaired. Since most stereotypes are born from ignorance, I believe the primary solution is education.
Here is how I have defined being blind.
B is for blessings. After losing most of my sight I have had many blessings such as being able to achieve a bachelor’s degree in social work and start my life coaching business (www.freshoutlookcoach.com) so I can give back.
L is for laugh. Being blind comes with embarrassing moments so you just have to learn to laugh and roll with it.
I is for independent. Just because you lose your sight doesn’t mean you have to lose your independence.
N is for new. This is a whole new world filled with many opportunities, challenges, and experiences.
D is for do. Just do it; jump in with both feet!
We, the people experiencing blindness, need to be the ones to take the fear out of the word “blind.” Let’s start with being positive and good examples. Above all, let’s educate, educate, educate. It is easier for a person to remember a negative than a positive which makes it so difficult to change a negative stereotype. Stay positive and patient with the sighted world. Remember that blind is not a bad word; it is just a description of a part of me and maybe part of you.