Today an instructor I’ve never met before walked into our shared office. We had the following exchange.
Colleague: Hello. You teach here?
Me: Good morning. Yes. I teach writing.
Colleague: And you’re blind?
Colleague: So…do you have any assistance in the classroom?
Me: No, not really.
Colleague: Wow, that’s just incredible! I really admire you!
Colleague: I really admire how you don’t let blindness get in your way.
Me: … *looks for the exit*
Despite the fact that the colleague is using words like “admire” and “incredible,” I won’t be pinning this exchange on my wall of treasured compliments. Perhaps I sound churlish or ungrateful, so let me explain why I, and other disabled people, don’t enjoy this kind of attention.
As a teacher of effective communication, I am bothered by this scenario. The colleague expresses admiration as a consequence of my exceptionalism. She assumes that the default position of disability is ineptitude. She is surprised, and thus excited, to learn about a competent and independent blind teacher precisely because she does not consider the competent blind person the norm. In her worldview, all disabled people are marked by the perpetual need for help.
But the change won’t occur if I keep silent. So, let’s adjust her logic.
Here’s the other problem with her line of reasoning: it makes no room for me as a professional or colleague. She compliments me on my ability to defy her stereotypes, but she does not actually know anything about my teaching style. She says it’s incredible that I can teach independently and that she admires me. But she hasn’t seen me in the classroom. How does she know I’m any good? I could be terrible! I could be a train wreck. She is congratulating me for living a life other than the one prescribed by the tragic stories of disability—not for making a difference in the lives of students, as all teachers seek to do.
This dialogue got me thinking about how she must see my life, how she thinks I live each day. So I present you now with two agendas.
A Day in the Life of a Blind Person, as Imagined by Too Many Sighted People:
- Wake up. Grope for cell phone or extremely large alarm clock. Attempt to turn it off.
- Enjoy a few blissful moments with my eyes closed.
- Open my eyes and remember I’m blind.
- Shed 3-5 tears. Wipe them away.
- Realize that I can’t see the glittering tears rolling down my face. They glitter with all the possibilities I will never accomplish. Shed 6-10 more.
- Recommended for Weekends: Shed 6-8 initial tears because weekends are more social and I’m disabled. So I won’t be doing any socializing.
- Get out of bed. Feel my way to the kitchen.
- Prepare special Blind Person’s Breakfast: all finger food, nothing messy. Nothing that requires excessive chewing. No coffee. Tired of spooning in salt instead of sugar. Caffeine withdrawal headache.
- Get dressed in mismatched sweatpants or other lounge wear. Run fingers through hair. No makeup. Sunglasses.
- Find favorite chair—any chair—in living room. Sit.
- Spend the next 3-5 hours contemplating how great life would be if I could see things. Then have lunch. All finger food. No mess.
- Rinse and repeat until dinner.
A Day in the Life of One Blind Person, as Planned by Me
- Wake up, Press snooze button. Wake up again.
- Take dog outside, bring him in, feed him.
- Do short yoga routine (5-10 minutes, 4-6 poses, I’d like to learn a few more).
- Eat breakfast: a KIND bar and a string cheese, neither of which is messy. I choose this breakfast because it’s quick, and I don’t have to think about it. I’ll get a cappuccino at work.
- Check personal emails.
- Get dressed in outfit I’ve laid out the night before. It’s professional attire: a skirt and blouse or a nice dress.
- Part hair and put product in. Scrunch curls. Moisturize face. Put on makeup. Put in earrings. Put on braille watch.
- Take dog outside again. Listen to birds. Wish I’d brought my phone outside so I could record them.
- Pack bag for work—dog’s lunch, my lunch, graded assignments, books, laptop.
- Go to work. Teach classes. Challenge students.
- Come home. Have dinner with family or friends. Plug social appointments into calendar for weekend.
What’s that, colleague? My daily agenda looks like yours? Wild! I wonder why that is…