The most interesting question asked at one of our school presentations came from a fifth-grader on Long Island. “If you could see for just one day, and you knew that at the end of the day you wouldn’t be able to see anymore, what would you do that day?”
”I try not to think about how life would be if I could see,” I said, explaining that one coping skill that has helped me since losing my sight is to focus on the things I can do. “Thinking too much about the things I can’t do anymore would make me feel sad all the time.”
I tell kids I’ll answer anything they ask, though, so I gave them the first three things that sprang into my head. I’d Look at photos, try to memorize what everyone looks like. I’d go to our local coffee shop, sneak looks at the other people there and make up stories about them in-between reading the newspaper and sipping on an espresso. I’d drive over to Flo’s, take her out for lunch, maybe pick up some groceries on the way home.
An article about Braille in last week’s New York Times quoted a woman named Laura Sloate, who lost her sight when she was six. Sloate never learned Braille in school, and she uses a talking computer and other audio devices to manage a Wall Street investment firm.
“When Braille was invented, in the 19th century, we had nothing else. We didn’t even have radio. At that time, blindness was a disability. Now it’s just a minor, minor impairment.”
Just a minor impairment? Really?
Technology has made it easier for those of us who are blind to read without using Braille, but technology can’t make up for other things we miss out on. My answer to that fifth-grader was not only a quick study of the things I miss most about not being able to see, but a quick study in things technology cannot yet do for those of us who are blind.
Blindness is one of the most feared and misunderstood disabilities, so I can understand why the woman quoted in that New York Times felt compelled to downplay it, tell the reporter that her blindness is just a minor impairment. We blind people are always walking a fine line. We don’t want others to make assumptions about what we can and cannot do. And it can feel like we always have to prove ourselves.
But I, for one, would never characterize blindness a minor impairment.