Millennium: Growing Up Blind in 2000 #Blogtober20

I’m a bit late to publish my #Blogtober20 post today. Well, not as late as yesterday, but then I already had a post up in the afternoon. Today’s prompt is “Millennium”.

Let’s see… we’re now 20 years into the new millennium, which I realize isn’t even the “new” millennium to some adults right now, as they were born in 2000 or later. I always find it surprising that there are people who will be legally old enough to vote in next year’s national election who weren’t even born when politician Pim Fortuyn was murdered on May 6, 2002. Yeah, I’m getting old!

In 2000, I turned fourteen. I was in my first year at a mainstream grammar school. I had already decided I hated it, but my parents and teachers had decided that, if I failed, I’d fail within the first three months and those were up. Woohoo, my mainstream education was a success! Okay, it was, since I did graduate with pretty good grades in 2005, but yeah.

In January of 2000, I suffered a bad case of the flu. I rarely got the flu back then and still get it only once every five years or so, so I remember. In fact, I’m not 100% sure of this but I think it was my only time being off school sick in my entire grammar school career.

In February, my outreach teacher for the visually impaired came to talk to my classmates. They had already decided they didn’t like me one bit. In fact, when the teacher asked casually what having me, a blind student, in their class evoked in them, they didn’t think of a single positive. They started saying that I was being favored by the teachers. They also resented the need to help me get around. This instilled in me the feeling that I had to make up for my blindness in some way by being extra, well, anything.

I had read a book called Het instituut (which translates to The Institution) by blind comedian Vincent Bijlo in 1998. This book is about a boy who goes to a boarding school for the blind and his teachers constantly instill in him the idea that the “sighted school” is really hard and that he’ll need to compensate for his sight loss. For all I knew, my parents and teachers at the grammar school agreed: I was an inherent burden due to my blindness unless I showed my classmates I was more independent, nicer, more hard-working and in any way better than them. Then when I tried to work hard and got good grades, my classmates decided I must be favored by the teachers.

My idea about myself as an inherent burden on the world around me due to my blindness didn’t change till I went to an international computer camp for the blind in 2002 and discovered the English-language Internet in that same summer. It never completely disappeared though.

Later in the year 2000, my classmates started openly bullying me. Again, my parents and teachers blamed me. I was too dependent, too unsociable, too much of a burden in general. I had ruined the only friendship I had developed (which in hindsight was based on pity mostly) by getting my “friends” an only average grade in a music performance in October. Though these girls didn’t actively bully me, they mostly ignored me.

I realize, looking back, that the attitude towards people with disabilities was generally very hostile back in the late 1990s and early 2000s, when I was growing up. I mean, I bullied a girl with a visual and intellectual impairment on the special needs bus to the school for the blind in the late 1990s. Though my parents disapproved of it, both they and my teachers didn’t do much to stop me. When this girl was dying of a brain tumor, my parents even openly criticized her religious parents’ hope that the girl would miraculously survive.

I can only hope that, with more children with significant disabilities being mainstreamed nowadays, that attitudes have changed.