First Impressions

I’m rather late to write today. I wasn’t sure what to write about, if anything, for all of today. Then I came across
Fandango’s provocative question for this week. This definitely inspires me. Fandango asks what impression you think you make when people first meet you?

Well, let me start by saying it depends. The factor that makes the difference is largely whether I’m using my white cane. When I am, that’s obviously the first thing people notice. Then most people will immediately know that I’m blind and their further impressions of me will be as much based on me as on their views and prejudices about the blind.

When I’m not using my white cane, people will usually still immediately notice that I am disabled, but be unable to tell what my disability is. This surprised me for a long time, as I always thought the fact that I’m blind is obvious from the way my eyes look. Apparently not, at least not since my cataract surgery in 2013.

In fact, I didn’t know that it’s not obvious somehow until I attended my second online cerebral palsy meeting. In the first, I had mentioned my additional disabilities immediately, but I had no reason to the second time around. Midway through the meeting, I got to mention it and the people who hadn’t attended the previous time all said they hadn’t known.

Generally speaking, I allow strangers and near-strangers to make their own judgments about me and my disabilities based on the first impression, be it that I’m blind or that there’s something “wrong” but they cannot be sure what. Sometimes I correct them, but less and less so. I mean, I could correct taxi drivers that it’s not obvious that all blind people live in care facilities, but why should I? I don’t think I have an obligation to justify why I need 24-hour care and people who are just blind don’t. I honestly don’t feel it’s my responsibility to set an example of competence that I cannot live up to just so that others won’t stereotype other blind people.

I once was approached by a police officer, because I had been wandering the neighborhood without my white cane. That policeman assumed I was either high on drugs or intellectually disabled, as he asked me whether I’d used or had eloped from the local institution. At the time (when I was around eighteen), I had virtually no understanding of the impressions I made on people and I initially corrected him. My father thought the police officer was stupid for assuming I had used drugs or belonged in the intellectual disability facility. I think my father’s preconceived judgments about me and anyone interacting with me, were farther off than that police officer’s.

Some Might Say: Judgments About Me #Blogtober20

Okay, I said I wasn’t going to take part in the #Blogtober20 prompts anymore, but this one did speak to me. Today’s prompt is “Some Might Say”. People can be incredibly judgmental. Today, I will write about some things people have said about me that indicate they are clueless or insensitive or both.

The first things people notice about me, are my blindness and the fact that I’m relatively well-spoken. This often leads people to assume that I either should be able to be independent or that I am obviously not because I’m blind.

My parents and other people who are relatively educated about blindness, often assume that I should be able to live independently and be employed. Even if they are fine with my “choice” of not pursuing a career, their idea of me is to live independently. Some people who don’t know me that well, ask whether my husband and I have or want kids. To me, it’s obvious that we don’t, but then again that may be internalized ableism. After all, I for one am not able to take care of kids, and besides I value my freedom. Others with my disabilities may definitely be able and willing to parent.

Another judgment I often get is that my marriage isn’t strong because we don’t live together. My last psychologist at the mental hospital even dared to say my marriage isn’t worth anything if I don’t intend on living with my husband. Well, when we got married in 2011, we had zero intention of living together. I was on the waiting list for a permanent workhome for autistic people. It is only because that didn’t work out, that my husband asked me whether I wanted to live with him. And just so you know, our reason for getting married is that we love each other and want to show each other that this is for life. And in my opinion, that’s the essence of marriage. Okay, I know that at least a third of marriages end in divorce, but I hope that if couples get married, they at least hope this is going to be for life.

Like I said, some people, particularly strangers who are clueless about disabilities, think that it’s perfectly understandable that as a blind person I live in a care facility. This misconception often feels as uncomfortable to me as the idea that I am or should be independent. I used to want to educate people that most people who are just blind, can live independently. I no longer do this though. Not only is it none of random strangers’ business that I’m not just blind, and isn’t it my obligation to educate, but I might also be adding to the stigma I fought so hard against as a teen.

By this I mean the National Federation of the Blind’s philosophy that blindness shouldn’t hold you back. It in fact used to say that the average blind person is just as capable as the average sighted person. That led to the idea that, unless you had severe or multiple other disabilities, you were to be pushed to achieve whether you could or wanted to or not. That just doesn’t work for me and it doesn’t work for many blind people.

#Blogtober20