By Randy Pierce
Many people managing vision loss are uncomfortable with the word “blind.” Whether it’s a more horrific imagined final stop of their journey or some other reason, I’ve had enough conversations to understand the challenge some have in the term, far more than terminology of “visually impaired,” “sight-challenged,” or many others.
The reality for them is that change is difficult. I remember in my early transition how unsettling I found it to be labeled and to be different. I recall the many looks of pity from those who would part like the Red Sea as I tapped my cane along and learned to use the little vision I had to my best ability. I remember viewing (no pun intended) that as only “a little vision,” until I gradually came to have none left at all; my total blindness helped me realize how much perspective impacts our evaluation of everything. The truth is that it hurt to see reactions of others even as I was battling my own acceptance.
To my discredit, as soon as I’d learned to scan well enough with the limited vision I had before total blindness, I broke my white cane over my knee and threw it out. Why the emotional assault on the cane? It was a symbol of my feeling less than complete, inferior, and the warning sign for everyone else to see and realize that same notion. I’ve come a long way in acceptance and managing blindness with a bit more grace but I had a rough start and still have more bad moments than I wish.
So whether you are managing a transition yourself or know someone who is struggling with any facet of their life, please know it is hard and will often include some rougher moments. It can get better and everyone can have a hand in the improvement. For those in the midst of challenge, learn all you can about your challenge and how others before you may have succeeded. It’s a great way to begin the essential forward-moving work that’s at the heart of turning a challenge towards the positive.
For those wishing to better understand and help, do both of those things the best way possible. Consider the obvious and the subtle ways your interactions may impact someone. Treat them as close to your typical approach as possible and respect them as you ask what if anything you might do to help them. Well intended but unexpected help has walked me into a few doors, bumped a few heads, and made me feel I was thought of in a lesser way even when I knew the intent was so positive. Give encouragement, support, and accountability in equal measure but most of all give good exploration into truly understanding the reality of the challenge and the help which is wanted and necessary.
I strive to emphasize Ability Awareness and the notion we can solve problems to reach any destination that is important enough for us to be worth the perseverance required. In the midst of the challenge or transition, though, it is often hard to begin thinking of what we have ahead of us as we become tangled in how much we’ve lost. I have been there, will be there again I’m sure, and yet I know I can also come to an understanding and move forward again. Any of us may, though it helps if you are as well surrounded by people who are willing to share that approach and belief. This is true whether you are visually impaired, blind, or facing any of the multitude of challenges all of us will likely confront in our lives. The choice of how to respond is entirely up to you.