Yesterday I spoke with blind children in Nur Sultan. Will I be called an inspiration pornographer when I say they were beautiful? The small girl in a white dress with angel wings sang a song. An equally tiny boy who was dressed like latter day Elvis also sang his heart out. Teachers brought forward a blind autistic boy who spontaneously added large sums. None of them had much in the way of orientation and mobility skills. They were talented and were led about. I was a foreign blind poet who felt himself shivering apart like a packet ship. I was aground on a reef of hardship. Parents wanted to know how I made it as a blind student and I had to tell them the way is hard—had to say the blind must work steadfastly and without pause; that in many instances we must work harder than sighted people. Even then we need luck and love. In Kazakhstan disabled children are largely segregated and though the Kazakhs have signed the UN Charter on disability rights—in effect committing their nation to disability justice—the way forward for the disabled is still steep and this is true in my own country god knows. One thinks of all the universities in the US that still adopt inaccessible software and course materials; colleges that imagine the disabled are structurally “apart” from student life. “Isn’t there a special office for them?” One shouldn’t imagine that with our mighty ADA we’re a shining city on a hill. But yesterday I heard small children singing and I thought of Emily Dickinson’s remark about the writing of poetry, that the imagination is akin to whistling as we walk past a graveyard. It’s a hard life. It’s best to sing. Silence is privilege.
ABOUT: Stephen Kuusisto is the author of the memoirs Have Dog, Will Travel; Planet of the Blind (a New York Times “Notable Book of the Year”); and Eavesdropping: A Memoir of Blindness and Listening and of the poetry collections Only Bread, Only Light and Letters to Borges. A graduate of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop and a Fulbright Scholar, he has taught at the University of Iowa, Hobart and William Smith Colleges, and Ohio State University. He currently teaches at Syracuse University where he holds a University Professorship in Disability Studies. He is a frequent speaker in the US and abroad. His website is StephenKuusisto.com.
(Photo picturing the cover of Stephen Kuusisto’s new memoir “Have Dog, Will Travel” along with his former guide dogs Nira (top) and Corky, bottom.) Bottom photo by Marion Ettlinger