The ADA @30: “Blindness is Easy”

Cover of Planet of the Blind....man and dog....

Blindness is easy, just ask the advocacy organizations—it’s only impediments are the public’s old fashioned attitudes. I agree. Oh but the public! How it clings to its graffiti! Here are synonyms for blindness from the good old thesaurus: “irrational”; “unperceiving”; “unperceptive”—there are many more pejoratives. 

Being blind means always living the life of an ambassador for consciousness and intelligence in an unfavorable nation. The locals in that nation think deficiencies of the eyes are omens or auguries, as if blindness is the torn entrails of birds in the time of Caesar. Even the well dressed and cheerful Human Resources ladies and gents hear echoes of superstitions as they discuss “accommodations” with a blind job applicant. Inside the HR rep is a tiny voice, like wind whistling through a broken window, it says, “make her go away, please, this person is too much for me, for us…” (Too much, by the way, is the core syntax of all bigotries.) 

Even within awakened disability advocacy circles, the sighted imagine blindness is separate. Closed captioning is often available when videos are shown at universities but never audio description for the blind. If you raise your hand and ask for it, there’s a moue of impatience, even from the faculty who teach disability related topics. “Too much.” Or: “your time hasn’t yet come.”

Blindness is easy once you get the hang of it. You learn about talking computers and Braille displays, learn how to safely navigate the public square, take the bus, (if you’re lucky enough to live where buses run) have an iPhone with an app that reads signs and the labels on jars. 

Easy isn’t quite the right word, let’s say it’s “do-able” but add the caveat that being ambassadors in the unfavorable land, the blind must make it all look easy, must insist that it’s so. 

I’ve been lucky to have a job in higher education for thirty years. I’m even tenured which is statistically unlikely. But here I am at 65 still arguing for basic accommodations not just for myself but for all blind staff and students who choose higher education as a path. I’m the haruspicator—the Roman who spreads the bird entrails on hot stones and reads the future according to the spatter. The future will only be as good as the public finally entertaining that the blind belong. Not as ambassadors or outliers. Not as people who have to keep insisting on access to everything from web sites to libraries, but as fully included human beings. 

We’re not unperceiving unless of course you show films without audio descriptions. My university has no plans to solve this. I get invitations to their annual “disability rights film series” and every year it’s not accessible for people like me. So I don’t go. Later I hear three wheelchair using students exulting about a flick they saw. I get to be the unperceptive one. 

Talking back is nested within ambassadorial protocols. You can’t say you’re fed up. (Which I have.) Can’t say “why do the blind get no respect?” (The Dangerfield gambit?) because if you do, then you’ve violated the prime directive that it’s supposed to be easy—the blindness balm of Gilead for the sighted…

You can’t say “when is our time coming?” Because then you’re a behavioral problem. 

Can’t say “here comes the man or woman with the dark glasses and the cymbals….” A nice pun. But you’re not supposed to be loud. 

The blind in higher education largely have a rotten time. 

I suspect at any moment the doorbell will ring and the central scrutinizer of advocacy ambassadors will take away my diplomatic instruments.    

Meanwhile other synonyms of blindness are “dim”; “obtuse”; “dull”; “witless”—all of which mean you don’t have to listen to me, even if I am a full professor. 

Author: skuusisto

Poet, Essayist, Blogger, Journalist, Memoirist, Disability Rights Advocate, Public Speaker, Professor, Syracuse University

One thought on “The ADA @30: “Blindness is Easy””

  1. Ironically, if you were a student the university would HAVE to give you those audio described movies…. (facepalm)

    Like

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