If you’re disabled you almost never get the microphone and if you do you’re pressured to squander the moment, telling the non-disabled there’s no such thing as disablement, there are only bad attitudes. Blind people like me are asked to reassure the sighted. This holds true for all disabilities.
Able-bodied-microphone-land (ABML) is a Lewis Carroll kind of place. As the Beatles once sang: “you know the place where nothing is real…” The latest version of this is a stage adaptation of Jose Saramago’s novel “Blindness” where the audience sits in complete darkness and hears a story of blindness as contagion. Yes. Blindness as COVID. Presumably sitting in darkness adds verisimilitude. “By God, Brother, this must be what it’s like!” I’m here to tell you: blindness doesn’t represent anything and real blind people don’t sit trembling in the dark.
This play with its audience participation trick really troubles me. I’ve spent the last thirty years traveling the world talking about disability as lived experience. Disability is just like anything else–left handedness or having big feet. When it’s metaphorized it becomes a superstitious fiction designed to frighten the temporarily normal.
I’m not going to tell you that the blind can do anything the sighted can. You wouldn’t want me operating on your brain, at least not with our current technology. But it should be clear–blindness is no obstacle to living a full and rewarding life. The public doesn’t understand this. When I’m on a bus with my guide dog someone invariably approaches and wants to pray for me. Strangers want to give me coins. They can’t conceive that I’ve a professional life, a family, that I’ve been known to water-ski.
Saramago’s blindness is not only silly, it contributes to ever more superstition. I think we can all agree we need less fear and nonsense in our lives. As I write this it’s estimated that 70 per cent of the disabled remain unemployed in the United States. Accommodations to help them in the workplace are inexpensive. What’s holding them back? Well, alright, I’m going to call it the “Saramago Syndrome.”