By John Miller
A Blind’s Man Journey
(Because you don’t need sight to see the world)
A series of recent events have me thinking about how I feel about life with dual disabilities. Specifically, to what degree would I want to mitigate or perhaps eliminate at least the medical component of said disabilities, should that become more possible in the future.
I suppose because I wasn’t born with significant hearing loss, but have had to adjust to it over the lifespan, I would definitely opt into something that promised to correct my hearing. I’m pretty sure now though that I’ve had some loss in that area even before I had become aware of it.
Certainly technology has enabled one to hear. Many see this in the existence of the Cochlear Implant. One thing that gives me pause in going for a CI is that I’ve heard it can throw off sound localization, making it difficult for someone who is blind to navigate safely around his or her environment. I think one could adjust to this, but I know not how long that might take.
I recently met an individual who is a mental health advocate, writer, and one who has assisted many people with disabilities in learning the social landscape. This person shared with me a video in which a woman hears sound for the first time via cochlear implant.
I’d heard of this video before, and its attendant controversy. I guess people’s biggest concern had to do with the notion, right or wrong, that it would serve to enhance the public’s idea that perceived disability must always be a bad thing and should thus be dealt with. Some were also not sure how to take having such a private, emotionally jarring moment aired online. My position on that is it was her personal decision to do this, and should be seen as such.
I could be wrong, but it seems to me that deafness doesn’t get quite the social taboo that blindness does. I suppose that most wouldn’t actively choose to be without hearing, but many individuals who are deaf only can get good jobs and do things where their competence is questioned a little less. Are they discriminated against in some ways? I’m sure of it, and especially when attempting to communicate with others who are not deaf and don’t know sign language, or take in programming that isn’t properly captioned.
But when many see an individual who is blind, they automatically assume that some sort of sin has stained their soul. Some of the braver folks figure that God has actually appointed them to lift that sin, as a person tried to do this morning.
I’m strolling along, enjoying the birdsong and wind that finish waking me up as I head toward the bus stop. I get to the street corner, and over the sound of a roaring machine of some sort, maybe a lawn mower? I don’t know, I hear someone calling, maybe my name?
“Are you talking to me?” I ask, turning to face the voice.
“Yes”, she replies, “God says he wants me to touch your eyes.” Before I can stop her, she had practically smacked me in the face! She pounds my eyes a couple of good times before I softly removed her hands and pushed them down.
”Um,” I said, “I’m just trying to cross the street, and now I’m distracted. Can you tell me when to go?”
“Yes, but you have to believe! God’s going to open your eyes in a week!”
I just said OK, and thank you and shuffle on down towards the stop.
Because I’ve never seen before, I can’t even begin to imagine what it would be like to suddenly have working eyes in a week. I guess it would be like that woman’s reaction times 100, as I’d be bombarded with stimuli that I couldn’t make sense of without the proper context and training. I wonder if people who hope for such things to happen to a totally blind stranger have ever stopped to consider the ramifications of the situation?
Secondly, I think I’m made just the way I’m supposed to be. As with hearing, I don’t begrudge anyone who wishes to be able to see after having been totally blind whenever it becomes feasible to do so, but I definitely don’t. I guess, in many respects, I would feel like I’m giving up my “self” as I currently know it.
These are certainly interesting and complicated issues. I know many who are working to find their own answers as they deal with one, both, or some varying combination of them. I guess what it comes down to, in the end, is to respect the person’s humanity. Ask them questions about what they might want you to pray for or if they’d just prefer to be left alone. Because what you think you see in someone else is not always what is.