So this post is one I asked my friend Milica to write. It’s an expansion on an angry text she sent me on Monday after shopping with her mom and cousin. It’s long but, especially for either parents of visually impaired children, or just people who don’t really know how to treat the blind, you might want to give it a read.
Or if your just a fellow VIP looking to commiserate over the Sighteds and their unknowingly condescending ways, read on.
I got my period today, and yes that is relevant, or rather, my cramps are relevant to this story.
I told my mom, at some point today, that I’d like to go clothes shopping. I hadn’t specified exactly when, but thought she understood that today wouldn’t be the best time. The idea of clothes shopping was exhausting, and with the added aches and pains, I knew it would be miserable for everyone involved. I’d only mentioned it because I’d been mentally going through my closet and realized it needed some new additions.
It seems she didn’t’ get the memo though, because later tonight, she tells me we’re going out. I didn’t really wanna go cause I’d already had two pills today and they didn’t help much. But I went anyway. And, as expected, I was miserable.
We went from store to store, and they were all cluttered with clothes, as clothing stores get. The lights were also painfully bright for my eyes (I had forgotten my special light filtering sunglasses). And, of course, the cramps. Those ever present, attention seeking, evil cramps. So like I said, I was miserable. I didn’t mean to be. But I just couldn’t be enthusiastic about even the things I liked because hormones.
So basically, the whole shopping part of the evening consisted of my mom and cousin looking for stuff and asking me if I liked it and me telling them to go ahead and buy it if they thought it was good because I couldn’t care either way. I was following behind them lifelessly and mostly relying on sighted guide—the technique used to guide blind people—as I didn’t’ have the energy or willpower to use my vision.
When we’re finally finished, my mom goes to the bathroom and my cousin, Sofija and I make our way over to one of the mall’s cafes. As we’re sitting there, waiting for my mom and eating our cakes, one of the cleaning ladies comes over to us.
“Prijatno,” she starts, using the Montenegrin equivalent of bon appétit. “Is it delicious? Is she your sister?”
I was sitting by the edge closer to her, and Sofija was sitting by the window on my other side. But of course she wasn’t talking to the blind girl. Still I answered anyway:
“yes we are sisters.” (cousin and sister can be used interchangeably in Montenegrin.) She hadn’t given us time to answer about the cakes.
Sadly, when I answered, so did Sofija. I’d forgotten to train her to direct people talking to her about me to talk to me instead.
As the lady continues talking to us, asking little questions about us, she uses this “poor blind girl tone” that a lot of people use with and around me. And by the time she’s gone, Sofija is completely weirded out.
“Yes,” I tell her. “This is why I get frustrated with people on a daily basis. And you think I’m crazy.”
As great a relationship as I have with her, she is one of the people in my life who constantly tells me that I’m too mean to the nice people who wish me well.. Even though I, not she, am the one living my life and getting overly eager helpful souls forcing assistance and their feelings about my disability onto me in the most ordinary situations. So her shocked reaction made the woman’s condescending approach a little more bearable. At least Sofija was finally getting it. And while this would be a great, happy place to stop, my story doesn’t end there. My mom comes back, and that’s where everything gets crazy, and infuriating, and just… grrrrrrr!!!!
Sofija and I tell her what happened, and she tells us that the woman had also approached and talked to her.
“She has 2 blind girls and one doesn’t even want to go outside because she is sensitive to light. She was in an accident.” The lady went on to say that she saw me being miserable and robotic when we were shopping earlier, (because of cramps but she doesn’t know that), and she tells my mom: “I see she doesn’t want you to buy her anything, but you should always buy her things”. As my mom told us the story, she imitated the woman’s “love your daughter even though she’s like this” tone. And when she’s finished telling us about the lady’s troubles, she comments, “you know, poor woman, she’s working for practically nothing as a cleaning lady and those children don’t have any opportunities”—and so on—”so she doesn’t know any better.”
No,, I am not a completely heartless human being. I understand that people have struggles. But I still can’t accept that you’re a mother of 2 blind kids, no matter how uneducated or poor you are. You should still be able to realize that you disable your children more with your attitude.
Next, my mom calls her over to talk some more, and she tells us about how much her daughters don’t want to go out.
I really wanted to say something, but I had a strong suspicion that no matter what I said, all she’d think was “aww, poor, thing, she speaks, so cute.”
But it must be in my DNA or something to fight for my causes, because I speak up anyway and ask if she had tried glasses.
“oh sweetie, she’s too ashamed. Bless you.” And then she puts her hand on my face… to pet me!
I instinctively pulled back, and asked her to please not do that.
My mom and Sofija tried to explain that her touching me was just an endearment in Montenegrin culture. But I guess I’m an alien in both Montenegro, where I’m from, and the United States, where i’ve been studying for about nine years. I say that because it seems like I’ve picked up the American custom of not wanting to be touched endearingly by strangers. Although, interestingly,, even Americans seem to completely disregard their own habits when interacting with visually impaired people. Does everyone suddenly become European when they talk to blind people then? Cool.😂
As soon as Sofija heard that the woman was a cleaning lady with 2 blind kids at home, she betrayed me, suddenly becoming fine with the woman’s behavior. I thought she had finally started to understand. But I suppose I will need a few more encounters to happen around her for her to truly get it.
We tried, through a few more exchanges, to get the woman to start encouraging her daughter, but quickly realized that it wasn’t going to go anywhere in that short a time. So we asked her a few more questions about her daughters, like how old they were and things like that. And after a bit more small talk, she said that she was glad to have met us and went back to her life.
The entire time after that was spent with them trying to get me to sympathize by explaining her probable situation. They told me how rude I was for pulling away, instead of letting her touch me.
And I was annoyed about the fact that she saw me looking like a lifeless thing being dragged around the mall. I try so hard to be seen as a person first, and blind person second. But not only was I using sighted guide (and barely even caring about the information I got from my cane), I was also acting… not normal. And that just continues the image she probably has about helpless blind people. And because of how I let myself be portrayed, she refused to take me seriously. To care about my advice as if I were another human being, and not this blind creature who deserves pity.
I had these crazy thoughts of just going back up to her and shouting everything at her in frustration and explaining myself, but I knew it wouldn’t do any good. She caught me on a bad day, but even if she hadn’t, I doubt it would have changed much. Just seeing a girl walk around a mall wouldn’t be enough to help her learn something that people, especially parents of visually impaired children, take years, various resources, and supportive specialists working with the family to learn.
We returned home with my mood improved only slightly. I knew that they, my mom and Sofija, didn’t deserve my attitude, but they also couldn’t understand me either.
So, I opted for writing this here instead.
I guess the main idea of the story here is that I can’t make everyone understand and that there are multiple points of view to every story. It is also extremely unfortunate that Montenegro as a country that doesn’t have the resources to properly help and teach families about how to do the best they can for their disabled child. As a result, many kids aren’t even sent to school and don’t get to live out their life anywhere near to their full potential.
I have other blind friends from Montenegro who have more or less grown up into functional adults,. Though, that could only happen because their parents either had the resources to learn from what is done in other countries, or had the willpower, motivation, and determination to challenge their kids. By doing this, these parents allowed their kids to explore their childhood and even get hurt—just like sighted kids—in the process so that they can learn to be independent and learn to get used to living normally with their condition.
I feel that, since sighted people view living without vision as incredibly frightening, they overprotect their children in order to make something they view as terrifying more bearable for themselves, and convince themselves that it’s what’s best for their kids. But what, sadly, doesn’t occur to these parents is that because so much of a child’s learning happens through visually observing others, by overprotecting them, they are essentially denying their cognitively normal functioning children a chance to learn about the world around them. It would be absurd, to a sighted parent to let their blind child explore the world around them with the other four, presumably finely working, senses. It’s too dangerous. And since the parent is afraid, their child must be too. Or the parent’s fear molds the child into a helpless, nervous, creature instead of the strong individual they could be.
Sometimes, I realize, blind kids are born with additional disabilities. But if you’re kid’s only impairment is his or her vision, don’t limit them because you can’t fathom living like that. You’re not. Your kid is. What’s going to come of them if something happens to you? Should they rely on other people to take care of them their whole lives? You wouldn’t allow that of your sighted child, would you?
So, I understand what my mom and cousin meant when they said that people who don’t have a lot of opportunities are more likely to treat their disabled child in the way the woman treated me. It makes me sad, it really does. But I get it, or try to. But with that said, I still firmly believe that everyone has the potential to make their own conclusions. Even if they don’t have the resources to provide their kids with screen reader enabled technology or lessons in life skills from a certified professional, they can make their own observations and conclusions about what their own child can do without giving into despair, and setting the bar too low instead of too high. Even if a child doesn’t end up getting an academic education, through acceptance and willingness to communicate, I believe it is possible to at least fully integrate the child into the lifestyle of the family, even if that simply means expecting them to do chores and speaking to them in a way a parent might speak to a child without a disability. And not like a cherished pet.
I hope that by sharing my experience, I have helped you understand why this kind of treatment, no matter who it comes from, mostly only does one thing, and that is to lower someone to a level that is less than human.
So, with that I encourage you to, as Lily has undoubtedly said many times, think about how your actions, good-intentioned though they may be, might come off to someone who likely already has a grasp on living with a disability. And if you are wondering about how in the world we blindies get by in the world, well, feel free to explore the rest of the blog and the accompanying youtube channel.
PS. If you or someone you know is a parent of a blind or visually impaired child and don’t know where to start. this is a good starting point with some basic information. If that’s the case then good luck, stay strong, and believe in yourself and the child..
If you enjoyed Milly’s post, check her out on Twitter here. She Tweets as the mood strikes her, which means you can expect anything from Youtube likes and her thoughts on anime characters, to college struggles and #BlindPeopleProblems.