Submitted by Ruston Leader on Thu, 05/10/2012 - 10:50am
I have always loved to write; when I was in the third grade I entered my first writing contest for the D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) program in Utah. I was thrilled when I learned my essay was the winner for the entire school. It was the first moment I realized how fun it was to be the best at something.
As part of my winning “prize” I got to present my speech to the entire school. I could barely read large print, I had extremely thick glasses (which I hated) and I had to press my face very close to the page. I was so nervous, and a little embarrassed I would be pressing my face to the page so I decided to memorize it.
I proceeded to present my speech from memory with no problems.
When I finished I remember one of the police officers with the D.A.R.E. program told me how impressed he was with my essay topic. He finished it up with, “especially with all your vision difficulties.”
I remember this moment so vividly because it was the first time I remember feeling confused. I recall thinking, “I wonder what my essay topic has to do with my vision?”
I do understand that memorizing it was quite a feat, but that’s not what he was impressed with. It was perplexing to me even then.
Growing up as a blind person, I always thought I did quite well at a lot of things because a lot of people told me I did. But there was nearly always one catch to this ...
You are such a great dancer — for a blind girl. You are doing quite well with your schoolwork — considering you are blind. You are such a creative person — especially since you are blind. You sure are beautiful — for a blind woman.
While I know all these comments come to me with good intentions, I always wished the sentence would end in a different place. I know that many of my blind friends have had similar situations.
A blind friend of mine is often told how beautiful she is, for a blind person. This comment has always perplexed me the most.
What are blind people supposed to look like? It’s kind of like saying, you are quite an artist, for being left handed. Or, you are so talented, for such a tall person. There is something quite unsettling about it.
I won’t try to sugar-coat anything, some things are harder to do as a blind person, especially a blind person who doesn’t have good training and the proper skills. However, most things can be done with ease if given these valuable tools.
Growing up, it seemed like everything was harder for me, but mostly because I did not know braille and I was never given a cane.
Early on in my life I felt uncomfortable hearing how successful I was, for all the “problems” I had to “deal with.” I just wanted to be successful.
Recently, I was asked to give a bit of a biography about myself for a speech I was giving. I did this over the phone. I went through what I thought was quite a long list of activities, jobs, presentations and projects I have worked on and completed.
After we went through the list the guy on the phone said, “You have accomplished quite a lot in your 29 years of life, especially for being blind.”
Again, I know people have no intentions of this being rude or hurtful, and I am grateful for the compliment.
However, there is something a little painful about having a stipulation put on your success, especially when you feel like it is something that would be impressive for anyone, sighted or blind.
All my life I have wanted to excel. I find joy in pushing myself and being at the top of the so-called pile.
I want to stand out and exceed expectations, as a person whether sighted or blind. I don’t want to be successful, despite my blindness. I want to be a successful woman, who just happens to be blind.
Compliments and praise are wonderful. We all need them, admittedly or not. But remember the value in adding no stipulations.
Deja M. Powell is programs manager at the Professional Development and Research Institute on Blindness at Louisiana Tech University and a 2008 alumna of the Louisiana Center for the Blind in Ruston.