Recently, something happened to my little sister, who has the same eye condition as me. She called me crying the other day because someone she very much respects, didn't believe she was blind. This wasn't just anyone either, it was a medical professional, who is not an opthamoligist or an optomitrist. My sister doesn't use a cane to get around so sometimes it is difficult for others to identify her as being blind. However, she is and struggles for people to understand the depths of her eye conditions.
I however, do use a cane, and read braille and I have, on more than one occasion encountered what she has. I've heard the whispering and felt the questioning glances of others. Because I do have some vision, I can still read some print, can still see some in various lighting situations and get around quite confidently with a cane (thanks to good training), people have, and will continue to, question my blindness.
I have heard people say, "You don't need that cane, look how well you get around, " Or, "why are you using a cane when I just saw you look at those shoes." (Sorry, shoes were the first thing to come to mind, imagine that). It's a fairly regular occurrence in my life and in the lives of many with low vision and even some with no vision at all.
It's a perplexing predicament to know you can't see and still have others doubt you.
Most of it comes from lack of knowledge by the public. It's not common knowledge that blindess comes at many different levels, that not everyone who is blind is totally blind. Having a cane with me has helped me to better explain to others the varying degrees of blindness but it's pretty much a weekly conversation I have with others.
Like myself and my little sister, others with low vision struggle to find our place. Are we blind? Are we sighted? It's something that many of us struggle with where we best fit in. From am early age we (most of us) are taught to use as much of our vision as possible, to try to see as much as we can (with whatever means possible) and try our best to function without the use of things like braille and a cane. We are taught or encouraged to stay away from the things that make us walk over that line and identify us as blind.
The whole idea that we are faking it, honestly, sometimes makes me angry. I don't appreciate when others think they know more about my life and my body than I do. It's something I don't mind explaining to others when they ask, in fact I think that's highly appropriate. It's when others won't listen to the reasoning or be open minded.
It's a struggle for a lot of us and one that probably won't go way anytime soon.
One thing we can do, is be secure in ourselves and no let others misunderstanding or ignorance in some cases, bother us. Now, that is SO much easier said than done. It's taken me a long, long time to get to a point where I don't let it bother me so much. Now, don't let me kid you, it's something I still struggle with all the time but I've made progress in this area.
The second thing we can do is embrace the tools of blindness that can help us, and others, to understand. Ever since I started using a cane it has become easier to explain to others why I can't see certain things or read others. It's been my biggest cheerleader in this cause. However, I know it's not a step all people have taken yet and everyone has to do it in their own time, but it's been huge move for me.
I want to end with a quick story. The other day I was moving my stuff from one of the three storage units our stuff was in (we had stuff everywhere, seriously). It was almost 10:00 at night and I was with a new friend I literally has just met hours before (a friend of my husbands from work).We were starving realizing we hadn't ate anything for hours. So we stopped at a local pizza place to pick up a few pizzas for the moving crew. As I went to go into the store I realized that my cane had got buried in the back of the pick up truck under all the boxes. Normally, it goes in the cab with me but it wouldn't fit so I put in the bed of the truck. My only option was to go in without my cane (I was paying and had the card). I momentarily freaked out a little, I had never been ANYWHERE without my cane, for literally years now. I went into the store with my new friend and I asked the guy what the specials were, he immediately pointed to the board and said, "They're all up there!" I'm sure my eyes got huge because this totally brought back all the bad memories from B.C. (before cane) period.
It was a weird experience for me but one I think I was meant to have. It reminded me what a great tool my cane is for me. It makes it a little easier to explain when I'm in this kind of situation.
The truth is, there will always be people who doubt us, question us, don't understand what we deal with personally. We have to continue to educate others and grow in our own confidence (which is not always easy). My sister's experience recently reminded me that blindness is something some of us might share but each or our journey's are different.