|Magnified reading device.|
Recently I attended a convention directed toward blind people, in various stages of their lives. I sat next to a women while we were listening to a presentation from a young lady who is blind, but also has low vision. As she gave her well thought-out and planned speech, the woman next to me leaned over and said, “I hate how she is holding her paper so close to her face, she really shouldn’t be allowed to speak at such an event, only braille readers should be able to.” This statement caught my attention and really got me thinking. I, myself, am a braille reader, who also uses my low vision to read print at times. Braille is my first choice but I’m slow at it, I am not up to a reading speed that is sufficient for giving a speech that wouldn’t drive people nuts. For many year now, I have felt a lot of shame in this.
Recently I was asked to speak at a conference. I wrote my speech notes, in braille, and practiced for hours (my husband can attest to this). The day of my speech came and as I practiced I felt slow, I fumbled around, I lost my place a few time, my hands would shake…I just couldn’t follow my notes. I felt like what I wanted to say was important, worth sharing, and in the last minutes before presenting, I opted to use my iPad in large print. I started sobbing as I sat on the podium, waiting for my turn to present. I was so ASHAMED that at a blind conference, for an organization that promotes the use of braille so heavily, I was about to read my speech in print!
I choked back tears as I presented, still so ashamed to be up there. It was a hard experience for me and one I’ve thought about many times since.
Why did I feel so much shame? Why do some shame those who do us their low vision? Why is it so shameful to read large print?
First off, if you know me at all, you know I am enormous fan, and major advocate for the use of braille. I believe with all my being that all blind and low vision kids should learn it. I will go to my grave advocating for this. However, there are many like me, who were not fortunate enough to learn braille as a child, who were told we would be better off reading large print. I didn’t learn braille until I was 23 years old, well past the prime time to learn it. My story is the same as many, the majority really. I am thrilled I learned braille and I use it often, it has saved me in many situations. But I have read large print my entire life, it’s what I know, it’s my natural instinct, it’s how I learned to read.
It bothers me that I feel ashamed when I use my vision, whether it’s reading print or seeing something that my other blind friends can’t. I’m been told before, by dear friends, I just couldn’t possibly understand how hard it is to be truly blind, because I have some vision. Whether people realize this or not, it’s hurtful. When us low vision-ers feel like we struggle to fit in, to the sighted world or the blind world, and then comments like this are made…it makes things a lot harder for us. I’m not asking anyone to feel bad for us, but to understand that we struggle to fit in, we struggle to know where we belong and when we are shamed for using our vision, it’s hurtful.
Perhaps we need to all stop and take people for where they’re at, stop the shaming of those with low vision, encourage everyone to learn braille, but accept people where they are at. There needs to be a change in attitude; blindness encompassed a lot of people, at varying degrees of vision, and various reading mediums.
The lucky ones that know braille should be admired, and those who do not should be encouraged.
To shame someone for using their vision is discouraging and disheartening. Sure, we should always encouraged those around us to use non-visual techniques, that will make their lives better, but we also must love and accept those who are still on their journey.
It’s not shameful to have vision, it’s not shameful to be in the midst of your journey and it’s certainly not shameful to have some vision. Braille is wonderful, the best really, and no matter the amount of vision, everyone should learn it and use it whenever possible. Be encouraging and empowering, not hurtful and discouraging.