There is these days a lot of controversy surrounding whether and how persons with disabilities should be portrayed and how they might portray themselves. I understand the concept of “inspiration porn,” or the idea that stories about us can be seen as a sort of making one feel better who doesn’t have this challenge “Oh how inspiring!… amazing!… I couldn’t function if…” I of course agree that this is an issue, and don’t really know all of the answers as to how to deal with it.
That said, I do think we should be willing to at least educate people as to how we live, especially if they are willing to learn with an open mind. It probably shouldn’t still be necessary in 2016, but sheltered workshops full of folks who are capable of competitive employment attest to a lack of understanding and willingness that still exists in the general public to fully accept us.
If what I saw this past Thursday is indicative of anything though, I find myself full of hope for the future and our youth. I was given the honor of presenting to a class of high schoolers a couple hours away via Skype on issues surrounding my blindness: how I live and work independently, and thoughts about life as I live it. I have of course done such presentations before, though it had been many years since my last one. But this was the first time engaging with modern technology in such a way. I suppose in some respects I may have been more comfortable presenting from my living room.
The kids asked mostly standard questions, but showed empathy and understanding in their responses. My favorite questions were: has my imagination been influenced by my disability? Well that’s hard for me to answer definitively, but I suppose to some extent it has. I grew up in a family of five sisters and my cousin, being a year younger than I and always an actor in his own right, so had vivid game play from as early as I could speak. This has also contributed to my dreams, another question, in which I cannot see but experience in audio. I think I may have some of the strangest dreams on the planet, wherein I have written nonexistent songs and book chapters, flown through the air, and other such stuff that makes me question where my brain gets this stuff. Do I know what colors are? To the extent that people have explained them, but of course I will never fully understand that aspect without taking it in. Would I wanna be able to see? No, because of the vast challenges that would entail. The only reason I would think about it is to view the vastness of sky and sea.
The kids had been influenced to conduct such a project by reading of The Iliad, written by Homer who was also blind. I have vague memories of that and/or The Odysey, though I must confess I am not able to recall which I actually did read. And of course Homer grew up in a vastly different era than I, where so much of this stuff did not yet exist. I am curious to know more of his story, and will probably go and look it up on concluding this post. But the kids did seem to find some fascination regarding what I use, my ability to write, and the like. While the technical aspects of the demo via Skype was cool, I suppose there would have been some utility to doing such a thing in person as it would be easier to show myself “playing with” my equipment. But this idea gives me unprecedented flexibility, and I might well try it again with other groups. I just feel that if I have any purpose on this planet, it is to open people’s eyes (ha ha) to life beyond what they can understand or conceptualize. For we talk about this all the time in my grad school course on Communication Ethics: it is so important to embrace, accept, and learn from difference. It makes us all stronger, aware of our own selves, and where we fit in.