[Nfbc-info] Fwd: How to Really See a Blind Person

EverHairston ever.hairston at gmail.com
Tue Mar 6 13:02:23 UTC 2018

Ever Lee Hairston, President
National Federation of the Blind of California
H: 323 654.2975
C: 323 252.9188
ever.hairston at gmail.com

You Can Live The Life You Want

Begin forwarded message:

From: "Xavier, Joe at DOR" <Joe.Xavier at dor.ca.gov>
Date: March 1, 2018 at 7:33:47 PM PST
To: "Xavier, Joe at DOR" <Joe.Xavier at dor.ca.gov>
Subject: How to Really See a Blind Person

Replace “blind” with any other label and it still demands the need to begin the conversation!
How to Really See a Blind Person
I tell my story a lot. I tell the story of how I wasn?t always blind. I tell the story of how I lost my vision while serving in Afghanistan, by stepping on an I.E.D. I tell the story of how I put my own injury into perspective by considering the greater sacrifice of my fallen comrades, and how I owed it to them to make the most of my escape from death.
I tell the story of how I did that by winning a gold medal in swimming at the Paralympics on the first anniversary of the loss of my vision. And after I tell it, people often thank me. They tell me that it?s an incredible story, and that I?m a good storyteller. They tell me how inspiring it is to see how I?ve overcome my blindness.
But that?s not my whole story.
It?s part of it, I suppose ? in many ways, I have overcome my blindness. Five years after losing my sight, I have a rewarding job teaching leadership at the Naval Academy, a lovely house on a creek in historic Annapolis, Md., a loving  family and a number of truly deep friendships. My quality of life is very high. Day to day, week to week, I don?t find that my blindness is an obstacle.
What I haven?t been able to overcome is how others perceive me and treat me differently now because of my blindness, or how I so often feel as if I?m on the outside listening in on the lives of others.
I hear people talk about how beautiful the sunrise is, but I no longer see it. I hear them talk about ?Game of Thrones,? but cannot watch it because HBO doesn?t have descriptive audio<https://na01.safelinks.protection.outlook.com/?url=http:%2F%2Fhelp.hbonow.com%2Fapp%2Fanswers%2FdetailHBO%2Fa_id%2F158%2F~%2Fdoes-hbo-now-support-descriptive-video-service&data=02%7C01%7CJoe.Xavier%40dor.ca.gov%7C9f6401b928794f72684d08d57f95fca5%7C19ed70549d9743c792b16781b6b95b68%7C0%7C0%7C636555204552041637&sdata=Fa6E7QFC%2BsmYRPvwJBVlHx1mpG355KTTJD6wHj137hw%3D&reserved=0> for its shows. I can no longer share these very common experiences.
One thing I do often now is public talks about learning to navigate my new life without vision. But it?s a one-way conversation. Afterward, I go to the airport where I?m reminded how hard it is to physically navigate a world not set up for people without vision. It?s a pain to find assistance at the counter. It?s a pain to get through security, which can?t seem to distinguish dog food from explosives. It?s a pain to get the airlines to move my seat to the bulkhead so there?s room for my guide dog. Don?t get me started on what a pain it is to find the bathroom for either of us.
I feel the looks of my fellow passengers, wondering what my story is, but too afraid to ask for fear of saying the wrong thing and offending me. I feel helpless, stared at like some sort of freak.
In my former life as an explosive ordnance disposal officer, I traveled through airports all over the world, from Baltimore to Prague to Baghdad to Kandahar and back, quickly, easily and anonymously. But traveling as I do now, with a cane and a guide dog, is anything but anonymous. At times, it has beaten me down.
At home, the inability to join my friends in their chatter about ?Game of Thrones? or memes on Instagram has caused me to pull back. I decline invitations out to avoid the same alienating experience I?ve had a thousand times before. Whether I?m at a crowded bar, restaurant, sports event or concert, I?ll be a spectacle, isolated by my inability to join the conversations of those around me.
No, thanks. I?ll just stay home, in the quiet, where I know exactly where the bathroom is. I?ll stay there until I have to hit the road again to tell my story of how I overcame blindness.
The irony used to make me chuckle.
A few years ago, after another frustrating trip through the airport, I settled into my seat bound for Dallas and did my best to disappear.
?That?s an awfully nice watch you have there! I?ve never seen anything quite like it!? my neighbor said as she fastened her seatbelt.
A smile spread across my face. I love talking about my watch. It?s a tactile timepiece that replaces traditional hour and minute hands with magnetic, rotating ball bearings so that blind folks like myself can literally tell the time through touch. It?s superbly designed and very sharp-looking, so it appeals to those with vision too.
The timepiece ? the Bradley by Eone ? is actually named after me. It is accessible to people with or without disabilities. (I am a friend of the company?s founder, Hyungsoo Kim, and receive a small percentage on sales of the watch.) I love explaining how the watch embodies the principles of inclusive design, which I am passionate about.
The conversation with my neighbor went on, and I explained how I lost my vision. I talked about how I had been able to adapt, how I try to maintain perspective and how I felt as though I had overcome my blindness.
Then my neighbor shared her own fights. She had lost her husband a few years ago, and during her grief had gained weight. She had been struggling with her weight ever since, and it had begun to interfere with her quality of life. I told her how sometimes I felt isolated by my disability, and she relayed that she felt constrained by her weight. I shared how I sometimes feel that I?m an outsider, and she echoed the same.
For the first time in a while, I didn?t feel like a spectacle or an outcast. I felt like a friend, and an important part of someone else?s journey. I felt valued, needed and involved, and all it took was a conversation. I realized that I?m not alone in being alone.
Sometimes people ask me what I want others to know about being blind. I want others to feel more comfortable having conversations with people whose experiences are different from their own. My watch has been a natural opener, and once that conversation starts, we usually discuss topics far beyond timepieces and disabilities. Through talking, we find humanity.
It seems like we could all use a little more humanity right now. I know it?s tough for many to have conversations with people so different from themselves, to risk feeling uncomfortable or giving offense, to find common ground, to listen to another?s struggles, to share your own struggles in return. But you might be surprised what you get out of it ? and what you realize you?ve given in return.
How do we do it? It all starts with a conversation.
What?s your story?
Lead with influence!
Joe Xavier, Director
Department of Rehabilitation
V: 916 558-5800
F: 916 558-5806
Joe.Xavier at dor.ca.gov
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