[Ohio-talk] Comparing Blindness to Severe Disabilities

Kaiti Shelton kaiti.shelton at gmail.com
Thu Dec 26 05:52:34 UTC 2013

Hi all, 

This is a very interesting discussion, and one I have debated myself for
several years.  I have memories of thinking my blindness is nothing in
comparison to what some people with disabilities face.  I still remember a
Special Olympics swim meet where my mom ran into the mother of one of her
high school boyfriends, and finding out that I had competed against her
other son in a race.  I was ten with a lack of eyesight being my only
disability, he was in his late twenties with severe Down Syndrome.  A
trainer had to walk along the side of the pool to remind him to keep going.
I didn't think it was fair to have the gold medal that I had received when I
was swimming against people like that, those without all their limbs, etc.  

On the other hand, I know that people with these other disabilities think
that blindness is scary and far worse a thing to deal with than their
disability.  I have spent the past year learning bits and pieces of deaf
culture and basic sign language.  I know enough to hold conversations with a
deaf person because I performed in a sign singing choir at school, but I
always wondered what would happen if I randomly came into contact with a
deaf person.  How would I work around the communication barriers?  How could
I let them know I couldn't see what they were signing?  Would we have to
revert to the painstaking hand spelling stuff?  Then a few months ago a
member of music therapy club brought in her dad, who is deaf, to speak at a
club meeting on deaf culture.  He taught a lot of signs to the group that I
did not learn the year before, and he was moving so fast.  Everyone else was
picking it up so quickly, and although people around me positioned my hands
when they could I still missed a lot.  I decided that I needed to learn how
to work around the communication barrier, so afterwards I asked the guy how
it would be best for me to approach a situation like this.  He taught me how
to say, "Sorry, I can't see you," and then to say, "But I can sign a
little."  This is because even if the person had to hand spell into my palm
I can still use sign language to convey the message I wanted to get across
more quickly.  Then he saw my BrailleSense and asked a lot of questions
about it.  It was really interesting to have this conversation with someone
who seemed so opposite from myself.  As a blind person I would be terrified
of losing my hearing, but as a deaf person he relies on his vision so much
that I'm sure blindness is a scary concept to him.  I was very thankful that
he could speak well and read lips, but I wondered how reading lips was even
possible since that is a foreign concept to me too.  

I think it is natural to assume that we are always better off than someone
else, and this is true for anyone with any disability.  I've been in
situations at music enrichment sites for school where people with various
disabilities have said all sorts of things about my blindness, ranging from
things like, "We feel sorry for you," to questions, and to "That Braille
thing you're using looks really cool."  

I agree with Colleen on the notion that I don't think disabilities can
really be compared to each other.  Now that I've reflected on it for my
philosophy project, I think that each disability poses a unique set of
challenges, but none have to be totally terrible.  Deaf people find joy in
things they can see, while we find it in things we can hear and touch.
People who cannot walk adapt to getting around and getting things done just
as we do, but in different ways that are appropriate for their challenges.
Those with mental disabilities are sometimes the happiest people you will
ever meet.  But each of these group is effected by different things, so it
is not right to categorize them into something like the chain of being which
is basically a hierarchy and say, Deaf people don't have it as bad as blind
people, but blind people have it better than those who are in wheelchairs."
If we were to do that, we would have a lot of different chains, neither of
which is really ethical to have in the first place.  

Sorry for the rant, but I find this discussion really interesting.  I hope
everyone had a merry Christmas.  

  Kaiti Shelton
University of Dayton---2016
Music Therapy Major, Psychology Minor, Clarinet
Ohio Association of Blind Students, President 
Advocates for Sexual Assault Prevention (ASAP), Vice President
NFB Community Service Group, Service Project Committee Chair
Sigma Alpha Iota-Delta Sigma, Usher Coordinator

-----Original Message-----
From: Ohio-talk [mailto:ohio-talk-bounces at nfbnet.org] On Behalf Of Marianne
Sent: Wednesday, December 25, 2013 6:07 PM
To: NFB of Ohio Announcement and Discussion List
Subject: Re: [Ohio-talk] Comparing Blindness to Severe Disabilities

This is a very interesting discussion.  First, I have been blind since birth
so I really have nothing else to compare my life to.  I remember my first
job out of college.  I worked at an apartment complex for people with
physical disabilities.  Many of them could not feed themselves, dress
themselves or communicate easily.  I felt sorry for them.  I learned later
that they felt sorry for me.  It really opened my eyes to a lot of things.
If anyone is going to be successful in life you must handle what life gives
you.  I have met people who had, what looked like, an easy life and they
were constantly complaining and feeling sorry for themselves.  I have met
people and wondered how they went from day to day and they had a fantastic
attitude.  I think any time someone loses an ability they once had it is a
challenging situation so even though the loss may be different the challenge
is similar.  I don't understand this at all, but most people fear blindness
above anything else except cancer.  I don't get it but I don't think we can
ignore it either.

Okay, I am off my soap box.  It is a great topic for discussion and
thinking.  I would especially like to get responses from people who lost
their vision as adults.  I believe the NFB philosophy is great for putting
blindness in perspective.

On 12/25/13, Dawn <dlanting at bex.net> wrote:
> Colleene  I really considered myself with a disability  but I guess I 
> am disabled because of my blindness  I just feel so blessed  that I am me
> I can think and have a heart   there are many people worse off then I  I
> don't ask God why me  I say  why not me  Merry Christmas  and Happy 
> Birthday Jesus  Happy New Year  everyone
> -----Original Message-----
> From: Ohio-talk [mailto:ohio-talk-bounces at nfbnet.org] On Behalf Of 
> Sent: Wednesday, December 25, 2013 3:17 PM
> To: ohio-talk at nfbnet.org
> Subject: [Ohio-talk] Comparing Blindness to Severe Disabilities
>  Hello Everyone,
> When you read this please do not think that I am diminishing the 
> adjustment to blindness that many people on this list have 
> experienced. I hope that what I am going to say will put things into
> On the news Monday night Channel 13 had some coverage of some students 
> from the University of Toledo Engineering Department's Project inhelp 
> someone with a Disability.
> Asparently they invented something to help a nun who has lost all of 
> her limbs.
> The person from the Ability Center who commented about this Invention 
> said it just proves that people with Disabilities can succeed in 
> overcoming such major challenges. The person who mace this comment is 
> blind. While I know that there are many adjustments for those who 
> become blind I do not think you can compare these adjustments to those 
> experienced by someone who has lost the use of her arms and legs.
> This just reinforces the stereotype the public have about blindness. 
> It says to the general public that blind people are as disabled as 
> someone who has lost the use of all four limbs.
> It would have been helpful if the Ability Center had used someone with 
> significant disabilities as the spokesman for this story.
> I am making these comments after Dawn shared information with me about 
> this story.
> I did not see the story myself but I just want to encourge people to 
> think about our attitudes when we make comparisons.
> We all have differing views on which disability would be the hardest 
> to adjust to and deal with in our lives. I am sure a deaf person would 
> say that it would be harder to be blind. I am sure that a blind person 
> would say it would be harder to be deaf.
> I think that some people who use a wheelchair would think it would be 
> easier to be blind or deaf. The comparison between being blind and 
> having no use of your limbs is like comparing apples to oranges.
> Colleen Roth
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Marianne Denning, TVI, MA
Teacher of students who are blind or visually impaired
(513) 607-6053

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