Not Just a Blind Person: Appreciating me for me

WARNING: this post is a rant on blindness and how it affects the perception of others, all sparked by an evening that went from good to less-than-good. You have been warned.

So, this is one of the things that I hoped that having a blog would help me with. Instead of suppressing my feelings until I can eventually forget about them, I can express them in a way that lets me explore how I feel, and maybe come to a conclusion that makes my life better. Having said that, let's try talking about blindness for the first time in this blog.

Tonight, I had tons of people and friends over to my apartment. As part of the evening, several games were being played, such as Beer pong. I enjoy Beer pong, and am arguably pretty good at it. The evening was going fine until multiple people said that they wanted me to play, since it's just amazing that a blind person could play it, and they wanted to see it (or words to that effect). Instead of the focus being on playing a game to have fun with friends, the focus was on seeing a blind person play a game that many people would consider to be difficult for a completely blind person to successfully play.

Just as an explanation about my personality and feelings about blindness, I am in no way ashamed or seek to deny my "disability" (I don't think that disability is even the most appropriate word in some situations). I understand that I differ from most of the people I associate with in the fact that I have no vision, but I'm in no way sensitive about it (in fact, I'm usually the one with the most humorous and sometimes questionable blindness-related jokes or observations.)

What I don't appreciate is when people qualify statements about me with clauses such as "...and he's blind," "...and having to overcome blindness," or "It's amazing that you're blind and can..." I find it highly irritating that I am being judged not based on my choices or particular skills, but am being judged at least in part on something out of my control. Tonight, rather than having fun, or commenting on my skills in Beer pong, I felt like many people just wanted to see a blind person play a game that they thought a blind person could never play. This generalizes to more than just a drinking game; my feelings are the same when someone comments on my academic or professional work, or the tasks that I choose to do for personal satisfaction.

Reflecting on this, I believe that it isn't the fact that people remind me that I'm blind that upsets me. It's when people view me as a generic blind person performing tasks, rather than a collection of skills, beliefs, personality traits, and shortcomings that identifies me as a unique person. I feel that the quest for individual identity is a challenge faced by pretty much everyone at some point in their life, however I feel that it's possible that I have to deal with this more often due to the fact that blindness is a physical difference that is easily noticeable, and consequently influences people both during the first impression and in the long-term.

In summary, I have my own personality with my own attributes and idiosyncrasies. I'm not sensitive about blindness, but I also get offended when people relegate me to a one-dimensional representation of a generic blind person. I understand that every person at some time in their life faces this problem, so I'm not trying to make the claim that I'm the only one dealing with this; I just really hate it that it's not just random members of the public that get excited to see a generic blind person do something that they find surprising. I also feel that it's worth saying that I feel no animosity towards any single person; it's usually a combination of circumstance and observations that I make about the group that I am with.

Sean