In this issue
Listen to the audio recording here.
As always, this issue of BC News features articles on the challenges of life and the triumph of the human spirit, this time through the arts. Emboldened by the #MeToo era, Ria Andriani extends the editorial theme of unsolicited help in a moving account of the trauma that she has experienced, the critical importance of consent and of her new-found confidence in being assertive. Helen Ferris opens a conversation about the additional costs such as accommodation, services and software associated with blindness and vision impairment. High school student, Amanda Pudelka shares her love and enthusiasm for music and singing in the shower nurtured by Braille Music Camp. While audio description may yet have only a precarious footing in television, Lynne Davis dares to dream about a future full of possibility. Gathering the fruits of a recent Happy Hour, Fiona Woods arms us with a handy resource of book titles by blind and vision impaired authors. To round out, Sally Aurisch tells us what’s on at BCA and Janene Sadhu presents an update on the National women’s Branch, beginning with a tribute to long-time BCA member Lisa Hayes who passed away in April. Thanks to all our contributing authors.
Editorial – By Jonathan Craig
Listen to the audio recording here.
In most ways, today has been like any other workday, but the familiarity of my job has been charged with novelty. This is only the third day I’ve spent in the office, with colleagues I’ve known for a year but only briefly met in person. Most of our small team still work from home, and in fact our whole office building still seems mostly empty.
For me this has been an opportunity to explore without the sense of curious eyes on me. In my O&M session earlier, I felt blissfully unobserved as my instructor found increasingly challenging places where taxi drivers could incorrectly drop me outside the building. The routine of packing up and riding the lift feels at once mundane and momentous. By the time the building is fully populated again, I believe my navigation will appear confident and effortless.
But in the lobby there’s a catch. At first I think the door isn’t opening automatically because of my height. The sensors aren’t designed to detect people in wheelchairs. So I give it a casual wave – an easy hack that usually works. This time it doesn’t. I realise it’s just past 5:00pm and the door will only open with the press of a button on the wall beside it. Distracted by the misstep in my dance, I forget which side of the door the button is on. But there’s an easy way to recover the memory. When I was shown the button last I was entering the building, not exiting. So I turn around so the door is behind me, and sure enough the information clicks into place.
“Hi, are you looking for the front door?” From her concerned tone I can tell she has been watching me from behind the glass, in an office I naively assumed was still unoccupied. I explain that I’m just looking for the door button. “Sorry,” says the other woman who’d appeared beside her. “It’s just here.” I leave the building. They don’t follow me, which means they hadn’t emerged to head home. This was a rescue mission.
Those of you who know this is my last editorial in this role might think this is a strange way to start. “Here is a chance to reflect on your achievements,” you say. “Why tell us about a momentary indignity, instead of enjoying your victory lap?” I’ve chosen to avoid the usual gestures partly because I feel they’re self-indulgent, and partly because there’s something big I want to tackle, and my grand finale is as good a place as any.
I’ve always described us as a community in conversation, and at the moment, some of us are talking about blind culture. Jonathan Mosen’s piece “Why I am Proud to be Blind”, and Leona Godin’s book “There Plant Eyes”, as well as their conversation on Episode 142 of Mosen’s podcast, are good places to catch up. Like my fellow Jonathan, I am proud to be blind in some ways. For example, I’ve always felt very glad to be part of this community, surrounded by innovators and educators who have made huge headway in the ongoing quest for inclusion. But in the taxi on my way home, I didn’t feel proud. I thought of all those people and was certain I’d let the side down.
Those women, who shared a building with me but otherwise might have no knowledge of people who are blind or vision impaired, came to help, wrongly assuming I was lost and confused. This may have made a strong impression on them. The next time they met one of us might be in a job interview. It can be hard to understand how people who can’t open a door could also be reliable employees. Remembering my perceived struggle, without knowledge of our real capacities, would she choose to hire that applicant over another candidate?
In the moment I was flustered, not by the missing button, but by the realisation that I was being watched, and that my actions, waving my hand in the air, turning to face away from the door, probably didn’t make sense to my observers. I felt I should have stopped to explain, but I didn’t know where to begin, or what I had unintentionally interrupted, so I thanked my supposed saviours and swiftly departed.
Many of us feel a constant pressure to be good ambassadors for our people and our cause. If we’re too overcome, the attitude problem which is keeping too many of us from work, we must be super-competent, immaculately dressed, graceful, polite, inconspicuous and self-assured. Mistakes will be received with compassion or pity, but they will confirm peoples’ low expectations of us. Therefore, there must be no mistakes, ever. I’m not the person to speak to this, but for women, I’m sure there are even more criteria to meet.
Many get far closer than I do, but I would argue there isn’t a single one of us who could consistently live up to the standards we apply to ourselves. But by God do we try, and by God does it make us miserable. This is why some of us are mercilessly critical of one another when we appear not to be trying hard enough. Knowing how hard you work to keep up the act, it’s easy to resent others’ failures.
Some of you will resent my ineptitude in allowing myself to look lost. Others will believe my sense of obligation is misplaced – that I shouldn’t have to “teach”, that people with sight should know better. Some of you will even suggest that rather than educating them, I should have chastised those women for patronising me. It’s a question we’re always grappling with. What are obligations to people who don’t understand us, and to one another, if we’re seeking a more inclusive world? If you were expecting answers, I’m sorry to disappoint you. I’m not willing to offer instructions or solutions, as if I know better than anyone, as if there were only one right way. I’m here to articulate the questions I believe we’re all grappling with. Coming to conclusions, if there are any to be reached, is your job.
But I will say that while there are some people who are proud to be blind or vision impaired, there are some people who are anything but. Some people avoid the “blind culture” Leona Godin describes at all costs, claiming it’s genuinely bad for their mental health. That’s a perfectly valid way to live also, but I wonder if those people have to work extra hard without the benefit of peers to learn from. Certainly, we miss out on their company and experience.
A lot of the judgment I’m describing is internal, but not all of it. Our community is one of the more cohesive I’ve seen, but wouldn’t it be great if we could collectively think about the attitude problem in a different way? If people who are blind, or vision impaired, but not superhuman, have to hold a dog, cane or magnifier in one hand, and a constant sense of failure in the other, is that a help or a hinderance?
This is why I’ve constantly encouraged you to tell your stories, to talk about the difficulties you’ve experienced so that other people know they aren’t alone. It’s very important to celebrate our victories, large and small, but many of us avoid talking about moments like these for fear of judgment. And there would be judgment from some, but from most, I hope, there would be understanding.
Next time someone thinks I’m lost, I’ll be ready to explain how orientation and mobility works. I think they’ll find it very interesting. Some people will feel that approach is overly generous, but it’s a commitment I’m happy with. I also forgive myself for freezing in that moment, and if, as you’re reading this, you’re musing about some way in which you feel you’ve dropped the ball, please try to forgive yourself too.
This is my last challenge to you. I would love to see us talk more about the moments where we have been only human, how we coped, what we learned. I think adding this to the conversation might help to make our community feel healthier, safer, more supportive, and remind us that minor errors won’t condemn us all to the workshops again. We’ve come too far for that. And while we were led by individuals, we’ve travelled that distance together. So, let’s aim to approach every problem that way.
Truthfully, I wish I could have continued in this role for much longer. As you can see, I’m intent as ever on identifying our community’s weaknesses, and more importantly, strengths. You’ll still hear from me in these pages, but rather than a moderator and facilitator, I’ll be a participant in the conversation. I’m very much looking forward to seeing our new editor take us forward, and I hope to offer them all the help I can.