“In the country of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.”
H. G. Wells
The following Email exchange occurred six years ago on the NFB-Talk discussion listserve. Said exchange resulted in the list administrator placing me on “moderated” status. This made me so angry that I unsubscribed from the list in a huff. Later, I reconsidered joining after I had cooled off, but realized that I didn’t miss the list that much, so I didn’t bother.
I will paste the correspondence below, then unpack it for you all. This shouldn’t be necessary, but given the ultra-reactionary times in which we live, I guess it’s necessary.
Here is the exchange:
December 17, 2011
Here’s a question that I guess could also be somewhat philosophical in that it will make us think about how we deal with and interact with sighted people.
As blind folks, do you think we have a responsibility to not only make our homes comfortable and accessible for us and the folks with whom we live, but also to sighted folks?
I’ve heard comments in the past that basically say that since it’s a blind person’s home, then the only thing that should be of concern is that things are comfortable and accessible for the blind person.
I’ve been thinking a lot about this over a long period of time. I have some friends that come over, and one in particular who stays in my guest room when he’s in town, and when all of that happens, I’m the only blind person around. All of a sudden, I begin to think about lights and the amount of light in a room. I begin thinking of making sure that appliances that are labeled in Braille are done using clear tape so that they can also use them.
I even began thinking of the layout of my living room and how one of my friends finally said that it was uncomfortable to do things like watch TV or watch movies, because of how my furniture and TV are placed. People have to face sideways to be able to watch TV. And, my TV is so old that it doesn’t support or have HD capabilities.
I began wondering about the importance of a blind person having an aesthetically or visually appealing house, not only for himself but also for the sighted friends and family that come to visit. Are we being selfish by not considering these things, or should sighted company learn to live with how we have things and deal with them?
I’m beginning to think that if I care about my friends and family, then I should do something to make them feel comfortable in a place where they spend quite a bit of time. But then, where does one draw the line?
Anyway, hope you don’t mind the question. Just curious what other blind folks (especially those who are totally blind) think.
Next time your friends come over and bitch about the lack of light, say something like this:
“You know what,” (insert name) “…You know what? Every freakin’ day, I get up and move around in a sighted world. I work on a finite schedule with the aid of public transit because I can’t drive. If the bus or train is late…so am I. If inclement weather strikes, I don’t get in my car and turn on the windshield wipers. I freeze my nuts off in the rain or snow until I can get on a bus.
When I go shopping, I pray to God that I can land a shopper’s assistant who is, at the very least, literate. If they speak English, it makes my day. If they speak English fluently…Jesus, I’ve been known to weep with joy. If I shop on line, I’ll be lucky if capcha, internet graphics and flash don’t give me a migraine that could floor Robin Williams on a coke binge!
Sorry if I seem a little grumpy. I just came from a job for which I’m vastly over-qualified. I have a freakin’ master’s degree in mathematics, or genetics, or whatever, but every institution/company at which I apply is run by sighted pricks who have figured out a way not to hire me. God bless the ADA and the well-intentioned, ignorant bastards who sleep better at night for having passed it. And God bless social security, who is still haunting my ass four years later because I forgot to report the
income I made running a cash register so that I could put bread on the table in between college semesters.
It makes a guy wonder if Walter White didn’t have a point. Screw it! Can blind people be meth cookers? You ever see Breaking Bad? You know…it’s that super good crime show on AMC that doesn’t air with description because Hollywood is too God damn cheap to give us description with all of their content, even though they can well afford to do so with minimal effort.
You want friggin’ light bulbs? Drive to the store and grab a few boxes. I’d take you myself, but I haven’t won the Power Ball yet and can’t afford a self-driving car. But let me give you directions. Siri! Work! C’mon, damn it! What’s the nearest Wal-Mart?
Flashlight? Who are you kidding? What friggin’ flashlight? Just use my cigar lighter to light your way to the door. Pick me up a new can of butane on the way back. Yes, I smoke cigars. No, I’m not amazing. Dealing with your ignorant ass makes me wanna smoke one right now. No, I don’t need help lighting it. Get your damn hands off me before Mr. Fist meets Mr. Sack!
It’s your world and you’re the king. Every day, I get up and I don’t just live. I thrive, brother. Grow the hell up!”
Then, out loud you can say:
“Umm, sure thing, man. Sorry for my insensitivity to your situation. Can you drive me to the nearest Safeway to grab a few bulbs? And hey…can we swing through for a Big Mac on the way home?”
Now Juan, I’ve been assuming that the people in question are men. If they are women, just say:
“Lights? Honey, for what we’re gonna be doin’, we don’t need no freakin’ lights.”
Sexist and boorish, but oh so true.
That was the little chat that caused Dave, the NFB list admin, to write me and accuse me of exhibiting, “Bigotry toward the sighted.” Once again, let me state that it makes me sad to have to explain myself, but here goes.
Any clear-thinking individual would not interpret my previous message as being bigoted toward the sighted in any way. It was a mixture of sarcasm and satire. It is factual. Every day, we as blind people get up and operate within a sighted world. Although social morays seem to be changing, we must still adhere to the pragmatic view that the world defers to those who can see. This is not a question of philosophy; it is fact.
It is really a matter of numbers. The number of sighted people so drastically outweighs the number of blind people that it would not make any kind of sense not to set up the constructs of the world to favor the sighted.
That said, I find it darkly ironic that anyone would worry about the feelings of the sighted when they still reign victorious in every arena that matters. It is a reality that I accept, but please permit me to feel a burst of anger about it from time to time. This doesn’t mean that I am angry about my blindness, or in denial, or maladjusted. It simply means that, when I go outside my apartment and walk to the bus stop and have to travel in the street because there are no sidewalks to be found anywhere in my neighborhood, I might get a bit cranky, particularly when the first big snow of the season hits.
Am I a bad host? I try not to be. When my sighted pals Kevin or Christina come over, I make sure to accommodate them. If a lightbulb is burned out, I will replace it. I don’t own a TV, but if I did, I’d make sure to place it in such a position that my sighted guests would be comfortable while watching it. If I dated or married a sighted or partially sighted woman, and she wanted to hang pictures on the walls, or decorate our home in a fashion which she found visually pleasing, I would be all for it.
Incidentally, the last time my friend Christina visited, she helped me mark my microwave and my laundry machines, which are both touch panel. My thermostat is a bit more tricky as it is a push-button device with a visual display. I usually just call the good folks at Be My Eyes if I want to change the temperature, while I save up to buy a talking unit.
The philosophical money shot of Juan’s message (his real name is Jim, by the way), is this:
“Are we being selfish by not considering these things, or should sighted company learn to live with how we have things and deal with them?
I have never been a homeowner, but I have lived in my share of apartments. However, my parents owned the home in which I grew up. I have friends and family who own homes. Their domiciles are places that reflect their personalities. My pal Steve adorned the walls of his apartments with all manner of sports memorabilia. My father is an avid hunter, so it’s natural that he would have a few animal heads stuffed and mounted on his wall. Should my parents then go to great lengths to take down all evidence of Dad’s carnivorous tendencies if an ardent animal lover visits them at their house? No. Should my folks think about not entertaining said guest in the area where the animal heads are visible? That would go under the heading of good manners, in my opinion.
So yes, I think we should reasonably accommodate our sighted friends and family as a matter of courtesy and consideration. But don’t call me a bigot because I find a lot of dark irony in Juan’s questions. We used to call him Jaime, by the way.
As I said, this message was written six years ago. Certain things are dated in it. I referenced Robin Williams, who is no longer with us. Breaking Bad was still on the air. To this day, I’ve never found a described version that I can pirate from the Blind Mice Mall. Come on, Brits! Get with it! Also, it was written before Uber and Lyft became mainstream.
Yes… Uber and Lyft. Ride-sharing services have made it easier for us as blind people in many respects. Meanwhile, I went to order a Christmas gift for a friend the other night, but was not able to do so because the website was inaccessible. The owners of the company wrote me and said, “We appreciate your feedback. We hope to make changes to our site sometime next year and will do our best to incorporate the needs of our visually impaired customer base.”
Glad to hear it, guys. So should I just hold off till next Christmas? They don’t have a telephone option, but if they did, they would probably charge me an additional fee for ordering a product with a live representative. I’m reminded of the Springsteen song, “One step forward, two steps back.”
Now, if you want to accuse me of sexism or misogyny based on the “Honey, we won’t need no freakin’ lights,” comment, you could probably make a compelling case. That was written long before the #MeToo movement gained traction. However, I will take solace in the knowledge that I would never actually treat a woman in such a manner. I will humbly admit that I added that comment in an attempt to push buttons. It sure worked.
I will close with the words of Boyd Crowder from the TV series, Justified. After all, if we can open with Wells, we should close with Elmore Leonard, in the vain hope of trying to leaven this blog with a little culture, right?
“Whole world’s a tree, Raylan. I’m just a squirrel tryin’ to get a nut.”