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So you met this guy, there are millions of these stories and you either love them or hate them. You’ve had your forays into romance and so on and you think you’ve gotten pretty good at knowing the difference between hot sex and a real connection. When you’re taken in by strong feelings for someone you have a hard time imaging that other people see them differently than how you see them. What I did not anticipate was the offensive reactions people have to the fact that my husband lives with a disability.
Unfortunately, in the year 2013, I have to make the incredibly obvious declaration that disabled people are normal people who have normal relationships.
My husband is visually impaired. He has three degenerative eye disorders that leave him with the designation legally blind. I’m not his nurse-maid or the human version of a Seeing Eye dog. Yes, in some ways our relationship is different than what a relationship between two sighted people is, but all relationships are different.
Spouses accommodate each other in our own little ways all the time, we trust each other with the most intimate aspects of each other’s lives, it’s nearly offensive that it’s perceived differently when I assist Steve in a way that is related to his disability. Especially when this leads to people assuming that I have some sort of guardianship over Steve, or that he’s in some sort of state where he is helpless without me, that is just offensive, he got on fine for 28 years before I came along.
To me when I see Steve, I don’t just see a blind man. I see the man I love, a great dad, an amazing cannabis grower, one of my political role models and someone who I argue with over the correct way to make scrambled eggs. He’s a man who, even if you don’t like what he has to say about something, you can’t help but like his spirit and commitment to the truth, those are the things that our relationship is built on, not the moments where I help him, that’s just me doing what a wife does.
I’ve heard everything from questions in regards to how we have sex if he’s blind (with our genitals, thanks for asking) to even more offensive questions along the lines of if I want the “burden” of being with a blind man.
Steve is just blind, that’s part of the Steven Stairs package, his blindness is as neutral to me as his hair color. I don’t view it as a burden and other people shouldn’t feel so comfortable defining my relationship in those terms. Perhaps you wouldn’t be able to handle being in a relationship with a blind person, I think that says more about you than it does about me.
People get funny ideas in their head when you say someone is blind. I think some people learned everything they know about the blind from pop culture and television’s portrayal of the blind which is historically not the best in the world, and by not the best in the world I mean it’s really shitty and offensive.
There is a whole spectrum of blindness, ranging from full blindness, where you’re totally blind to what is called being low vision, which can mean a lot of different things, from people living with glaucoma to cataracts to any number of other eye issues that one could have.
For the time being, Steve is low vision but is also considered legally blind. He has a white cane for really dark or crowded situations. It functions as somewhat of a part the red sea type of thing, most people with two brain cells to rub together know to step out of the way. Unfortunately some people are not blessed with common sense. I’ve seen people jump over his cane. It’s enough to make you want to scream.
I think the cane faux pas that irritates me the most, however, is when people flip out about getting lightly tapped on the ankle, excuse me asshole, but your eyes work, you can see what you just got tapped with.
I think what is most irritating about the stereotypes people have about blind people is the idea that they are completely feeble and unable to function with limited or no sight. My husband earned a degree in computers but was unable to find work in that field because of the stereotype that people who are blind or low vision can’t use computers.
Which is completely absurd, my husband knows more about computers than I do, and there is a whole host of adaptive software and accessibility settings for the visually impaired as well as others living with disabilities. You can dial up the screen resolution on your machine and if you need it you can buy a screen reading software.
Those aren’t the only stereotypes that affect the visually impaired and their employment prospects. In the United States, Goodwill apparently feels disabled people should only be paid pennies an hour. It all begins with the Fair Labor Standards Act, section 14 C to be specific. This is an exception that allows establishments that hold a special certificate to pay their disabled workers “according to their ability”.
Their ability is determined by a speed test, in which the worker is only allowed two mistakes, if they make more than two mistakes or just don’t work fast enough their pay is affected. This isn’t even in the same neighborhood as acceptable! As far as I’ve experienced with both my husband and other blind people I’ve met, blind people can do many of the jobs that sighted people can do, in some cases it may take them a little longer to do the job, but these variances exist between sighted workers as well.
And imagine how stressed out you would be if your pay could rise and fall if your test results aren’t good, this is a completely unreasonable requirement. Go ahead, test yourself right now, have someone hold up a stop watch while you do an activity you do in your job and see how well you do when you’re on a time limit. Would you be able to get it done when it really counts?
The fact that just south of the border of my home in Canada, somewhere in a Goodwill warehouse there are visually impaired people just like my husband wasting away for pennies an hour is heartbreaking for me, I thank whatever benevolent force is out there every day that my husband was born a Canadian and that those laws don’t affect him, but it makes me sick that had he been born a two hour drive away that that could be him, it would be a such a waste.
Then I realize that those people are being counted out, their potential is being denied because society was allowed to define their potential for them and that is the worst part, is having someone choose for you and not getting a say. There are smart, capable people in those warehouses, give them a real chance and a real wage.
If you are interested in helping the cause of disabled workers in the warehouses, there is a petition and background information on the website for the National Federation of the Blind.