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I Didn't Volunteer; I Was Drafted!

Editor's Note: This article is reprinted with the author's permission from TechTrax E-zine at: www.MouseTrax.com/TechTrax/ *Image: Diane Dobson in beautiful Victoria, B.C. Diane is sitting in her wheelchair, on a quiet Victoria street, with blossoming floors in the background.

The biggest obstacle a disabled person faces is society's ignorance of and attitude towards the disabled. Having to hear someone say, "You can't do that, you're blind", often discourages people who are blind from trying whatever they need or want to do! But we are like everyone else. We are your families, friends, neighbours and even your bosses. Saying we "can't" is denying us our freedom of choice.

We hear "You are so brave!" or folks say I'm "challenged I was not given a choice in this matter! So I don't consider myself brave nor did I accept any challenge. Not given a choice, why would you call me brave? I didn't volunteer to be blind--I was drafted! The blind also get this backhanded compliment: "I admire you. I couldn't handle being blind, I'd rather be dead!" As though our lives no longer had meaning just because we can no longer see!

Life became more difficult after a stroke left me partially paralyzed at 45. At 55, after ditch diving while learning to use my new power chair, the doctor told me my optic nerve was broken. I woke up one morning and realized I could no longer see, and life as I'd known it as a graphic art designer was over! But my life itself wasn't! I was legally blind. "Legally blind?" What's that? I couldn't be blind because light hurts my eyes! But the doctors explain that because of my 7% field of vision, I was considered legally blind! (Misconception about blindness is that all you see is "black". That's not true. There are many types of blindness and not one "blind" person that I've asked said they see black! I myself see nothing on my "blind" [left side]. There's nothing there at all!) But don't get me wrong, I've discovered my mobility impairment, followed by legal blindness, was really just another fork in the road. I still have had my share of failures, as well as many successes! The most important lesson I learned was how to laugh at myself! Looking back on my 67 years, it turned out to be really very funny. I had a good able-bodied life, but still have an equally good disabled one.

When I first learned I was legally blind, a sighted neighbour said, "Don't worry. Glasses will fix that! They can fix anything now with glasses!" Another said, "Prayer is the answer. Have faith and you will be cured." And why do sighted people also assume we are deaf? I have had college professors and waitresses yell in my ear when they were told I was blind! So I'd asked them if they were deaf since they had to yell. Because I could hear them just fine, I just couldn't see them! I read about a sighted person who, when asked directions by a blind man, took out a map, showed it to the guide dog, telling the dog, "See, it's right here on the map." Then there are those who tell us "It's right over there!" I can only assume the sighted person was pointing in some direction!

Well, I decided to get on with my life and learned to get around despite my disabilities. Then I'd hear things like "You can't be blind, you do so well!" Sighted people judged me as either a liar or a wonder to behold with comments like "I could never do what you do" or "How do you manage to know where you are?" Simple acts like pouring a cup of coffee become an amazing accomplishment. Then there is my computer. People ask "How do you know where the keys are? I couldn't do that." One belief that baffles me is that when you lose your vision all your other senses increase making up for the loss sight, right? Wrong! The day after my vision was lost someone told me, "Now you can read braille!" As though automatically when vision goes you gain that skill! These senses and skills don't just magically appear when you lose your sight. New skills need to be learned. But they can be learned. And if I can learn to use my other senses and abilities, you can too!

There are "group" associations that guided my trip through these disabilities. And there's adaptive equipment that proved invaluable for differently abled persons to succeed in dealing with their disabilities. I use a Hemi wheelchair! What's that? It's used by folks who have Hemmiplegic paralyzed limbs; on one side. Now figure out how to manage with one arm in daily life while sitting in a "low-hemi" manual wheelchair, designed for inside use, steered and moved with one hand and one foot. It takes practice to move safely in the house, without destroying the place or furnishings, it's also hard on my knees! Next chair to conquer is a large power chair, for outside use. The computer on this must be set correctly for different speeds and you must practice at different settings before attempting difficult maneuvers, like learning to go through doors and judging the widths of the large back wheels, etc. And I use a program called JAWS which stands for Job Access With Speech. It's a screen reader program that reads information on my computer to me.

The organization that taught me how to accept and live with a disability is the Canadian Paraplegic Association at: www.canparaplegic.org The one that taught me how to advocate and accept blindness is the National Federation of the Blind: Advocates for Equality at: www.nfbae.ca

And there are groups on the internet where blind folks can get help learning to use programs like Microsoft Office with JAWS. You can join by sending an email to: blind-office-subscribe@yahoogroups.com

Investigate the disability organizations for one whose philosophy most suits your personality and don't stay if you find it's wrong for you. Some encourage dependence, others independence. So investigate by going to the organization and listen, as well as talk to the members of all available organizations in your area.

*Image: Diane Dobson with other Raging Grannies (wearing wonderfully silly and bright granny costumes) during the Health Employees Union strike