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Sight of a Different Kind

Editor's Note: Shannon Romano lives in Summerland and attends the University of British Columbia. She was First Place Winner in our Central Okanagan Chapter's 2004 Essay Contest, and this was her winning entry:

In contemplating the loss of my sight, my first inclination is to hit the books and research the subject, but since it is specified that this piece is not to be a research essay, I cannot rely on my usual technique.

Research is a relevant and tidy way to learn more about a subject while allowing the researcher to keep a healthy distance. This essay is a challenge for me even before I start to write. As a student, I address and learn about issues from an objective and academic perspective. Now I am asked to learn from a purely intuitive and subjective perspective. After allowing some time to imagine waking up tomorrow without my sight, I have written my reflections on what I believe my experience might feel like and how my daily routines and perspective may be affected.

As I begin to think about my normal daily routines, I am overwhelmed by the sheer difficulty and even impossibility of performing them while blind. I am immediately humbled by the challenges that lie ahead.

One of the first things I think of is my children and how I use my sight to assess their behaviour, monitor the clothing they wear to school, read their facial expressions and body language to determine what kind of a day they had and to express my love for them. As for myself, the fact that I will not be able to check in the mirror on what I plan to wear that day is not necessarily a problem since my fashion sense is lacking to say the least!

Next, I think about how I will earn a living. Of the various jobs that I held in the past, not one of them accommodated blindness. Therefore, how will I support my family and myself? Is there financial support for people who have lost their sight? If not, how are they supposed to provide for themselves?

I cannot say that I have seen a blind person working in the university that I attend or the public library in my community. The elementary school that my children attend does not employ a blind person nor does the grocery store where I shop.

After contemplating some of the tasks that I perform in a day, I acknowledge that I have not addressed how I would deal with an emergency, such as if my child was hurt at school. Obviously I would have to trust and depend on others for their support in such an event.

This brings to mind the issue of my children inviting friends over to play. What would the other parents think of leaving their kids in the care of a blind person?

What about the newsletter that comes home from school? Would they accommodate a blind parent and send a version that I could interpret on my own?

I am most struck by the common theme in all of these scenarios being the increased dependence on others. I would think that blindness could potentially be a very isolating disability as a blind person tries to cope in a world that is set up for the sighted. We all tend to be so very independent in North American society; I think this increased reliance on society, friends, family and strangers would be the biggest adjustment of all.

As I reflect on my own life and issues within my extended family, I often wish for an increased dependence and reliance on one another. I am not sure I would feel the same way about this interconnectedness if I was in the position of having to depend on it for my well-being and survival.

Finally, I take the perspective of a student and wonder how I would access the material needed to study. I wonder if the professors would accommodate me as a blind student. I would hope so because visual disability can be isolating enough, and as a blind person I should not be made to attend a separate school from others.

We all have certain limitations and disabilities and I envision an inclusive society where diversity is appreciated and strength is found in our differences.

From a strengths perspective and at the risk of sounding Polly-annish, I think that where there is a loss in one area there is often an added strength in another. In other words, blind people are likely to have strength in areas that sighted people would not, such as validation of self and intuitiveness.

In the event of vision loss, I will not give up my educational goals or my future career plans. It is advocacy work that has drawn me to an education and career in social work, and if I were to experience the loss of my sight, then I would hope I could discover the inner resolve needed and continue to reach all of my goals with a heightened sense of self and determination.

Furthermore, I would exercise my right as a Canadian citizen. As stated in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, I am entitled to pursue a livelihood in any province. As an advocate and under the legal rights listed in our Charter, I will be entitled to an interpreter to assist me in my advocacy work. Under equality rights in the Charter, I will be subject to equal protection and benefit of the law regardless of my physical disability.

While many laws and regulations sound great in theory, I am aware that they can be challenging in practice. Such incongruence denotes a need for advocacy for rights of people and groups who are disadvantaged for any reason.

In closing, while to live without sight would be challenging, I hope I would follow the inspiring examples set by historical heroes such as Terry Fox and Helen Keller. A disability does not have to mean an over-reliance or overdependence on others; rather, it can represent strength and offer an example of excellence to others.