My friend @BigBadEd sent me a link to a This American Life podcast episode this morning. I told him I’d listen while eating my serial, I mean cereal.
I had seen a retweet from Ed for a podcast asking the question, can expectations make blind people see. I gave it a split second thought about listening and then just kept reading tweets about the Golden globes and skipping passed pictures of cats. But then Ed specifically sent me a mention with a link to the podcast so I changed my mind and decided to listen. Why the initial hesitation? I had contempt prior to investigation and figured it was just more sighted people talking about something they think they know about even though they don’t. I trust Ed though and since he made it a point to bring my attention to the podcast, I decided it must be good. Especially since it’s a This American Life podcast and they brought us Serial which I loved. Also, the episode was called Batman. Huh? Did I hear that right? Yep, it’s called Batman and you can play it here.
I opened the tweet on my iPad and started the episode while I poured a bowl of chocolate frosted mini wheats. Shut up, they’re good.
The podcast begins with some fun science about rats that I found interesting. Maybe science is the wrong word. It was a social experiment with rats. Then it moved on to talking about this blind guy and I was like oh great a blind guy. A blind guy who clicks. This was nothing knew to me but it was entertainment while I ate my mini wheats.
This guy has been on the news showing off his clicking and I was like what’s special about him? He’s riding a bike which he can do because he can click? Before I went blind I saw a Dateline show or 20/20, one of those shows, about a blind kid who rode his bike and played basketball, all by clicking. Just the way this guy in the podcast rides his bike. the podcast acted like this had never been seen before and I just kept thinking about that kid I saw, literally months before I went blind. I even told B I should learn that clicking thing in case my other eye ever went blind. I clicked my tongue a few times, we had a laugh, I moved on. Just FYI, that is a really hard skill to learn, the clicking thing. He’s lucky he figured it out when he was a kid.
But then I warmed up to this guy on the podcast when he admitted how much he hates showing off his bike riding skills. It’s like, yeah I can ride a bike or bake cookies or take a computer apart or insert whatever it is that I or you or your kid or sister, blind or sighted, does. It’s like so what? That was this guy’s attitude.
One of the first blind people I met when I started getting my “blind education” at Saavi all those years ago is a guy just like this clicking guy except he doesn’t click. I was amazed by him, that he could get around the blind center without a cane. I was amazed by him because I was newly blind and didn’t have that confidence yet. Granted, I still would not walk around the blind center without a cane or Jayden like he does, but he was blind since he was a baby just like this clicking guy. When you learn skills as a child, it sticks.
*Aside* You know what’s weird? I had a dream about that guy just last night. The day before Ed sends me a podcast about a clicker guy who reminds me of dream guy. I was getting a manicure and the guy from Saavi walked in to tell me he got a Mac. He wanted to shake my hand but my nails were wet. Huh?*End aside*
So the podcast went on to talk about just that, and they talked to clicking guy’s mother and how she let him just be when he was a child. She let him climb trees and fences even when neighbors and the police told her oh no, he could get hurt. I was thinking, any kid could get hurt climbing a tree. I sure did when I was a kid. I remember watching a friend fall off our fence right on her face. We were all sighted. clicking guy’s mom let him be a normal kid and he’s grown up with the ability to see even though he has no eyes. The point was that her expectations for him were that he would be independent, especially when she saw how he developed ways of doing things without sight.
Ding ding ding! That’s when I got excited and thought about how my own blind life has been influenced by other people’s expectations for me. The point of the podcast was that we can see in our ways when the sighted stop putting expectations on us. There were interviews with other blind people, with professionals who work in the blind field etc. It turned out to be a very good podcast.
It got me thinking about how Saavi treated me when I started going there for training. They eased me into getting around there independently. On the podcast, they talked about how so many blind kids and newly blind adults are led around constantly, how food is brought to them etc. I thought back to my experience at Saavi and at Guide Dogs for the blind and they would certainly help you get around if you asked but they didn’t force the issue. After I learned how to use the white cane, I got around on my own at Saavi and actually led other blind people around who didn’t know the center yet. yes, the blind leading the blind. Saavi taught me how to safely use a knife and a stove. They taught by showing and then having us do. How else can one learn? I joke about Dave, my old orientation and mobility teacher, locking me in an elevator at the mall. Yes, it was a scary experience when he told me to go to the bottom floor and then come back up and then he walked out. My heart raced and I couldn’t believe he left me but how else was I to learn to do things on my own without him?
However out in the real world, people aren’t like the people at Saavi and GDB. They see a blind person getting near the street and freak the freak out. They don’t realize that being blind means we have to get up close and personal to something a sighted person can see from hundreds of feet away. I have to find a curb with my cane that you can see from way over there. Jayden can see it from way over there too but he has to take me right to it so I can feel it with my foot.
This is where the problem is and the podcast pointed that out when the clicking guy was working with a five year-old who had to find a curb by walking right up to it. His godmother freaked out and stopped the kid from learning how to do it his way.
Damn but this helped me understand the people in my life! When I’m on my own, I just do things. When I’m with B, the way I do things change. His expectations bleed on to me. When I’m out on my own I figure stuff out in my own way, the way I’ve had to learn to do. There’s no way sighted people can read my mind and know how I’m going to do something and the expectation is that “blind people can’t do that”.
I never thought I would learn something about sighted people by listening to that podcast when it first started. Since I’ve gone blind I try to be an open book, to answer questions people have without getting offended because I remember when I was sighted being amazed by blind people. I don’t ever want to stop being open, but I did find myself being closed with that pesky contempt prior to investigation. I’m so glad I listened to it.
When the kid’s godmother stopped him while he was trying to find the curb, I thought back to an experience I had at the hotel in Florida. Jayden and I got lost and no one jumped out to help. I don’t think anyone was around or if they were, they were very quiet. Jayden and I wandered around for awhile until I got sick of being lost and asked a jogger for help.
That’s how it should bee. Don’t jump in and help because you assume someone needs it or that “blind people can’t do that.”
I could go on and on about this but just go listen to the podcast whether you’re blind or sighted. For the blind, it might shed some light for you on why the sighted are the way they are. For the sighted, well I can’t say what it might shed light on for you.
This goes so much deeper than how the sighted people’s expectations effect the blind. How about expectations about men and women, black and white? Could the root cause of all the isms out there simply be caused by expectations? We expect a woman to be weaker than a man, a white person to be better than a black person? Is it all down to expectations causing groups of people to be what they are? B thinks it would be dangerous for me to walk in my neighborhood since there’s no sidewalk, or along the nearby street that has a sidewalk but lots of driveways because he can’t imagine doing it the way I do it so that fear has rubbed off on me and I haven’t gone exploring even though I have the needed skills to avoid getting hit by a car. Heck, i pay more attention than some sighted people walking down the street texting. The news and social media expected the destruction in Ferguson. Did that have an effect on the people there? We expect people to act in a certain way so they do?
Food for thought.
PS – I appreciated that clicking guy said anyone could learn that skill and use it to ride bikes and hike and stuff as long as they didn’t have another disability stopping them.
Random Link from a Random Tab
A tab I had open when I opened the podcast link had a Mental Floss article about why electrical plugs are different in Europe. I thought I’d share for your inner Arthur Weasley.