Tag Archive: blind


SONY DSCAt two years old, after numerous visits to various specialists, I was diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP), a degenerative sight condition. RP affects the cells of the retina and results in tunnel vision, night blindness, severe light sensitivity and consistent sight loss. In short, I was going steadily and irreversibly blind.

It has been quite a journey so far. Moving from sight to blindness brings with it a set of challenges somewhat different to those faced by people born blind. There is a constant need to adapt, to make another plan, to let go. Now twenty-six, I have had to adapt to my inability to read print, my growing need for mobility assistance (enter Panda the guide dog) and my increasing tendency to miss subtle visual cues.  More than this, I have had to adapt my identity. I have had to learn what it means to live with disability, what it is to take on the identity of disability.

The first lesson I have learnt is that denying disability has serious costs. I spent many years denying my disability. I refused to ask for help, I swore never to associate with other disabled people, I put myself in physical danger to avoid using mobility aids which would “mark” me as different. This only led to stress, intense anxiety, loneliness and strained relationships. When I first began studying at The University of Cape Town I used no mobility aids. My sight was very limited by this stage but I refused to identify as blind. Now it must be said that UCT (being built on the side of a mountain) is a death trap for the blind. The anxiety I experienced while negotiating stairs, bollards and bustling students caused me to feel constantly ill and exhausted. I reached a point where the cost of denial seemed far greater than the cost of revealing myself as disabled. When this happened I began, albeit tentatively, to self-identify as blind. I did this through accepting assistance, taking on the “markers” of blindness such as my guide dog. I began to form valuable friendships with other blind and disabled people while deepening my existing relationships, beginning to share the hard experiences with some trusted, long-standing friends. I began using the blunt, bold word “blind” to describe myself.

Through this process I learnt a very important second lesson. Disability cannot be overcome. I know that sounds controversial and maybe a bit negative. We all love to hear stories of the human spirit triumphing over the odds but I believe these are in the business of denying the realities of disability. Blindness is not the flu. The flu can be overcome with rest, medication and a “just get on with it” attitude. Blindness is about eyes that don’t see, eyes that don’t work in the way they are supposed and expected to. A “just get on with it” attitude, while it might inspire others to be better, more grateful, less selfish has the potential to mask the really hard things that disabled people experience. Yes, there are good times, good laughs and times to celebrate. When I received my Master’s degree I unashamedly threw a party to celebrate my victory. But there are also hard times. There are frustrations and disappointments linked directly to the fact that I cannot see. For example, I struggled when all my friends began getting drivers licenses because I knew that this experience of heady independence was never going to be open to me. I’m not suggesting that we all throw our hands up in despair and wallow in self pity (although a good wallow is sometimes required). I’m suggesting that we (and I include both disabled and able-bodied people here) make space in our relationships to share the hard stuff.

Of course, in order to do this, we first have to start these relationships. Once I was sitting at UCT reading a set book. At this time I was still able to read a little with the help of a magnifying glass which made me look pretty conspicuous I would imagine. This guy who I had met once or twice came and sat down next to me. He said, “So are you blind or something?” His tone wasn’t mocking or accusatory just frank and genuinely interested. “Yup”, I replied, not looking up from my book. “Okay”, he said, “What are you reading?” We became good friends and the openness of that first encounter set the tone for the rest of our friendship. There is a fine line between making disability everything and making disability nothing. In this encounter my friend didn’t make disability everything, he recognised that it was not my sole defining feature nor the only thing interesting about me. It didn’t dominate our conversation going forward. At the same time, he tackled it head on. He didn’t attempt to make it nothing by ignoring it’s obvious presence. That took a fair amount of courage because disability is awkward. It makes people uncomfortable primarily because no one is really sure what to do with it. Can I say that? Should I ask that? Can she do that? Will that offend him? There is simply no way to guess the answers to these questions because every single disabled person is a unique individual made up of complex experiences. For example, I personally hate the term “differently abled”. I think it smacks of empty political correctness. That said, I have a blind friend who loves this term and asks people to use it instead of “disabled” when referring to her.

So how, you ask, am I ever going to be able to feel comfortable in the knowledge that I’m going to say the right thing? Well, I’m sorry to have to tell you, but you won’t. So, I hear you ask, am I just supposed to start talking and hope for the best? The answer is, with help from a little empathy and common sense, yes. The real challenge is not to always say the “right” things but to build relationships tough enough to handle the saying of “wrong” things. The key word is “relationship”. We can’t know people’s stories unless we begin to grow friendships. Messy, complicated, time-consuming, hard work friendships of trust, honesty and empathy are how we enlarge our worlds and begin talking about the hard stuff.

[For the story of a mom learning to deal with her son Noah’s Learning Disability coupled with A.D.D., click here]

[To read other stories from some incredible people living with different disabilities, click here]

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in morning prayer this week we read from Matthew 9.27-34 about how Jesus heals two blind men and frees another man from some demon.

what was interesting about the translation we were reading from was that it said this:

‘As Jesus went on from there, two blind men followed Him, calling out, “Have mercy on us, Son of David!”

When He had gone indoors, the blind men came to Him, and He asked them, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?”

“Yes, Lord,” they replied.

Then He touched their eyes and said, “According to your faith, let it be done to you.”‘

Wo! Wait one second. Can’t it be according to YOUR faith, Jesus? I think that question would cause me to take a moment and really consider the likelihood of the healing following my answer.

Because when it comes to faith for money or provision or God coming through with an answer on direction or something to speak into a situation, my faith is really strong and in any of those cases i think i would be good with His response or challenge?

But when it comes to healing… hm, not so fast. Do i believe that God CAN heal? Absolutely. Do i believe that He WILL heal?

Um… CHEQUE PLEASE, table 9!

i have prayed for a lot of healing in my life [for other people] and cannot remember ever seeing [beyond a headache or some mild pain] instant healing [in the ways i have heard stories of healing, like this one] and certainly no blind or dead people [yet!] i have seen people get better but i haven’t witnessed [as in personally] people really get healed… like categorically undeniable [oh me of little faith i hear you thinking out loud]

and i am not looking for answers to this question. i am just wanting to share that i have it. if Jesus’ healing of the people i come into contact with is “according to my faith” then they might do better moving on to the next person, cos my faith [in the healing department] has taken a few knocks.

BUT i still believe God can and i still believe He does and so every new time i come across someone who needs healing i try to ask them if i can pray for them and if they say yes [like two people did this last week] then i pray, believing that God can and hoping that He will heal. and the fact that He didn’t [in any discernible way to me] heal either of those two people [have seen at least one of them since] doesn’t make me stop believing. it makes me continue to hunger and question and trust and take opportunities because my faith, when it comes to healing, is more like the father of the demon possessed child in mark 9.24 – Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”

i do believe.
but i still call on Jesus to overcome my unbelief.

and keep on, taking new opportunities as they present themselves in the hope that God will let me in on the secret, or the mystery of how it all works some day [not so i can do some kick ass miracles, but so His name will be glorified… and maybe He is still working on me to fully get me from the one to the other]

so a while ago, after ten rounds of brett andy voting [jack handeyesque wannabe quotes i’m working on improving – some good, some bad, some ugly, but every now and then i just hit it.] i was going to do a massive best of vote in which i picked all my top ones and got people to pick the best of the best… but then i changed computers and all my brett andy voting results and lists are on my other computer and it just seems like too much admin, so will get there one day… but for now if you are able to read through the list and add a comment on which of the latest ones you possibly find funny – there are three here that i really like for various reasons of subtlety and one [if you google it] is actually a true story…so please take a minute to vote on any of them you find good if you do – am still learning the craft:

“AS THE UGLY DUCKLING CAUGHT SIGHT OF HIS REFLECTION IN THE POND, HE SMILED QUIETLY TO HIMSELF. NEVER AGAIN WOULD HE BE CALLED THAT. FROM THEN ON IT WAS ‘THE UGLY SWAN’ ALL THE WAY.”

“AS THE BLIND LADY ENTERED THE SEAFOOD RESTAURANT, SHE PONDERED THE IRONY.”

“AS I COMPLETED MY TOAST TO THE BRIDESMAIDS, THE USHERS GRABBED MY ARMS AND ESCORTED ME OUT OF THE CHURCH.”

“I STARED AT THE MAN EATING TIGER AND BEGAN TO WONDER IF THIS RESTAURANT WAS A TAD TOO EXOTIC FOR MY SIMPLE TASTES.”

“AS THE NOOSE TIGHTENED, IT FELT LIKE MY BREATH WAS BEING FORCED OUT OF MY LUNGS AND MY WHOLE LIFE FLASHED INSTANTLY BEFORE ME. WAIT, NOT ‘NOOSE’, I MEAN ‘NECKTIE’.”

“THE TAXIDERMIST’S DOG SEEMED TO HAVE AN INSATIABLE APPETITE. HE WOULD EAT AND EAT AND NEVER SEEM TO BE GETTING ENOUGH. THEN ONE DAY HE WAS STUFFED.”

“THE SHERIFF STARED SOMBERLY INTO HIS DRINK. FOR SOME REASON THINGS IN THE TAME, TAME EAST NEVER SEEMED TO RAISE THE SAME KIND OF ADRENALIN RUSHES THAT HIS COUSIN OFTEN SPOKE OF FROM ACROSS THE COUNTRY .”

“AS E.T. FINALLY MADE IT TO THE PHONE BOOTH, HE FLASHED THE BIGGEST GRIN EVER, BUT AS THE LAST COIN HIT THE BOTTOM WITH A LOUD ‘THUNK’, IT SUDDENLY DAWNED ON HIM THAT HE HAD NO IDEA WHAT THE DIALLING CODE WAS.”

“SURE, HE HAD ATTRACTED ALL THE RATS OF THE CITY, BUT WHAT NOW?” THOUGHT THE PIED ORGANIST TO HIMSELF.”

“I IMAGINE, IF YOU’RE PETER PARKER, IT’S A LOT MORE EMBARRASSING WHEN YOU GET DISCONNECTED FROM THE WEB.”

“POW. THE RICE CRISPY WHO LEFT BEFORE THE GROUP WENT BIG.”

“MY MATHS TEACHER ASKED ME WHAT THE TECHNICAL TERM WAS FOR TWELVE TIMES TWELVE AND I SAID, “THAT’S GROSS,” COS SHE HAD A TINY PIECE OF SNOT HANGING OFF THE END OF HER NOSE.”

i kid you not – this is inspiring stuff…

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