What’s Best?

People with disabilities are presumed by the majority of society to be “incapable” and “needy” of a “able bodied” person to help them in every day tasks. This is just one of the stereotyped beliefs that the majority of society beholds about disabled people. And while some of us, along with friends and family attempt to fight this stereotype, there are some within that community who do nothing but prolong that stereotype.

I’ve been visually impaired since birth and totally blind due to complications since I was six and a half years old. My mother found it difficult to come to terms with my blindness but after she realized that my sight was not miraculously going to come back, she decided that she would not always be around and so tried to give me as normal of a childhood as possible. This included not spoiling me, punishing me if I was bad, and ensuring I was educated as most of my other piers were in mainstream education. And above all else providing me with the tools to become as independent as possible. Her theory of not being around forever and ensuring my independence and integration into society meant I grew into the independent, open minded, all rounded individual I am proud to be now.

I dread to think how things could have been so different.

During the past few years, social networking has meant I’ve come across many people who are also blind. While some of them have seemingly grown up with parents who had a similar notion to my own mother, a lot of them completely play into the stereotype of helpless, strange individuals.

I say strange because most of these people have only been around other visually impaired people and their families their whole life and social rules I learnt throughout school and extracurricular activities have never entered these people’s lives. Depending on others for the menial tasks of every day life is “normal” to them and having the world handed to them on the plate is taken for natural. Asking for an expensive piece of equipment and receiving it is an almost every day occurrence to these people and actually having to wait for something is beyond their existence. Finding ways of doing something that the sighted world does with no issue for themselves is unthinkable. why do something with a little effort if you can have someone else to do it for you? And their sense of reality is completely distorted.

Some of the extreme behaviours that are perceived by society to be related to blindness are not always visible. These people believe they are not among the stereotype but often you have to speak to an individual and learn their attitudes toward the rest of the world to appreciate if they are indeed categorized within that stereotype.

Generalising anyone is not always a positive act but these individuals can be spotted a mile off. They hardly use a mobility aid and expect a friend/relative to walk everywhere with them. They daren’t venture anywhere alone.
They have every “blind specific” product on the market and will not try anything unless its been recommended by another like-minded person or an organisation.
They have their family weight on them hand and foot. Making a drink for themselves is just never going to happen let alone cooking a meal for themselves.
Cleaning up after themselves is “impossible” as they “can’t see”
And subsequently they use that “I’m blind card” constantly.
They think cyberspace is reality and never attempt to form “real life” relationships.
They really believe they are like “everyone else”.

Overall, they are almost incapable of coping in society independently.

So, who is to blame?

In my humble opinion it’s the organisations that pamper these individuals. Some charities and institutions reinforce this notion that they are visually impaired and “need help”. I’ll be the first to admit, certain things, I’d like help with. Everyone’s needs are different but my want for help is so I am able to live my life as independently as possible. I.E> labeling food helps me not to waste things so when the shopping arrives home and its labeled, I will correctly open a can of baked beans rather than a can of spaghetti hoops when making a casserole. If my pills aren’t labeled and there’s only one way to identify two lots of medication apart by labeling then I’ll have a sighted person help me label my medicine. Luckily for me, most of the manufacturers are helping this issue but if they didn’t my health is too important to warrant a risk. But in order to live as independently as possible those are minor sacrifices to make. Instructions for food should be read and noted down so you cook food properly. If you buy the same product often enough you’d remember it but say you wanted to try a new brand of something, its likely the cooking time may be different. No one wants food poisoning. And lastly, not all companies send things in accessible formats. True, with the advancement of technology, we can receive a lot of things via email and over the internet which has proven vital for most visually impaired people but just say a doctor’s letter came and it won’t scan or read properly, wouldn’t you want a sighted individual to just read over it for you. scanners and reader software have advanced greatly but not everyone has those pieces of equipment to do so but those small things just help someone to live independently.

Some parents however, seem to have the misguided notion that they will be around for their “poor disabled” child forever. I have news for you, you probably won’t. Giving them everything is not going to benefit them in society. Locking them up with other visually impaired kids with teachers who pamper their disabilities will only hinder their growth as a human being. “protecting” them as you believe you are doing from society will only make it worse when the day comes when they are forced into society’s cruel realm. And if your child is lucky enough to go to a school where being independent is a compulsory factor is great until they get home and you do everything for them. Your guilt cannot hinder your child’s progress.

Give them the tools to live within society and function effectively because the world is a hard enough place regardless of disability. If you don’t prepare them then what chance do they stand? Some would say mothers like mine were cruel and hard for allowing us to walk into doors, burning ourselves on a hot stove while cooking but she was kinder in the long term. I’m able to live independently and travel with confidence with my four legged friend because she gave me the tools to do so.

And there are some wonderful individuals that despite having overbearing parents still manage to be independent through their own spirit and belief in themselves, congratulations. You did it. And to those who enjoy being catered to, you’re a disgrace to the rest of us who constantly fight against this stereotype. And to those parents of disabled kids who believe your child needs you, yes they do, to show them how to be a human being.

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