Wednesday, February 27, 2008

On being Blind

I am blind, seriously, legally blind. I don't have a white cane or wear sunglasses, I'm lucky. I can see everything (as long as it is close enough and straight in front of me).
I was born with bilateral Retinoblastoma, a type of cancer in both my eyes. My right eye was removed when I was five years old. My left eye has scaring on the retina from cryotherapy which further impairs my peripheral vision as well as making it very difficult to read, as I must read into my blind spot.
I believe the radiation used to treat the cancer caused me to become deaf in my right ear. Whenever I walk with someone, I take the right side so I can hear them talk and not walk into them. Sometimes the person I am walking with doesn't know this and will end up on my right side causing me to stop and walk around them, accompanied by an explanation of my impairment.
When I am walking on a busy sidewalk I have to be very careful to look all around me to avoid walking into people. I still walk into people all the time, and every once in a while I hit a bike rack, street sign or anything else that might be on the sidewalk. One time I was walking in Kensignton Market and I had a collision with a guy in a wheelchair. I apologized right away "I'm so sorry," I said. "Are you fucking blind?" he yelled. "As a matter of fact I am" I replied. Then he had to apologize to me.
I have no depth perception, so I have always sucked at baseball. I trip over curbs sometimes and pigeons always freak me out cause it looks like they are going to fly right into my face.
Street signs are sometimes too small or too out of the way to read. I can't read the numbers off of houses from the street, so I have trouble finding places I have never been before, especially at night. I am often late only because I had to walk around trying to find a street sign or an address I could see. I have to ask a friend to help read the menu and the bill in a dark restaurant, and I cant find the bathroom if you just point and say "it's over there", I need actual directions.
I can't read TTC maps or schedules so all that planning must be done before I leave the house. I have trouble in subway stations reading signs. Some bus drivers still do not call out the stops on surface routes.
I have trouble at work when I have to read small print. Every job I have had has at some point asked me to read something I couldn't possibly see. Some employers would replace the task with busy work while others have accused me of being lazy and able to see "just fine". I have often had difficulties with employers unwilling to make simple accommodations such as photocopied enlargements. I am often forced to re-explain my situation to managers who either don't believe me or don't care. I have become very frustrated at work because of this. I feel my employers don't want to help me.
My cancer has never been a secret, if anyone has ever asked me about it I have been open and honest. I have not been so forthcoming with my disability and how it affects my daily life.

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