Job Hunting While Blind

One mistake I’ve made in my life is playing my cards too close to my chest. Yes, I keep hearing Aaron Burr’s song in “Hamilton”, and don’t want to be like him. I don’t believe in remaining neutral.

Nor have I been good at being vulnerable, which is part of letting one’s wants and needs be known. I want to come across as having everything together, possibly because, as a blind person, I am treated as though I can have nothing together. I have gotten the reputation as being a little uppity because of this.

I’m not. I’m actually totally vulnerable and mushy inside and not any more crusty on the outside than is a burned marshmallow.

But when one is vulnerable, one is also humiliated when one meets failures. I am not good at failure. I’ve been called a failure too often in my life for reasons which I will not bore you.

So, I’m putting this out there for the world to see.

A couple of years ago, I decided I needed to take a direction change in my career. I’m doing no good writing schmaltzy, if maybe fun too, romantic-suspense. I like it. I think it’s a quality line. It’s just no longer right for me.

Unfortunately, to do this, I have to kind of start my career all over again, which means starting at zero in the way of royalties and advances. Ugh.

As I dither over this, knowing Love Inspired will take more books from me, two things happened. First, my agent retired. Then my editor got promoted. I’m happy for them both. I’m not happy for me. I’ve lost an editor before. When someone who knows and loves your work moves on and you’re shunted to
another editor, it’s never good, no matter how much she loves your work, if she does. If she doesn’t, it’s a nightmare. I really don’t want to go through this again when I’m unsure of writing for the genre anyway.

So here goes:

I need a job.

I’ve been out of the traditional workforce for a long time. Too long. My skills are eclectic. I can write. I can research. I don’t have a communications degree, and what is a writer but a communicator? I am not a salesperson, and I am a good public speaker. Stages and microphones don’t scare me. I don’t have a
degree in teaching the visually impaired, yet I doubt any TVI out of grad school in special ed knows more about teaching blind people than I do. They may have some new and fancy techniques, and those are easily learned.

The problem is—75% of blind people are unemployed. Discrimination against blindness in the workplace is appalling. Part of the problem is technology. I have encountered several jobs for which I know I am qualified only to be unable to apply because the application is inaccessible. Other jobs say one must have a driver’s license. The ones like this that piss me off are the ones where a license is not necessary.  It just seems like a way to shut out certain people like those of us who can’t get licenses. One may have to do some travel and, hey, I’ve managed to travel around the U.S. and many countries without driving.

Another job required graphic design. A tiny part of the job and a reason to ding a blind person.

So, what do I do? Where do I go? I am willing to relocate with some exceptions.

So here I am, being vulnerable—while I carry out my plan to change my writing career, which will take a coupe of years at the least, and then after, since writing doesn’t really pay a living wage as a rule, I need work.

My vulnerable cry for help.

Please Don’t Do It

I don’t review books often. To me, an author reviewing another author’s books seems vaguely unethical. I have broken that rule of mine here for two reasons—I don’t write in this genre, and these are books that should have been—but weren’t—written by #OwnVoices authors. Both are a case for, at the least, a sensitivity reader before publication.

Not If I See You First

Eric Lindstrom

Let me begin by saying that Lindstrom is a pretty good writer, and he did a  great deal right in this book, possibly more than most books written about a blind character by an author who isn’t blind. A few things taint the book.

Parker is the main character. We learn right away that she is blind and her father has recently died. We also learn that she goes out running by herself every morning. This is admirable, except for how she goes about it.

She leaves the house and walks a block plus crosses a street without using a cane. This is not only stupid, it’s dangerous. That she runs in an open field is probably okay, though, again, with no one around also seems a little foolhardy. Obstacles could be in her way that weren’t there the day before. But that’s the least of the issues.

Parker wears a scarf around her eyes like a blindfold. Besides looking freaky, it also is significant that she doesn’t seem to have accepted her blindness. She’s been blind for ten years, not ten months. If it’s such an issue, why isn’t she in counseling? Why isn’t she in counseling with the grief of losing her father?

Next, we learn she lives with her aunt and cousins. They moved across country so Parker doesn’t have to learn a new school or new house. We don’t know how they were able to make the move so quickly, and it’s probably not that important. What is important is that the assumption is that she wouldn’t be able to make the move because she’s blind. So do they also expect her to never go anywhere, to live in the same place all her life? She can’t learn a college campus or dorm? She can’t move into an apartment? By their thinking, she’s stuck because she’s blind.

Blind people move all over the country, even the world, going new places all the time and do just fine. To think we cannot is, frankly, an insult to ability and intelligence.

One thing I like about Parker is that she’s kind of blunt and snarky. I did laugh several times at how she confronts people. This is good. She’s not shy because of her blindness. She does talk about it.

She talks about it incorrectly. She says her eyes are closed. I looked this up because it’s not the first time I’ve read a book where the protagonist who is blind has her eyes closed.

For the most part, this is incorrect, from my research. People who have been blind all their lives, who have never seen, sometimes—emphasis on the sometimes—have their eyes closed because they never learned to open them. Most are taught to open them for societal norms. People who were once able to see still keep their eyes open even after they lose their sight. Parker could see for the first seven years of her life.

So, please, authors, do not propagate the myth that blind people have their eyes closed. Most do not.

Other myths Parker propagates:

She is easily startled by people coming up to her. Untrue. This is a myth. If we are grabbed we might jump, but we rarely startle just because someone  comes up and talks to us. This one really annoys me. It makes blind people look like meek little rabbits or terrified of the world because we can’t see it. We’re not.

Parker counts steps. PLEASE stop this myth. Blind people may count steps such as up and down stairwells in a new place. Other than that, counting steps is impractical. Fatigue, different shoes, having to go around obstacles can all change the number of steps. And who wants to waste brain power on remembering how many steps to everywhere one goes? And what do people think we do in a new place?

Back to Parker’s eyes—at one point, she refers to them as being “dead” and “useless”. A newly blinded person might feel this way. Someone who has been blind a while does not. One’s eyes are just one’s eyes. My standard joke is that I’m blind in one eye and can’t see out of the other. I know no one from either my personal or professional life, even newly blinded people,  who has ever thought of her eyes as being “dead”. They’re not dead. The connection to the brain has a problem or the retinas are damaged. If they are dead, they are removed and artificial eyes are inserted. A prosthesis that looks amazingly real. A dead eye is white and … dead looking. An eye that still has white sclera and a colored iris is not dead. Useless maybe.

In just plain storytelling, the plot is often rambling and incoherent. Parker has some emotional growth, but the attempt at a romantic conflict comes across as slapped in as an afterthought. Worse, the incident that drove Parker and Scott apart happened in eighth grade. Really? In four years you haven’t gotten over it? Sure it wasn’t nice what happened, but eighth grade boys do dumb things. Let it go for your mental health. And, really, they’d still be in love with one another after four years? They might be in love with what they remembered as love, but this stretches my credulity. Lindstrom would have done better to have it have been the year before. The whole situation would have been more understandable.

On the positive side, Parker is refreshing for a blind character, as she is not shy and self-effacing. Many other characters are great. Characterization is Lindstrom’s strong point, and, as a lover of YA fiction, I will probably try another one of his books. I just wish he had had a couple of real blind people read this one first, people who have been blind a while and accepted the condition as a characteristic and not a flaw.

Love And First Sight

Josh Sundquist

I couldn’t find this book recorded by the National Library Service for the Blind, which speaks volumes on its own. NLS is quick to record any book with blind characters. Curious, as a librarian friend found this one for me, I began to read about the book and the author.

 This seems like a novel intended to poke fun at blind people. The sixteen-year-old protagonist is in high school. It can’t be his first time in high school if he’s sixteen. He must be a junior or year late sophomore. Either way, unless he has been blind for a short time, he makes stupid mistakes even newly blinded people don’t make.

 We don’t get the impression his blindness is new; therefore, I can only conclude that Sundquist is aiming for slapstick comedy at the expense of perpetuating many myths about the ineptness of blind people.

 The kid gropes a girl on the steps. Unless he did it on purpose, no blind person with half a day of mobility training will do this. For one, his one hand should be holding a cane and the other at his side, not at a groping level. Next, if he brushes against a girl, he will pull away, not continue to touch unless he’s a creeper.

 Next he sits on someone’s lap in the cafeteria. I have never heard of a blind person doing this. First of all, navigating cafeterias is notoriously difficult; therefore, most blind students get some kind of assistance. If they don’t think they need it, then they are far more careful than to sit on someone’s lap. Unless one is incompetent, one does not sit on a chair until one makes sure it’s free.

Again, Sundquist is saying blind people are stupid and incompetent.

So, the boy then makes a classmate cry. Not sure why without more than the book jacket says, and it’s inexcusable unless he’s an insensitive jerk. Maybe he is. Maybe he’s just unlikable.

So then his friends lie to him about girl he likes being pretty. Great friends. And of course, blind people can never have attractive partners. This is a common trope all through literature.

 The final clincher is that the boy gets his sight back by some kind of miracle surgery. Of course. Another trope is that person can’t be happy blind, so must be healed to be a whole person.

 What makes this whole thing appalling is that Sundquist has a disability himself. So why didn’t he write about a high school with that disability? Why does he have to mock another disability and then heal it as though being blind means your life is incomplete. Most people think all people with disabilities need to be healed to be complete and happy. We would like to stamp out this thinking, yet here is someone with disability playing right into it.

 Next time, Mr. Sundquist, if you want to make fun of someone’s disability, pick on one for which you have actually done some research.

Why I Fired My Physician

When I moved into my house, I had to find a new internist/family doctor. I liked my other one a great deal, but her office was just too far away. So, I found one nearby and easy to reach via public transit.

She was decidedly okay. Not great. Not particularly likable, but not dislikable  either, part of a large university health system practice. Her staff, however, was just stupid.

When showing me back to the room on my third visit there, the nurse shouted at me because I didn’t turn into the room she indicated. “Didn’t you see me pointing to that one?” she yelled, sounding quite put-out.

“Uh, no,” I admitted. “I’m blind.”

“Well, I didn’t know. You should have told me.” Still sounding pissed off.

Say what? There I am, pre surgery I had a year later, so wearing my pink-lensed glasses to protect my eyes from light, holding the harness of my Seeing Eye Dog—a harness that has “Property of the Seeing Eye” written on the back strap in pretty big letters (the harness belongs to the school, not the dog.)

She didn’t know what that meant. She lives in a major U.S. city and had no idea what a guide dog is or why someone would have one.

And so, this ignorance continued.

Last year, during COVID, I made a telehealth appointment because—hello! Pandemic? Their protocol was to have patients wait in their cars until time for their appointment. That way, which had no one in the lobby.

Mind you, this is December in Chicagoland. Mind you, I can’t drive; thus, I do not arrive in a car. The office is a mile and a half from my house. Easily walkable … in good weather. Dangerous when ice coats the sidewalks, which was the case. I wasn’t using public transit at the time because of that pandemic thing and no vaccination yet.

But my doctor insisted she wouldn’t count telehealth as an appointment and I needed to come in in person. I explained why I couldn’t. She wouldn’t back down. Mind you, I had nothing wrong with me; this was just the annual thing. If she wanted bloodwork, I could have gone to an immediate care center nearby my house. But, no, she insisted I should come in, even if I had to wait in freezing temperatures until my appointment after walking over a mile to get there.

This is called “Reasonable Accommodation”. Or they could have made an exception and let me come into the waiting room.

Thing is, their web site, their telephone hold announcements, and even their scheduling people say telehealth appointments are readily available.

And, of course, we can go for the ableist behavior. Yelling to me in the waiting room because, you know, when you’re blind you can’t hear either, I guess, since people do this. Doing this in a medical office means my HIPAA rights are violated, by the way.

Assuming, not asking, I can’t do something simple like walk next door,
because I can’t see. Grabbing my arm, though I told them again and again not to do so.

All in all, I was made uncomfortable and irritated every time I went there.

So, when I had a prescription needing a refill, a thyroid medication I can’t go without taking, the doctor refused to fill it because I hadn’t come in for an appointment.

I was vaccinated by then, so tried to make an appointment. Not for three months. Seriously.

So, when my prescription came due again, guess what?

You got it. She refused because I hadn’t been in for an in-person appointment. I had to threaten to report her to the Board of Medicine before I got my refill, when a simple look at my records would show her I had an appointment the next week.

I canceled it and got an appointment at a different practice. Let us hope they understand reasonable accommodation and what a guide dog is.

We’re Still in the Stone Age as far as People with Disabilities are Concerned

When I got my first guide dog, back when the earth and I were young, we didn’t  have the ADA. We didn’t have the second Fair Housing Law spelling out to landlords that they had to rent to persons with disabilities and, yes, those pesky guide dogs too.

But now we have those laws If you listened to the insipid coverage given by NPR and other news outlets last year, you’d think all problems with accessibility for disabled people is over.

Counter those rosy reports to this incident, which also took place last year.

In truth, as people more and more claim their property rights, the laws are more and more eroded, and protections are lost. A bystander got in the way of me negotiation with a Lyft driver one day. The Lyft driver wanted to put my dog in the back of her SUV. No way. Not safe for my dog there. No, my dog rode with me. A bystander said, “It’s her car.”

No, it isn’t, not once she lets the public in.

And it’s not your property once you let the public in. If it’s your private home, but you open it to the public, for any stranger to walk through, disabled people and their guides are allowed.

When you have a theater, a beauty shop, a nail salon, a retail store of any kind, you are required to allow persons with guide dogs into your hallowed halls.

Rentals are a little different. The laws are precise and more complex depending on number of units, etc. Of course, I bought a house and live with the pains of home ownership to avoid the worse pains of dealing with landlords.

You’d think everyone would know that guide dogs are allowed in public spaces. Uber and Lyft have been sued and lost. Thousands of restaurants have been sued…and lost.

Yet in 2020, a man was not only denied access to a store in a mall in North Carolina, but the store personnel called the cops on him, and the cops threatened to arrest him if he didn’t leave.

Am I shocked? Not really. It’s happened to me. When I lived in Texas, I just quit going to malls because security guards followed me around, asking me where I was going, how long I intended to shop, etc., and generally making me uncomfortable and unwelcome. They were breaking the law. They were harassing me because I am blind and was using a guide dog. They tried grabbing my arm, taking hold of my packages, forcing me out the door.

I didn’t want to embarrass my husband or his high profile boss, so kept my mouth shut. I’m not sure I would nowadays. And I’m still reluctant to go to malls.

You know the black men who got followed around Eddie Bauer a few years ago? Yep, it’s just like that when I go into most retail spaces. In Brownsville, I had a beauty salon tell me I couldn’t bring my dog, Why? Did they think my dog would get hair on the floor?

If you ever see someone with a service dog being harassed, if you do nothing else, get the encounter on video and post it on social media so the world can become aware of how badly people with disabilities are treated in our society.

By the way, in the two times I’ve been to Europe with a guide dog, though I was in countries without protective laws for guide dog accessibility, the only place I was told not to have my dog in a place was because it was too small. She still accommodated me, putting me at a window table. The window was open and the sill low and wide. My dog was welcome to lie on that sill, still at my side.

On Your Knees

I’m a little behind in posting. Lots of stuff going on here like me getting stung six times by a swarm of yellow jackets who had built a home beneath my deck and didn’t like me walking across it. A whole new look at trolls under bridges.

Then last Monday, we had a dead raccoon in our yard I had to figure out what to do with. You want no details about that, believe me.

So, I haven’t known what to write except a couple ideas that require more research than I have time for at the moment. Then this article popped up in my Facebook newsfeed Ableism: What to Know About This Form of Discrimination and I had flashbacks from something mentioned in the article.

I grew up in a pretty religious household. We were deeply involved in putting on retreats intended to convert people. I worked with the youth, being one myself. The whole thing was about peers. Peer ministries.

Most of the time, these things were fun. I met many interesting people. Unfortunately, I ended up on my knees too often. Way too often. Not because I needed conversion, but because people around me decided I needed to be healed.

A group of people would often gather around me and practically muscle me to my knees while they laid hands on me and prayed that my eyesight be restored. Humiliating. Embarrassing. Creepy.

I hated it. For one thing, my eyesight was never restored. I was then told I didn’t have enough faith. Why was my faith in question? Wouldn’t it be the faith of those who were praying that should count? Nope. It was always my fault.

At the time, people didn’t talk about bigotry against disabled people. We only had the Rehabilitation Act in our favor, which guaranteed an equal education. (Yeah, right, like that’s worked.)

So, I didn’t know that these people were being less than concerned. I tolerated their behavior because I thought they had good intentions.

They did not. Their message was loud and clear, at least it is to me now. YOU AREN’T GOOD ENOUGH AS YOU ARE.

I wasn’t acceptable as a blind woman. I had to be healed to full sightedness before I was an equal doing the praying, not being prayed for. This is ableism at its worst—letting the person with a disability know through seeming acts of kindness, that they aren’t acceptable as they are.

No wonder I became more and more withdrawn and shy the older I got. I was being told constantly that I was less than. I didn’t have enough faith to be healed; therefore, I didn’t really fit in the world of the faithful, the chosen, or whatever.

No wonder I have left the church.

As I grew older, I was told I wasn’t good enough to go into my chosen profession of teaching. OK, I was good enough with ability and academically; however, I wasn’t good enough as a whole because I couldn’t see well. Ableism in the hiring office. I went on job interviews where the interviewer spent the
entire time telling me why I wouldn’t want the job.

The article sited above is wrong in one aspect. I don’t know where they got their unemployment statistics, and they are much, much worse. Unemployment among blind people is 75%, not 12.5%.

And yes, medical help has not always been forthcoming in a proper manner because medical personnel treat me like a nuisance first and a human being second.

Do you look at a person with a disability and consider that they aren’t equal to you? Ask your heart in all seriousness if this is your perspective. This, ableism, is as bad as racism and thinking your race is superior to another. Just because you can walk or hear or see does not make you superior. It makes you

Please cease pushing us to our knees because you think you need to pray us into changing for what you consider the better. Please stop pushing us to our knees to beg for accommodations to function in the world. Please stop pushing us to our knees to beg for work, for access, for a seat at the table of life.

Rejection and Triumph

When I was sixteen, I had a crush on a nerdy guy at school. I was a nerdy girl, so that was all right. But he had the courage or assholery, or maybe honesty to tell me that he wouldn’t go out with me because I was blind.


He admitted he was a jerk for that, and he couldn’t do anything about how he felt. Actually, he could have, but he wasn’t willing. I’d prefer he have said he wouldn’t go out with me because I had red hair (which I did until it started turning gray in my 30s).

That wasn’t the first time I’d been rejected. I’d never been chosen for teams in forming them for classes or just on the playground. Probably wisely. I could see some, but, in playing Red Rover, I was as likely to run into a person as their locked arms. And Dodge Ball? Not likely to dodge much. I could play
kickball, which is probably why I like baseball now.

But moving on.

I knew rejection. I handled it pretty well. I got mad or sad or indignant, then I moved on. Resilience we call it these days.

And this prepared me for publishing.

Yes, if you can’t handle rejection, don’t go into publishing. A few lucky people sell their first piece, but those are the exceptions who prove the rule. Many famous writers, we are told, faced rejections. Dozens. I’m not sure if they are true or urban legends.

My publishing journey is so complex I won’t go into it here. Suffice it to say, I faced much rejection. I faced acceptances and then rejection too. Example: two agents who rejected me after accepting me as a client, then rejecting me after learning I’m blind.

I’ve had two agents since I found ones who didn’t reject me. I didn’t make them rich, nor did they lose money on me. Especially not losing money. I dare say they have made money on me. In fact, because I’m still getting royalties on books they sold, they are still making money on me. The second one has
retired, and I don’t need one where I’m writing now, so I am currently not looking for a new agent. Maybe in a year.

The point is, I made sure these women knew of my blindness first. They liked my writing. They believed in my writing, my stories, my ability to sell manuscripts to be turned into books.

Their belief was not mistaken. To date, I have 26 traditionally published novels. I have four more that were published with alternative methods, only one indie published.

To say it was easy would be a lie. I faced many rejections. I faced editors who thought I couldn’t do the work. One even tried rewriting my entire manuscript and thought her version was better. I’m not being egotistical to say it was far, far worse.

But she rejected my original manuscript, when she was supposed to be editing it, as it was already sold for a lot of money, because she didn’t believe a blind woman could write a novel worth reading. This is not speculation; this is fact.

I don’t turn in perfect manuscripts. I don’t think any author does. But how many people have been told their manuscript was so bad the editor had to rewrite it, and it was bad because the author was a blonde, or had green eyes, or was too tall? Yeah, right that would happen.

And there she was telling me I should accept her version of my manuscript because of my “visual difficulties”.

That rejection made me hysterical. I cried for two hours or more. I cried off and on for days out of anger, out of pain, out of despair that this world would ever give me a chance.

My current editors and many others have. They knew me before they bought my books. They accommodate my technical challenges due to inaccessible software. They accommodate my life imploding and give me the time I need to work. Is it because they pity me? No, it’s because they don’t have to. For every author published are thousands of more wanting to be. They do it because they like my work and know that this is the right way to treat an author—meeting her needs whether she has a sensory disability, physical disability, or a mental health issue.

If more people would behave this way, 75% of people with disabilities wouldn’t be unemployed. If you don’t believe that number, go to  Disability Statistics and look them up.

We need more agents, editors, and employers to realize that people with disabilities can do the work and should have equal opportunities to gain employment.

If you are ever in a position to hire, please consider someone with a disability with the same thoughtfulness you apply to nondisabled people. Be part of the solution, not the problem.

Shame or Shameful

Last week, Leona talked about feeling shame, not fear, when she found out she was going blind. This is something with which I have struggled for a long time, though I have only recently been able to put a name to the emotion.

We have no reason to feel shame for going blind. It’s not like we poked ourselves in the eye with a sharp stick or took some mysterious drug to make it happen. Since we didn’t do it, why the shame?

Society’s attitude toward blindness and blind people. People stutter and stammer and fumble around with the thesaurus to find words to use other than blind. When people seek euphemisms such as “without vision” or “unsighted” or “sight/visually challenged”, we know in an instant that this is what people always do to stop using the actual word, which is shameful or naughty.

Not using disabled or blindness is like saying “junk” instead of testicles and penis. In truth the euphemisms bring to mind all those romance novels of the ’80s that used terms like “manhood” for penis, and “feminity” for vagina.

It really sounds ridiculous. We ask kids if they want to “tinkle” because, for some reason, urinate is icky or shameful. People don’t poop; they “relieve” themselves.

Why? Because we think that talking about sexual and other bodily functions is shameful. So of course we need a euphemism for blindness.

Except we don’t. Blindness should not be considered shameful. Yet when people like Leona and I discovered our failing eyesight, we felt shame. We still feel shame. Why? Because the way society is set up.

Today, I had to explain to someone for the hundredth time—not her that many times, but someone in her position), that I don’t care how many accessibility modes you turn on when you make a PowerPoint presentation for a conference, my computer will not read it over Zoom. Zoom itself is a picture, so the screen of a PowerPoint presentation is just a picture within a picture, not even the text registers as print that can be read.

Yet, as I explained this, I felt uncomfortable. I was causing this person a moment of “what do I do now?” panic. I might even be causing her extra work. She didn’t understand about how PowerPoint and other such software work with screenreaders. Why should she? She hasn’t had to know until I came along.

I wanted to apologize. I wanted to lavish thanks on her for her extra work. I wanted to say never mind, I’ll manage and then not get the same benefit from presentations as others. In fact, I had to sit on my hands to not type these things to her, to many others over the years.

A web site doesn’t work. A form is inaccessible. I can’t reach a location easy for everyone else. I am shamed that I can’t simply drive there, click on what is necessary, fill in the edit boxes.

I am shamed that I cannot…

That’s the crux of the matter. Because the world is set up for sighted people and sighted people think that’s the only way the world should be set up, blind people are shamed for being unable to fully participate.

Being blind isn’t shameful; ableism is shameful.

What do you think you can change to make the world a little more accessible to persons with disability?

To be able to participate, we often have to beg and plead and sometimes get forceful—not violent, but assertive—to get our basic needs of participation met. This is humiliating. This is shaming. This is wrong.

I challenge you to look around and find situations that are not accessible to someone with a disability. Examples:

  • Steps into a business, impossible for physically disabled people.
  • A conference where the speaker refers to a PowerPoint without saying what the text is.
  • Important information given over a loudspeaker without any written notice.

Blind Fantasies or, Things Sighted Writers Get Wrong

Blind Fantasies or, Things Sighted Writers Get Wrong

By M. Leona Godin

The default for literature tends to be white male straight nondisabled readers.  Anything that deviates from this perspective is understood to be something different—perhaps more political, more genre, less “literary,” so that all of us who fall outside what our culture deems “normal” (let alone dominant), must work extra hard to explain ourselves and our experience in terms that capitulate to the experience of the cookie-cutter white nondisabled male reader. In other words. We must do a lot of explaining, or risk having our characters be labeled “unrelatable.”

“What we call craft is in fact nothing more or less than a set of expectations,” writes Matthew Salesses in Craft in the Real World. “Those expectations are shaped by workshop, by reading, by awards and gatekeepers, by biases about whose stories matter and how they should be told. . . These expectations are never neutral.”

When I read Craft in the Real World earlier this year, I found much that resonated with my workshop experience as the only blind person in the room (often the only one who identifies as disabled, as well.) These included sighted writers telling me that I must include feelings of fear when facing my own visual impairment as a kid (when in fact, I did not; shame yes, fear, no), to writers complaining that my blind protagonist is “too irreverent,” “too in-your-face,” and “trying too hard to show how being blind is not boring,” to labeling scenes “inspirational” or “sad,” simply because they involved a blind character.

Not long ago, a fellow workshop participant called me out in our Facebook group, asking how I would like feedback. I know her well enough to believe her intentions were coming from a good place. Her reason for asking publicly rather than privately being that perhaps others would have the same question. But as this is an ongoing workshop, I’d given and received feedback many
times before. Not sure what prompted her to ask at that moment.

Before I got a chance to respond, however, another newer group member chimed in to give “an answer” to her question to me. He informed her and the rest of the group how if someone can’t read comments, they ought not to be writing. Then he presumably did a quick Google and commented again that there is a system for providing edits in braille documents. He linked to an
image of this system–no alt text, of course.

I was so angry that I got braggy: “You can just use the comments function in  Word, as does my editor at Penguin Random House!”

The problem is connected to ableism generally. Even in a conversation with a blind person right there (virtually, anyway), the sighted dude used his very limited understanding and a dash of Googling to explain what blind people do/need/want.

This presumption on the part of sighted writers mirrors the attitudes of many sighted editors, who often push back against the plots and characters created by myself and other blind writers, arguing, with no apparent embarrassment, that what we have to say about blindness is wrong, because it doesn’t align with what those editors have seen portrayed in books, movies, television,
and news—stories created, almost exclusively, by sighted writers, directors, and journalists.

No doubt, we will all get things wrong when we write about “the other,” but until we have more blind and visually-impaired people telling our own stories, the blindness fantasies will continue to dominate over blindness realities.

In another workshop a few months back, the instructor held the blind character, Marie-Laure, in Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See up as a great example of how to write out of your identity box. Although she knew I was blind, she did not ask if I agreed with her assessment. I do not; I find the excellence of the novel to be greatly impaired by the upholding of the virginal
blind edifice–the idea that blind people are saintly rather than sexual: basically all the other women characters are raped except for Marie-Laure.

My friend Caitlin Hernandez has written an (as yet) unpublished YA novel featuring a blind lesbian high schooler who is sexually assaulted by a guy she trusted. It is based on her own experience. Because, even if the media does not like to think about or portray anything but inspirational blind characters who remain magically protected against the horrors of war and conquest, that does not mean that it does not happen in real life. (Disabled women are three times as likely to be assaulted than their nondisabled peers.) The supposed gold standard for blindness in literary fiction is Jose Saramago’s Blindness.

There’s so much to take issue with in the novel, but top of the list is how none of the newly blind do or think of anything useful. The little group who we come to know are led around like sheep by the only sighted character. If I were to make a world where everyone is suddenly blind, I’d certainly make a pre-disease-time character who had some good blind skills be the hero. Instead,
Saramago gives us exactly one “real” blind man, and he is a bad guy, who falls in with the other bad guys, and uses his braille skills for ill. He dies a terrible death with the rest of the villains. We need a “Blindness” written by a Nobel-prize-winning blind novelist.

Don’t even get me started on the corrective power of temporary blindness, the superblind, the myth of face-touching, the (usually) female character falling for the unattractive or otherwise inappropriate fellow (as determined by society), or the happy ending by way of cure, because as the editor of this blog, Alice Eakes, put it, “Blind people don’t get happily ever afters.”

I believe a call for own-voices is long past due when it comes to blind stories. It’s not that I think sighted authors should never write a blind or visually-impaired character, but I think some recalibration needs to happen in order to shift the blind character into the world of the real. My blind friends and I are awfully tired of reading books that say things like, “he touched this inscrutable bumpy surface—tree trunk, embossed fabric, pimply skin–like a blind man reading braille,” without, it seems, any thought on the part of the author that there might be a blind reader with her hands on actual braille and cringing, or a blind writer itching to correct the sentence to reveal just how scrutable the surface would be if it were indeed braille.

An Image in Three Steps

In 1991—yes, I’m showing my age here—one of the major networks produced a show portraying a blind man as a bumbling idiot. Blindness organizations got together, went after the sponsors, and the show was dropped, but not before one of the actors allegedly said, “That’s how blind people are.” Harder to check rumors before things like Snopes.

I only ever saw a few choice clips from this show. They were bad enough. At one point, the blind man is hugging a coat on a coat rack thinking it’s the woman he loves. In another, he’s swinging his cane around, knocking glass objects onto the floor, as he makes his way around his place of employment. That is NOT how you use a cane and a blind person who can’t tell an empty coat from a real person has worse issues than being blind.

The only good thing about this show seems to be that the man is employed. With 75% of blind people unemployed, this is a positive indeed.

Later in the 90s, a friend called me about a movie she saw on TV. She was appalled and wanted to ask my opinion. One thing she mentioned was that the woman was getting assistance through an airport and:

    1. Was holding the dog’s harness while holding the person’s arm,
    2.  Was counting steps the whole way.

Two problems here. One is that we are trained to drop the harness the minute we take someone’s arm. Why? Because you can’t have two guides. Either the sighted person is guiding, or the dog is. The dog can get confused and start relying on a sighted person to guide rather than doing the work him/herself.

And the counting steps!  That sound you just heard is my primal scream. This is nearly as bad as feeling faces and takes me back to another portrayal of a blind person in an art form.

“Butterflies are Free” was first a play and then a movie. I was far too young to go to the movie when it came out, but I later in life received a recording of the play from the National Library Service for the Blind, a division of the Library of Congress.

The play shows a blind guy living on his own, against mommy’s advice, and spending his days playing his guitar from his loft bed. When asked how he gets what he needs, he explains that he knows how many steps to go from his apartment to the deli, to this establishment, to another establishment. Basically, this guy is living in New York City and going nowhere outside his block.

Until this movie came out, people thinking blind people counted steps was unheard of. I’d never been asked. My older sister, who is also blind, had never been asked.

Think about this when thinking a blind person counts steps: One’s stride is not consistently the same length. External factors like cracks in the sidewalk, ice, numerous moving obstacles like human beings, change one’s trajectory. You can think it’s fifteen steps from the corner, to the drugstore, and end up in an adult bookstore because you had to go around a bike chained to a parking meter, three tween girls trying out their new lip gloss, and a cup of ice someone spilled on the pavement.

The next day, you try again, and you are wearing spike heels instead of sneakers. You don’t have any obstacles to circumvent; however, you have a different stride because your feet hurt. This time, you end up in the liquor store right in front of your teetotaling great-aunt you hope will leave her fortune to you.

The next day, you are very tired from lying awake wondering why your carefully counted steps while on the arm of your mother aren’t taking you to the pharmacy, where all you want is a cherry Coke from their soda fountain, which is still in existence. You can hardly put one foot in front of the other. So, you turn after 15 steps and end up in a parking lot, where your confused ass is almost grateful to be run over by a delivery truck.

In short, counting steps just isn’t practical. And don’t you think we have better things to do with our brains than keeping track of how many steps from here to there?

Next post will be about how we actually do find the drugstore or movie theater… It’s not how the media or arts portray us.