So, three months is better than three years. We’re making progress. Today, I come to you with a transcript of the disability in teaching podcast I did back in February. It turns out that teaching two classes and dissertating was a little much for me and my anxiety issues, so this got back-burnered for a while. But at long last, for the sake of accessibility and obscuring my identity a little, I have a transcript done for you all to read.
You have a long post ahead, so please be patient, and read through if you have the time. My host and I are very chatty, but there are some good moments in there. And you know that if I, the under-confidence queen, think there’s some good stuff in there, it might actually be true.
Some technical notes before we begin: First, and foremost, a huge, huge thanks to Sarah Blake La’Rose, who did the transcription for this. She fit me into her super busy spring, and did a fantastic job. This would not have happened without her. I did some fiddling around with the final product for reasons unrelated to her transcription, so if there are any errors, they are mine, not hers. And if the flow of something doesn’t seem to connect, that is also not her fault, that is my fault for being bad at public speaking. You don’t realize how unorganized your thoughts are until you see them written down on paper.
Anyway, I think that’s all the technical stuff. I hope you can all follow this, and that you enjoy it, and share it around. I may still be willing to share the link to the audio in the future, because I think it sounds better in person, but we’ll see. For now, this transcript does a great job of communicating the essential points, and I hope folks will find it informative. So without further delay… “There Will be no visual aids: Disability and the classroom”!Continue reading
Learning how to ask for help is a big part of life, and even moreso if you have a disability. We’re taught from a young age, hopefully, that it is a necessary thing, and we learn as we get older that it is, often, a survival skill.
But guys sometimes it’s really, really hard.
I don’t mean it’s hard in the sense that I am so beautiful and independent that I think I don’t need it. Or even that I have difficulty accepting that I need people’s help, though this is sometimes the case. What I mean is that there are a number of factors, like shyness, introversion, embarrassment, fear, that make asking for help difficult on almost a physical level. Now, I think this is one of the your milage may very moments, because maybe this isn’t a problem for some people, who are comfortable and extroverted. And that’s fabulous for them. But consider this a PSA from your shy/introverted/nervous blind people, okay?
I have a very vivid memory from my childhood that helps illustrate this. When I was younger, I was given orientation and mobility training. It’s training most blind people receive at some point, to teach them how to get around, how to use a cane, how to cross the street without dying (it’s a skill you generally need to be taught if you don’t have the functioning eyeballs). Part of my training, as I got older, was to select a location in an unfamiliar place, and learn how to get myself there. This involved some internet research (it was the early 2000s, for some reason I feel like google just wasn’t there yet), calling places, and learning how to approach strangers on the street, if all else failed, to ask for directions. I. hated. it! I think about walking up to those people, or, if no one was around, pretending my teacher was a stranger, and even 15 years later, I feel my stomach curling in on itself. As someone who is both shy of strangers, and an introvert, they might as well have been asking me to start singing and dancing. And it wasn’t because anything bad ever happened to me. People were always happy to help. But it was a painful process for me. I wasn’t embarrassed that I needed help, I just didn’t want to have to engage with strangers.
That was something of an extreme case. As a teenager, I hated talking to strangers so much that I used to offer to pay for my friends’ fast food if they’d be willing to order for us. I *really* hated talking to people I didn’t know. But even now, as I’ve gotten older and arguably more confident, there are still times where I don’t want to ask. I don’t know if you understand the feeling of being a woman in her 30s, asking someone to take you to the restroom? It’s not great. Yes, everybody goes, and yes, you’ve had to ask where it is in your own life. But I’m pretty sure you’ve never had to ask anyone to take you there, or needed to ask a stranger where the tampon dispenser is (the non-standard layout of public restrooms is a passionate rant of mine, for another time)
All that to say, sometimes it’s hard to ask, and for reasons you might not think of. Sometimes, it’s embarrassing. Sometimes, I’m having a bad day like everyone else, and I don’t want to talk to my good friends, much less a stranger, because I’m an introvert and I just don’t want to. Sometimes, I’m not in a good location, and I don’t feel safe seeking out a stranger. There are any number of reasons. And there is not necessarily anything you can do about this. So this post is not really a call to action. Sure, if someone looks lost, it’s okay to offer help, with an emphasis on *offer*. If they say they don’t want it, respect that; there are a number of reasons, like those listed above, and many others, that they just might not be able to cope with accepting your assistance in that moment. But on the flipside of that, try to take cues. If someone is looking closed off, or if they are doing everything possible to avoid metaphorical eye contact, just leave them to it, and wait. There is a difference between feeling unable to ask for help, and actually not wanting to. And if you hear about the latter, please don’t judge. I guess if there’s a call to action here, it’s that. If someone just didn’t have it in them to engage with a stranger, trust that they had a good reason, and let them do it.
We’re supposed to be well-trained in geting what we want and need. But sometimes things get in the way of that, and having someone who understands that can be really, really great. I know this post seems a little our of the norm for a teaching blog, but this has been something that’s been on my mind lately, especially after a conversation on how little we take things like introversion, shyness, etc, into account when talking about disability. Sometimes, the blindness is not the thing getting most in the way of doing stuff.
This, and many other things, are topics I will be covering in my… podcast. Yes, you heard that right. The introvert was on a podcast. I sat down with another grad student from our department and talked about blindness in teaching and academia, and about including folks with disabilities in the diversity conversation. I think it actually turned out pretty great. I’m not sure if I’ll post the actual thing here, as I still don’t know how much of my personal information I want on this blog. But I will post the main points, or a transcript, or something of that nature for sure.
Anyway, thank you for sitting through that strange and rambling post. I’m trying to be a better blogger here, which means sometimes writing long meandering things about topics that might only interest me. But as always, I appreciate you hanging around. Stay tuned for next time, when I will entirely flip sides on my personality, and talk about how a busy semester has caused me to go on the war path of accessibility, and how that’s something we should be pushing more. What can I say; I’m a walking, talking contradiction. Until then, thank you for reading. And please, if you see formatting errors here… just this once let them go. WordPress introduced a new post editor, and I hate it. But I’m learning how to work it out, and the next post will be prettier. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a dissertation chapter to go weep over.
There comes a time in every disability blogger’s life when the subject of inspiration must be addressed. We get one too many “nice” comments about how inspiring we are for putting on socks or getting up out of bed and going to work, and that’s it. Well ladies and gentlemen, this is that time. This is gonna be a long post, so buckle up.. But it is really important, so if you have the time/inclination, please hang in there. There may be cookies at the end (sorry there aren’t cookies at the end).
A disclaimer: I know you are not intending to be offensive. I know you are a nice person, and that you mean as well as well can be meant. You think you are being encouraging, and that impulse is very sweet. But you are still doing something wrong. It’s classic “best intentions” territory. But I am *not* trying to make you feel awful. Don’t go home and panic about all the people you’ve offended, and don’t be scared to compliment someone. This post isn’t intended to scold you; it’s intended to explain some things, and hopefully change the way you think about the way you speak to people.
Disclaimer 2: I started this blog mad yesterday. I finished/edited it all today when I was much calmer, but also not caffeinated. Words are hard. You have been warned.
Now, down to business. I offer this scenario for your consideration:
I am working in the computer lab at school, helping a student check in a laptop. He pauses, looks at me, and says “I’ve wanted to say this for a long time.” I stare back, and wonder if I’m about to get hit on by a student for the first time. He then follows this harbenger of doom with “I think what you do is really inspirational.”
I stare. I say a very awkward “thank you,” because I am confused and annoyed, because I know where this is going, and I’m too midwestern to stop it. He continues, clearly feeling very good about himself, “It’s just that most people in your position wouldn’t continue teaching.” I make a lame comment about needing to make money somehow, and he leaves, and I slam a few drawers in frustration.
Some of you will be outraged on my behalf, and some of you will be very confused about why I’m so upset. Didn’t he just give me a compliment? Shouldn’t I be happy that he thinks I’m inspirational? We live in a world that can make it hard for people with disabilities to succeed, and I’m doing a thing. And it’s not that you’re entirely wrong; this world does make my life difficult sometimes, and it throws crap at me that someone with functioning eyeballs doesn’t have to deal with. But really…we all have challenges that get in the way of living our lives, and people with disabilities are just muddling through like everybody else. So, if you’re confused, let me do some translating here. When he says “You’re so inspirational for teaching while blind” (paraphrased because I’m getting tired of typing out his comments), what I hear is:
“Because you can’t see, I expected that you’d be home somewhere having other people take care of you and/or would be in a job with much less responsibility. And you’re at a teaching job making money, and that’s super surprising, good for you for rising above my non-existent expectations, which I am entitled to have because I know you super well wait not at all.”
Someone is now inevitably saying “but he didn’t mean that! Can’t you give him the benefit of the doubt/can’t you just take the compliment that’s intended?” But here’s the thing. As in any two-way communication, how I perceive the comment is just as important as how it was meant. That’s…kind of a basic rule of talking to people. I’m 100% sure he meant to be complimentary. But he didn’t say I was good at my job, he didn’t say he respected my commitment, he didn’t say I was working hard. He said that I was inspirational because I was doing the job I was paid to do…at all. And I’m not even doing it well seriously guys I’m so behind on grading papers it’s ridiculous. And he’s not the first–people tell me this often. It’s never accompanied by praise for my skills or hard work; it stops at my eyeballs.
But that is the point I’m trying to make here. You should always compliment people; compliments make the sun come up and the flowers bloom. But think about what you’re complimenting them on, and how you’d take that compliment. “Good job for showing up for work.” “Good job for putting on clothes that match.” “Good job for arriving somewhere at a semi-reasonable time.” These are daily functions; they are…things people do. You would never compliment a random person with no disability on this; you would just expect it. So, though it probably sounds rude, I’m really not that grateful for compliments that basically congratulate me on getting out of bed. And I’m getting tired of thanking you for them like I enjoy them (hence this post).
….Okay I should clarify, if you find me inspirational for getting out of bed because you know grad school is hard and adulting is super freaking difficult and you’re impressed that a time-challenged introvert with an aversion to cleaning gets up and goes to work every day with clean clothes on, that compliment I will accept the crap out of because life is just stupidly difficult when you’re a mess and it’s about time someone recognized my daily challenges.
All I, and most people, are asking for, is just that you think about what you are saying. Someone I know once said “I’m proud of you for getting your PHD as a blind student.” What I hear, again, is “I had no expectations for you so good job.” And this wasn’t a stranger; this was someone I knew very, very well. And the spirit behind the comment was lovingly intended. But it hurt my feelings. Is it so hard to stop at “I’m super proud of you for getting your PHD?” That takes into account my skills and time, and makes me feel that my accomplishments are worth praise.
Like I said, if you’ve “inspirationed” all over someone before, don’t freak out. You’re not the only one, and you won’t be the last one. So I’m not asking you to feel guilty; I’m asking you to change. Start valuing my perception of what you say as much as you value saying it. Learn how to make someone feel proud, rather than ashamed, when you speak to them – because the rhetoric of “inspiration” does bring a great deal of shame with it. Praise people on their accomplishments, not on what they’ve “overcome,” because in most instances, you know nothing about them. And in the other ones you do know something about, 99% of the time, they want to hear they are doing a good job because they are…doing a good job, not in spite of something. Everyone wants to feel valued, and everyone wants to feel proud of what they do and who they are. So stop handing out the pity compliments and hollow praises, and start appreciating the people around you for the beautiful things they bring to your life just by being them. It’s really not a hard thing to do, and it changes so much.
That was a long one; if you’ve stuck with this post all the way to the end, thank you. And whoever you are, whatever you’ve said or not said, I still think you’re pretty awesome, because you let me have my say, and hopefully you’re at least thinking about it.
Now, if I don’t get some coffee in me, this Thursday is going to go very badly. So I’m gonna do that, and you should too. And who knows, maybe I’ll start blogging again, and not just raise up like a blogging zombie when something makes me mad.
A friend shared this on Facebook, and it hit everything so unbelievably spot-on that I had to post it here. The last few posts, sparse as they’ve been, have largely focussed on that silly teaching thing. So this seemed like an appropriate time to pay a little attention to the “in the dark” part of the blog. They’re not separate, but it’s midnight or later and I don’t care to enter into that philosophical discussion right now. And it’s my blog. So there.
Now that I’m done being five years old, here’s the post. These were written by someone who teaches blind and visually impaired children. Milage may vary a little on all of these of course, but over all, pretty much every blind person I know has dealt with over half of these and found them really bloody obnoxious. So read, learn, and don’t forget to laugh. They are a funny writer, and it’s okay. You have my permission to be amused.
I’ve put a * by the comments that are mine. I am aware that the formatting for this has probably been shot to hell. It’s been copied and plain-texted and everything else about five times, so just stick with it and try to enjoy it anyway.
Pet Peeves of the Blind and Visually Impaired
1. The Guessing Game. “Hey [insert name here]! Do you know who I am?” Oh, please don’t do this. I’ve seen adults do this with students (a lot) and frankly, it’s just rude. Don’t put that person in a position to be embarrassed just in case they don’t remember. Yes, they will recognize familiar voices, and you may know they recognize you, but please resist the temptation to prove it to others by quizzing them. Don’t you think you’d feel a little stressed if you thought you’d be tested about people every time you went out? Be considerate and identify yourself!
*I cannot express in words my levels of hatred for this game. You can be my own mother, and if you walk up behind me and make me guess who you are, I will instantly forget every single association we have ever had. An extra level of fun people like to add to this is changing their voice when they ask the question. There is a special place in hell for anyone who does this. It makes my INFP self want to wither and die, and I will forever hold a grudge against you and your descendants.
2. Being afraid of the “S” word. Someone can be talking to a blind or partially sighted person and say something like, “Let’s go see what’s for lunch.” Then they gasp and think, oh no, I shouldn’t have said “see”! Lighten up. Everyone uses “see” and “look” and “watch out!” Even the blind or visually impaired person.
*I will mock you, mercilessly. Usually I try to be understanding, and assume people have just not learned how to use their brains or common sense yet. But if you ask me to go listen to a movie, I will laugh in your face.
3. I’m blind, not deaf. HELLO, HOW ARE YOU?? Which goes along with one of my own pet peeves: “You teach blind kids? So you must know sign language?” Um, NO. I know braille. I wish I had a dime for every time someone asked me that – to include administrators during an interview. Sometimes they “get it”, but sometimes they don’t, but that’s okay because I’ve just deducted 5 IQ points from them. 🙂 And, for the record, I have taken sign language classes, but since I don’t have any deaf-blind students, I have long forgotten it. I wonder if teachers of the hearing impaired get asked if they know braille…
*This has, thankfully, actually never happened to me. I don’t think I would have a good response, except maybe to wiggle the white cane at them. People do try to give me the close-captioning box thingy at movie theaters though.
4. Blind people can hear everything. The flip side of #3, people assume the visually impaired have so much better hearing than the rest of us. No, but they do rely on it much more, so they are probably listening and paying attention better. Not necessarily paying attention to the teacher, though. They also don’t have visual “distractors” so to speak, so they can focus more on what they hear. Unless they don’t want to hear it, of course. They are human, after all.
*I tell my students I am Dare-Devil, and leave it at that. I find it works better to instill respect through fear if they’re wondering if I can hear their inner thoughts, and don’t care to disabuse them of the notion that I can hear the clicking of their touch-screens.
5. “I don’t really believe he’s blind, even with that white cane. I’m not moving from this side of the hallway.” That attitude will leave you sprawled out on the floor when the person barrels into you. Here’s a good rule: Don’t play chicken with a blind person. You will always lose. Instead, get out of the way, or at least make yourself known by saying something or making a noise.
*All it takes is a cough or a shift or a rustle. I am an introvert; trust me, I understand the deer-in-the-headlights thing that happens when anyone is approaching you down a hall at speed. I am guilty of just stopping and staring in silent horror as someone comes crashing down upon me. But please, if you can at least make some sort of alerting squeak, you will save us both a lot of embarrassment and lengthy apologies.
6. Holding out your hand to shake theirs without touching their hand. If that person cannot see your hand, how is he/she supposed to know where your hand is? Answer: They will often extend their hand in anticipation, but if not, tell them you would like to shake their hand and then reach out and take their hand. Same thing goes for handing them something. You would be amazed how many times this happens. “Here’s your homework” and then you hold it out in space. Or, even better, don’t say anything at all and hold it out. Again, exactly how is he/she going to know where it is? Grope about for it? Sometimes groping is okay, like for finding a dropped item. But when handing things to the visually impaired, please touch their hand with it so they know where it is.
*Happens to me most often with credit cards at restaurants. People at counters will just hold my card in the void. This would be fine, except I am also holding my hand out to receive the card. This sort of stand-off has lasted for far longer than it should ever be allowed to. I have a wonderful friend who will give them about 30 seconds before she will just yank the card out of their hand and put it in mine. Translation: you are an idiot and I am going to help you out while I wonder if you can feed yourself.
…I very specifically try to avoid 99% of opportunities for my students to hand me things. We are all happier this way.
7. Low expectations. This includes: the “pity” person (Oh, you poor blind child. You must have a terrible life.), the “know-it-all” (Dr. so-and-so can work miracles. I know because my grandmother/nephew/dog has 20-20 now.), “Mr. Helper” (Let me do that, I know it’s too hard for you.), the “excuse-maker” (I don’t want him/her to learn how to make a [insert food here] because they might cut/burn/make a mess. You can’t go on that field trip because there might be a terrorist attack and I would worry.), the “denial/embarrassed person” (Don’t use your cane at the store so people won’t know you’re blind.), and unfortunately, the list goes on and on. Low expectation is probably the worst thing one person can do to another, regardless of abilities. If you aim for low performance, that’s likely what you’ll get. Don’t be an enabler. Being too over-protective will dramatically hinder their progress toward independence and living a happy, social, productive life. Step back. Allow them to fail, get a minor injury, and make their own mistakes. That’s how we all learn. Don’t forbid them these opportunities.
*…there are too many instances of this for me to count or describe. Just never do this; you are actually smothering the life out of someone. This has, however, translated into my teaching, as I have actually had students write “for a blind person, she is a great teacher,” or “I know she is blind, and I admire her for that, but…” in their evaluations. It is patronizing as hell, and usually has nothing to do with the “but”. They just have a built-in need to give me cudos or something. Either that, or they’re worried that some organization will throw them in prison for being mean to me.
8. Would you like to feel my face? Whoa. Do you ask sighted people if they’d like to feel your face? First of all, a blind person is not going to get a lot of information from feeling a face, other than maybe the shape of your nose. There are times when it is appropriate, such as when learning parts of the body. But if you are not immediate family, allowing a blind or partially sighted person to “feel” you is very inappropriate. And there are some who will attempt to do just that because they know many people aren’t sure about that protocol. Their hand needs to stay in a handshake, and not move up your arm, and certainly nowhere else! If you wouldn’t let a sighted person feel you, don’t let a blind one. I’ve answered this question a lot from sighted people who have felt awkward allowing this to happen. Well, they feel awkward for a reason! It’s not socially acceptable! Feeling your hair, or the lack of it, can be appropriate depending on the circumstances. I’ve also had this question from a parent: How will my son know what a particular girl looks like? Answer: His friends will tell him!!! Oh yes, they will. 😉
*…never ask me this. Seriously, never. I will explode from embarrassment. Honestly, unless someone is sculpting a marble bust to preserve your image for the sake of posterity, I can’t really think of a situation in which this question *isn’t* awkward. I’m sure there are exceptions, but unless you are very very very sure, please assume, for everyone involved, that your situation is not one of those exceptions. And if you don’t ask me to touch your face, I in turn promise that I will not grope your arm. This reverse is also seriously weird, and if anyone, sighted or blind, starts groping you without permission, please please gently disabuse them of the notion that that is okay very quickly.
9. Rudeness. It’s usually just ignorance, but don’t assume that any blind or visually impaired person automatically needs help. Grabbing the person’s arm and pulling them along is wrong on several levels. We know you’re probably just trying to be nice, but don’t. First, always ask the person if they would like some assistance. Then, use the sighted guide technique correctly. Offer your arm and let them hold it, usually right above the elbow. Also, if there are several others with the person, speak directly to him/her, not through an “interpreter”, as if the person is not there. Say his name, so he knows you are talking to him.
*I feel like my mockery of the people in the faculty lounge pretty much sums this up. Most of the time, I know you have the best of intentions. But before you do these things, do what the little children are taught to do, and consider if you would want someone to do it to you. And not an imagined blind and “feeble” version of you, but the you that is standing there debating whether you should man-handle or rudely ignore a stranger to ask their “friend”.
10. Pure meanness. Placing obstacles in the blind or visually impaired person’s path, throwing things at them, rearranging furniture, moving or taking their belongings, calling them names, taking them to the wrong place and leaving them. Yes, it is mean – and it happens all too often. There will always be Sith among us, but educating ourselves and our children about disabilities may help reduce the bias, discrimination and ignorance.
*This happens less now that the hell of middle school is over, but, surprisingly, sometimes it still does happen. Usually it’s semi-close friends, who know that I love making blind jokes and who think it’s funny to join in the game. And sometimes it is. My best friend’s family will occasionally move their kitchen stool into my path, because I am magnetically drawn to the stupid thing and will trip over it no matter where it is. So eventually they just started moving it around to screw with me. But instances of this being funny are rare—this one is only funny because there is a decade plus of history behind it. But normally… I do not like to trip over crap or lose my stuff. Here is a good test: if the result of your “joke” will end with the person making an ass of themselves, or will injure or embarrass them, it’s probably a bad idea. I love making blind jokes, and I don’t mind other people doing it too. But if the result of the joke is that I look like a stereotypical “blind” person embodying all the worst stereotypes, or have made a fool of myself, I’m not going to find it funny. Would falling over a coffee table be fun for you? No? Then assume I’m not going to love it either.
Hopefully this has been enlightening. The long and short of it is: don’t be dumb. Treat people like people. You don’t need to be scared of us, but do please try to use your common sense. I have failed to do this in plenty of situations and regretted it for years and years and years (remember INFP?), so I feel your pain. But save everybody some anxiety dreams and just try to chill out and use your brain. The whole world will love you for it.
Here is a link to this lovely teacher’s page, where the actual genius was originally posted. I thank them for putting this up so I can make excessive commentary on things that are already wonderfully said.