Besides being a high performance athlete who has been empowered by adversity, my profile can be used to dispel myths and stereotypes about blindness. Dealing with negative public attitudes and awkwardness about severe blindness disability has been a tremendous challenge for me. These negative, and often ugly, attitudes are supported by a general lack of understanding about disability and disabled people’s needs. Perceptions are based on what individuals feel, think, and understand about what they have experienced. Unfortunately, many human beings believe that blindness means helplessness, dependence, atrophy, lethargy, and hopelessness. Consequently, people conclude that blind individuals should be pitied. These characteristics do not define me, and pitying me is a waste of time!
Because I have a less “visible” disability, many people find me confusing and intimidating. Why? I do not fit their stereotype of blindness. On many occasions, I have been told I scare people because I move too fast, and they are afraid I may hurt myself by falling over or running into an obstacle I did not see. Trust me when I tell you, the safest place for me is on the back of a horse! Because blindness disability prevents me from having a driver’s license, one of my biggest challenges is getting to the horse!
The following four stories are great examples of how people’s misunderstanding about blindness disability has impacted my life:
Michelangelo wrote, “The greatest danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it." Several years ago, a Rehabilitation Services for the Blind bureaucrat stated, “Our position is to set the bar low, therefore any gain is a success. You, Deborah, you set the bar too high.” I believe it is better to set the bar high and miss it than to set the bar low and reach it. Blindness does not define who I am. Blindness does reveal who I am.
EXAMPLE 2: One day during graduate school at MU, I was walking through Lowry Mall when a man approached me from behind and exclaimed, “I can’t believe it! You’re walking in a straight line, and you don’t even have a guide dog!” After explaining I had received white cane mobility training at Program for the Blind and had a tiny field of tunnel vision in my right eye, he exclaimed, “You’re cheating!”
EXAMPLE 3: On another occasion, a man pointed at my white cane and shouted, “Hey, blind lady, is that thing real? You don’t look blind!” I responded by asking, “What does blind look like?”
EXAMPLE 4: This past November, I flew to San Diego, California, to spend Thanksgiving with Jack’s oldest daughter. As I was escorted down the jet bridge, I realized I had not confirmed where to meet Kimberly. Stopping by the podium, I politely asked the airline attendant, “What is the number of this gate?” With a frazzled expression on her face, the woman quickly pointed to the wall monitor and rudely said, “The gate number is right there. What’s wrong with you? Can’t you see?” Breaking into laughter, I instinctively raised my white cane up into the air with both hands and asked, “Can’t you see I have severe blindness disability?” The woman’s face turned red with embarrassment as she said in disbelief, “But you are so beautiful.” Looking directly at the woman’s face, I said, “What has that got to do with anything?
Anais Nin wrote, “We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.” Because seeing with physical eyes can be deceiving, I invite you to step out of your normal frame of reference and imagine what it would be like to see your unique life and adverse situations through my straw of sight. Imagine what our world would be like if everyone believed they could actually reach their dreams and achieve their goals. If I can overcome the adversity, failures, and obstacles blinding my VISION BEYOND EYESIGHT, so can anyone! I challenge everyone to Dare to Dream, Believe the Impossible is Possible, Work to Win, Never Quit, and Ride by Faith, Not by Sight.