Before we know anybody who is blind, or find ourselves raising a child with a visual impairment, we have a preconceived notion of what it means to be “blind.” We hear stories from others, we watch people in the street, we see movies and watch television, and we read accounts in books of people who are blind. All of these images and concepts help us develop our perception of blindness.
I know when I was less-educated, I felt that people who were blind were often helpless, and without a future. When I would hear of a person who was visually impaired doing almost anything, I thought it was “amazing.” “How amazing, they get their own mail!” “How amazing, they can ride the city bus all by themselves!” Thinking back, I’m embarrassed by how narrow my scope of blindness was, and how little I understood people with visual impairments.
We must be careful to remember that whatever bias we carry into our relationship with our child, and whatever perception we have developed, will carry onto them if we don’t change. If we tell them they’re “amazing” for taking out the garbage, we’ve just lowered their expectations for themselves. If we tell them that they are “amazing” because they complete an average task, we are telling them they can’t do better than average.
I’m not saying we shouldn’t praise our children, but save the big cheers for the completion of goals you’d find “amazing” for any child. If you hear yourself saying, “That was fantastic…for a blind kid,” you’re probably lowering your expections. I’m suggesting you expect the same of your child, as you would from a sighted peer.
Recently, with friends, we asked ourselves a variety of questions about blindness. These included, “Would you have a person who was blind babysit for you?” “Would you use a hairstylist who was blind?” “Would you date and/ or ever marry a person who was blind?” “Would you ever go to a blind doctor?” (Yes, there are some.)The point is, would you answer “no” to any of those questions based on only their lack of sight?
Having now acquainted myself with many adults who are blind, I feel comfortable answering yes to any of those questions, but most don’t feel the same. As a parent, I know that whatever limitations I place on people who are blind, I’m passing onto my son. Would I trust Eddie in any profession if he proved capable? Yes, I would. Would I want him to be second-guessed all the time simply due to his lack of vision? No, I wouldn’t.
I suggest we all take some time to analyze our own perceptions of blindness. We need to truly understand what bias we bring into our relationship with our children, so we can attempt to change what may limit them. Our children are just like any other, except without vision. That certainly doesn’t equate to ignorance, or lack of ability. They can achieve whatever they aspire to, and without limitations, imagine how far they could go.