I have a disability. I want help when I need help; I don’t want pity.
How does pity sound? “Poor Jeff,” for starters. Being talked to like I’m a three year-old or a sick puppy. People handing me things I didn’t ask for or need, doing things for me I didn’t ask for or want, those sorts of things.
“It must be hard for you,” is pity disguised as sympathy couched in condescension. “I understand,” bridges the gap, but leaves me wondering, “Do you, really?” “My brother is legally blind,” aims at commonality but minimizes. “Life’s a bitch,” is inane and insulting.
I appreciate honesty. “What’s that white stick for?” seems indelicate, but is clear and direct. “What’s it like being blind?” offends some, but works for me. I need information from the sighted; they need information from me.
I reserve the right to define myself. Rather than, “I suffer from RP,” I say, “I have RP.” Our semantic evolution has replaced pejorative words like “handicapped” with nebulous but suggestive words like “issues.” Are we thus more sensitive? I prefer accuracy. I can handle the word “blind.” We focus on how to label instead of how to relate.
I am not bitter. I search for ways to connect with people. Many approach me in terms of my disability which, I readily acknowledge, is a distinctive feature. But blindness is only one among my many roles: writer, husband, social worker, brother, son, uncle. While blindness contributes to my singular identity, I am not unique in facing challenges. No one gets through life unscathed. My disability makes me a part of, rather than apart from, the human experience.
So, even as I promote clear and direct as a path to connect you to me, how come words fail me when it’s my turn to say, “Please, will you help me?”