Final Thoughts about the Meaning(s) of Blindness

Photo of a pair of wraparound sunglasses with very dark lenses

It’s a well-known fact that I love Twitter; still, the discussion I’ve been having with my blind Twitter followers about “words for blindness” takes my Twitterlove to new heights! Here’s a recap:

I asked my Twitter followers the following question via @visionaware: “I’m working on a story about words for blindness. Which words do you like? Which words do you emphatically not like?”

That question triggered an intense, intelligent, and thought-provoking discussion, which I recounted in More Thoughts About the Meaning(s) of Blindness.

And this week, I had a yet another fantastic discussion with my Twitter friends. I asked this question: How do you feel about being described as “inspirational” or “an inspiration”? Their responses will make you think, for sure:

@Nihilistech: Depends who’s saying it (inspirational). Sighted people: annoying, patronizing. Blind kids, newly blinded adults: It’s OK and maybe good.

@Cpdusu: I agree. I dislike words that prompt a pity response.

@blindblog: I don’t think I am inspirational. The media always depicts us as heroes or people to be pitied, but that’s not reality. (Note: I said to @blindblog: “You’re my inspiration because you know the best burgers in NYC, blind or not.” @blindblog responded: “The highest possible compliment!”)

@johnmill79: If I’m an inspiration, well… I think anyone can be inspiring, for whatever reason. But look at me as a whole, not just regarding my blindness. Goodness knows I’m inspired by some folk.

@SassyOutwater: I accept it (inspirational) but inwardly I don’t like it at all. I am just normal. My challenges are no big deal.

@MarshaDrenth: I’m not inspirational, not a super blindie, just a regular person who happens to not be able to see.

@ricky_enger: I don’t mind being an inspiration, but when dressing myself is considered inspirational, it’s hard to accept a true compliment. If someone tells me I’ve done something well, I always wonder if they mean it, or if they mean well … for a blind person.

@Mfeir: I’m all right with that. Like it or not, blindness is, in fact, a disability. I get frustrated with people who try to depict blindness as a mere nuisance or some such. It’s a life-altering and limiting thing to lack the dominant sense. If my accomplishments inspire others in their lives, that’s great. I just hope it’s more than my lack of sight that does so.

@Lisasali: Where do I start? Inspiration: It’s almost like what’s being said is, “I could never do/be the same as you. Therefore, we are too different for me to even relate to you.” Sometimes, being called inspirational feels dismissive. I believe it’s also harmful for blind youth to be pinned with this label. It sends the message that just existing is enough.

I also think society as a whole has gotten unclear when expressing thoughts. To say that someone is inspirational is almost a cop-out. Try, “I feel inspired when I think about all the skills you’ve had to learn to do those things you did when you could see.”

@CrummyVision: I tend to cringe when a blind person is described as inspirational. It’s making a person out to be something much more than they may be, for one thing. It’s not like we wake up and say, “I’m going to inspire people today.” But perhaps that attitude may come from a misunderstanding as to how we go about doing things.

My impression is that people don’t understand that we learn specialized skills to do what we do. Maybe they think we just get things done by way of strength of will or positive thinking or religious faith, and no, that’s not the case. For example, you are taught the route in order to find the nearby Starbucks, you don’t just get up and find it by strength of character.

The phrase that always amuses me is “He won’t let his blindness stop him.” OK, stop him from what, and as if there’s a choice. So like, after having a productive day yesterday, I think I’ll let my blindness stop me today. OK, come on, blindness, stop me! LOL!

@Stephpilon: I’d rather not be called inspirational, especially for really basic things like going to school. It has happened!

Finally, what’s your opinion? Do you agree? Disagree? Let us know in the comments. And thanks once again to all of my Twitter respondents for your thoughtful feedback. It is always very much appreciated!