Editor’s Note: Today’s post by DeAnna Quietwater Noriega is from the new series on disability. This personal story highlights the stigmas, stereotypes, marginalization, and lowered expectations people with disabilities are exposed to everyday. Read DeAnna’s story and poem about how the attitudes of others have made her feel invisible and how she has chosen to make her life so much more than a stereotype.
Being Invisible by DeAnna Quietwater Noriega
When you are blind or visually impaired, it is easy to feel invisible. Many things are invisible to you: a stain on your favorite shirt, a dropped object that has skittered across the floor, the expression on a person’s face, or the number of gray hairs among those on your own head. Sometimes, you can begin to feel invisible too. People don’t see you; they only see your disability. They make erroneous assumptions about who you are.
I have been asked whether my husband braids my long hair, startled by someone assuming that my husband was the cook who prepared the dish I brought to a potluck, and treated as if my I.Q. was damaged as well as my vision. When this sort of thing happens, I rely on a sense of humor and give people the benefit of the doubt. I figure that if they come to know me, they will learn I love to cook and make handcrafted gifts for friends and family and that I write poetry as a form of mental health therapy.
All of us can have times when we get frustrated with the complications of dealing with visual impairment, but once we have mastered compensatory skills, life can be pretty much what we choose to make of it.
Here is a poem I wrote during a time when the attitudes of those who only saw my guide dog and never bothered to take the time to know me, beyond the fact of my blindness, was making me feel invisible. It was published in 2007 in an anthology entitled Behind Our Eyes, Stories, Poems and Essays by Writers with Disabilities.
See me, open your eyes and really look,
I was the child sitting alone on the stairs while other children played a ball game in the yard.
Because I couldn’t see to play, I learned to love books.
I was the young girl, who washed her hair on Friday nights,
Because the boys who carried my heavy braille books at school
Never guessed I loved to dance and go to movies.
I was the young woman holding my new born infant,
With my heart full of wonder and joy,
While nurses talked about me as if I weren’t there,
Speculating about how I could ever care for that child.
I was the young mother sitting alone in the school cafeteria
Because the teacher didn’t expect me to come to the mother’s lunch
And assigned my child to serve behind the counter.
I tell you these things because I want you to understand,
I am not a disability,
I am a person like you.
I laugh, I cry, I sing and dance.
I cherish my friends and family.
I want to be a part of my community and world.
I don’t need your pity,
I only ask your acceptance,
I only need you to open your eyes and see me,
Not as a dysfunction but as a person.
A human being just like you.
Becoming Comfortable in Your Own Skin
It takes time and practice to become comfortable in your own skin. Owning your vision loss as merely a part of the complex package that makes up who you are is an important step in dealing with vision loss. A quip, a smile, and patience come in handy to defuse a tense situation and gently let the people know I appreciate their willingness to assist me, but honestly, would rather do most things myself. If I do need help, I will ask and explain what I need.
I can explain how I accomplish tasks or just go on doing the things I do and figure that if they watch, they will learn that a blind person isn’t that much different from them. We just use different techniques to get things done. We are neither as helpless as they imagine or as particularly remarkable for living our lives the best way we can.