By Annika Ariel, AAPD intern
Picking up my laundry was only supposed to take three minutes and twenty-three seconds. I had made frantically grabbing my clothes from the dryer and taking them back up to my dorm a science, one that I had mastered in the never-ending pursuit of finishing my readings at a reasonable hour. So when I realized that the laundry room was full of people, my first thought was, Damn, this is going to take five minutes.
Smiling at the upperclassmen who had apparently taken over the laundry room for the night, I walked out. My only mistake was pausing and checking my phone just as I was out of their view.
“So is she, like, blind?”
“Yeah, think so. I have no idea how she does it. I think I’d kill myself if I were blind.”
“She’s apparently an orientation leader for next year. I wish I knew how she could do that. Can’t exactly ask, though.”
I had upstairs on my Braille notetaker a copy of Emerson’s essay “Experience,” and the first line kept running through my head—“where do we find ourselves?” At that point, I had been at Amherst College a semester and a half. While many accessibility barriers existed and continue to exist at Amherst, this was my first direct experience dealing with the misconceptions of other students. I watched awkwardly as the men, apparently having realized I was standing nearby, walked out another door.
I found myself thrust out of the comfortable disability bubble I had put myself into. Up until that point, I had believed that ignoring my disability was, somewhat ironically, the best way to educate people. If people just saw that I was a “normal” person who “happened” to be blind, they would eventually be able to look past my blindness. However, I was being forced to realize that this approach was inadequate—if I ignored my blindness as much as possible, people ended up being even more confused and misinformed. Sometimes, this manifested itself as me being told I didn’t “seem” blind or people have lingering questions they were too scared to voice. Simply put, shoving my disability to the side resulted in misconceptions remaining unaddressed.
Coincidentally, that same semester I was enrolled in Amherst’s one class on disability. For the first time in my life, I was reading about the social model of disability. I began viewing my blindness not as a flaw, not as something to be ashamed of, but just as another part of the human experience. By being open about who I was, not only was I more comfortable in my own body but others around me became more comfortable and knowledgeable about disability. My disability isn’t a tragedy; it’s simply a different way of living.
Annika Ariel was a 2017 summer intern for Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA)
Source: AAPD and the AAPD Power Grid blog
PHOTO CREDIT: LAWRENCE ROFFEE PHOTOGRAPHY