You might have heard the saying:
“In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king…”
However, as a visually impaired wheelchair user, my advice is NOT to believe everything you see or hear (if you can!). The fact, in a hypothetical land of the blind*, it’s more likely for the sighted to have a hard time in society.
Just imagine a world were everyone is blind. Who needs lights? I can only imagine how seeing would be right below on the list of the policy agenda. Technology would be tailored for the blind norm. What would be close to heaven for a blind person living today would represent hell for anyone with sight. Indeed, if nobody could see, it’s probably that blind doctors would have to diagnose sight as an impairment. Any technology that is developed to help the “sighted” would be the new “special equipment” that the mainstream of our world preferring that term to the correct one: assistive or adaptive technology.
Of course, if I had the time, I would dare write a book on my fictional blind world. I might even depict a world where sighted people are oppressed because a blind society thinks they’re defective or even crazy - for they see “visions” of physical objects and are scared by faces they cannot understand. I would be able to relate to that horror of first seeing the world after 3 years of severe blindness. The reality was so strange, faces so horrible. As my eyes were adjusting during that period, I was shocked at how the face didn’t make sense. The eyes, the nose and the other features appeared disconnected and terrifying to the extent that I had to close my eyes to rest my short-circuited neurones in my brain.
I admit that if I had no visual impairment or never lived some years in my 20s as a blind person, I would have believed that such a blind world would be an oppressive world where, as a sighted person, I would be rejected and even judged as a medical oddity and as an unstable or even holy visionary. I’m not sure whether they would attempt a cure if I was fully sighted. But perhaps they would discover that by blinding me they could “cure” my sightedness. My “seeing disorder”. Yet, while one may feel that such a world would be an ugly and oppressive one, the sad fact is that our real world has done much the same thing to disabled people as this imaginary blind society would do to its few sighted people.
As we are born and doctors notice we have an impairment, our lives rarely remain totally unchanged. Unfortunately, while our impairments prevent us from doing some things or make it difficult for us to be as effective, it is society that many times excludes us.
The world created by society seldom is the same world our ancestors lived in. The very fact that we have separated ourselves from nature and the process of life would be enough to understand that while we have progressed in many things, we have also regressed in many others. We live in buildings, we have built high, we sit down for long hours and we engage in behaviours that are not to be found in nature.
Yes,we have developed language, technology and ideas to help us better relate to each other. Yet. we lost touch with nature and forgot where we all came from.
Sadly,, we have created new problems. Amongst these, the problem of disability. In our world, people with impairments are not born disabled but tend to become disabled. Diagnosed and studied or misconceived as alien to the rest of humanity, we become case studies or conflicting images of the evil or the holy. Well intentioned people around us persist in trying to make our impairments lessen and to “normalise” us - even when it’s impossible in our time. We are driven to believe there is something wrong or bad in us. We feel inferior and while we want to share our humanity with the world, we are judged as being the odd ones out.
Our impairment, which remains an important part of who we are, often hijacks all that we are about to the world. It’s this the tragedy I see xain our world.
While we would condemn the fictional blind world, we fail to recognise that we are doing much of the same by denying the difference of people who have physical, sensory and intellectual impairments and those with mental health conditions.
The only hope for all of us to live in a better world is to recognise and celebrate our human diversity and be willing to move away from the constrains posed by our beliefs, prejudice and identities.
In life, we are all the same fragile, dependent and mortal human beings.
This is why we should work together to make inclusion a reality for all human beings where everyone is given the equal chance and opportunity to live to the full potential. Even if, as disabled people, we may tend to focus exclusively on disability rights and equality, I sincerely believe that an inclusive world and an inclusive society is about including of all us and must be a celebration of our human diversity as we all ultimately have to face similar challenges in life.
* If I had to choose to call this land, I would consider to call it "Bland". On second thoughts,I don't really think that it would be such a good idea...