I was just reading an audio magazine for visually impaired young people and found an interview in it with a visually impaired guy who just graduated from the same type of high school I went to and is planning on studying biotechnology at Wageningen University. I knew the guy from that college preparation course I took last year and by then was already surprised by the fact that he wanted to major in a technical subject. Technology is not an interest of mine – the only science subject I regret not having taken in grades ten, eleven and twelve is biology -, but it’s the attitude that surprises me. Of course, I knew there are blind scientists, but I have always been eager to believe that they are firstly an elite group and secondly all studied in the United States. For a long time, I’ve tried to blame my poor position in society on the Dutch way of relating to disability, and I’ve even tried to prove this theory sociologically. I know it’s incorrect: the United States may have had more experience with accommodating for the blind for several historical and sociological reasons, but that does not mean that the general attitude towards blindness nowadays is any better there than it is here, as equal numbers of unemploymenbt (75%) etc. signify. I know the thing is an extremely personal problem.
I find it really hard not to think in black and white here. In my mind, there seem to be two categories of blind people: those “independents” who are usually educated and intelligent, blind from birth or an early age with stable eye conditions, whose parents had high expectations, who never went to special education or rehab, and who had lots of blind and sighted role models to teach them that everything is possible on the one hand – those kids who truly feel nothing is impossible and who will pursue their high-achieving dreams -, and those “dependents”, who often went to special schools and had families who thought blindness was a tragedy, who earned low level high school diplomas, if anything, who are usually partially sighted or have progressive eye conditions and never learn to use the alternative techniques of blindness properly, and who didn’t get any feedback from high-achieving, blind role models and were given the impression that they couldn’t be like their sighted role models because they were visually impaired, on the other – the ones who end up unemployed and with lots of guidance fuom the blindness/disability service field. I tend to illustrate this by two examples of people I met at rehab, though they are not fully stereotypical: one is the former student at my high school, Menno, who went blind when he was in college, and the other is a girl I met at the rehab centre, Desiree. Menno was, obviously, a successful student till he went blind in his junior year in college in May, 2005. Then he entered rehab in July, 2005 and completed the basic rehab programme by November, planning on going back to school by January. I wonder how he copes, but he either is as much a pretender as I am or he truly does alright. Desiree, on the other hand, went to a low level high school and to a vocational college after thaqt, completing the level 2 vocational education (levels are 1-4). She has a progressive eye disease and lost significant vision just after having started a new education after that level 2 diploma. She quit her studies and went to rehab, completing the basic and vocational rehab programmes yet so far not going back to school. The most recent news is that she plans on going to an activity centre. As you might guess, I looked up to Menno and down on Desiree, but I also had other feelings relating to them: Menno, as much as I admired him, made me feel that I had no right to feel the way I did (of course, he never intended on giving me that feeling and it’s just my interpretation) cause I’d been blind for all of my life and he was able to cope so nicely while he’d lost almost all his vision at once, and Desiree in some way comforted me by supporting me in my situation. I sometimes wish I’d taken some of her remarks in December and not let my situation slip away from me until I freaked out in March. Her opinions and remarks would probably be considered sympathizing with limitations by some well-adjusted blind people, but there’s a strange thing about that high expectations and sympathizing with limitations thing, that signalling and acting upon a troubling situation early and appropriately (if possible) will minimize further damage, whereas waiting till you get a meltdown will not only mean more time gone by but is also likely to cause a worse situation than it initially had been. I was worse in late March than I’d been in October or even December, for example. I find it difficult to react to a difficult situation appropriately and at the right time, in part because I fear it’t's going to prevent me from making progress. Well, what *is* going to prevent me from making progress, is pretending to make progress till I break down and lose all the “progress” I’d thought I’d made – plus probably treating other people inappropriately, with my behaviours.
But, to get back to the extreme categories of blind people, I notice that I have qualities belonging in both. I am intelligetn and educated and had parents who pushed me out of my comfort zone, but, even though my eye conditon is congenital, it was still progressive, I’ve been in special education for seven years and now in rehab/training for almost a year (gee, has it really been that long?) and never had many blind role models – in fact, didn’t have any till like two years ago. And I also realize there are other, personal factors. I mean, not everyone with adventitious or progressive vision loss, has adjustment problems like I did – though I know that many fellow people with my eye condition did -, and not going to special education doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll get a high-level education, for instance. And then there are these other problems that I keep wondering about. I of course mean that speculative additional disability of mine, cause I’ve known for long enough that blindness alone does not prevent a person from being successful, even in the Netherlands. So it should be something else, not necessarily a real, identifiable disability, but something, and I don’t know what.
I don’t think it’s simply about low expectations and having been involved in the disability service world for too long, like my father would be eager to believe after my discussion about my plans for college and training home last April. After all, I’d had nothing to do with the blindness field for six years when I graduated from high school and no-one at school or at home doubted I was going to make it at university, and still, I decided I was going to rehab and training home. My later decision to delay college once again was also not because of sympathy from others for my
limitations or low expectations, but because I wanted to be realistic and realized I woudln’t achieve what I wanted to (which I didn’t even know what it was) in less than half a year. Still, of course, my situation would’ve been different if the people here had not supported me in my decision to delay college and the situation will be different if I don’t get approval to stay here till next year – which may be unlikely, but still.
There is also this thing about expectations and achievements, that there is something between totally sympathizing wiht someone’s difficulties and not assuming him to make any progress on the one hand and putting some candy bar of expectations on some high star to be reached for without a space shuttle on the other, and that’s an attitude I’ve been seeing with training home people – and in bits and pieces that I remember of my discussion with Arda two weeks ago -, and it confuses me. How can a person at once expect progress from me – which I agree with – and support me in my situation? It is such an impossible combination that it seems equally impossible to realize that I can acknowledge my difficulties while at the same time continuing to make progress. It’s something I really need to change about my situation if I am to achieve realism and if I am to ever make true progress.
This whole thing, I realized this evening, has relevance to most of my attitudinal problems that have been happening in the past five years. I remember that summer of 2001, after having tried to show that I did hold on in regular education for two years, kind of breaking down and deciding to stop caring about the whole thing. Within half a year, I was completely slipping away in school and at home. I still had the voice inside my mind saying that I had to hold on, but the part of me that I call Carol now was extremely dominant and was only becoming more dominant as Jane’s voice persisted in my mind over the year. Well, I don’t think it was that simple cause even then there were more parts acting out inside my mind and it was mainly the inner conflict that caused the problems, but that’s the basic concept that has been returning many times since. And I think I can translate this into some nice, normal-sounding concept, where I cannot integrate my difficulties, or what I see as my difficulties, with the expectations set forth by others or my perception of them. Hmmm, haven’t I seen this before?
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