As a blind person, sometimes I fall into that trap of feeling like a burden on the world. I am very independent; I cook; I clean; I take care of my son and pets. The only thing I really need help with is rides. I can walk places independently with my son, or dog, or both, but I do still need sighted individuals for transportation. So why then, do I still feel like a burden to society?
I think there are many different answers to this question. Some of them are probably just me personally. And others may be related to environment and the influence of people I must interact with. But I think one of the biggest reasons is the misconceptions the general sighted populous has in regards to blindness. I know this isn’t new to the blind community, we struggle with this on a daily basis, but this week, it weighs heavily on me.
I would like to share some of my experiences that have contributed to my feelings of being a burden. I think a lot of people can relate to these feelings, whether they are disabled or not. Everyone at some point in their life, has felt like a burden. My hope is, that sharing parts of my story, will help lift the feeling of burden off others shoulders. Because you are not a burden, and you are not alone in feeling like one. So, without further adieu, my experiences:
I have had a lot of bad experiences in the education department. Some of these were because I didn’t understand how to advocate for myself, and others were because sighted people don’t always understand disabilities and how one overcomes them. And this is what tends to cause one to feel like a burden.
I attended a University after I finished my training at a blindness training center. My major was animal science, and I am extremely interested in science in general. As such, I had to take a couple of biology classes. My first biology class went very well, it was just an intro to bio class. My second biology class that I had to take, was more of a microbiology class. This class required you to take a separate lab class. I had never taken a lab, and I prepared as well as I could before hand. I went to the first lab class in hopes to make some connections, and see if I could partner with someone to see if they could help in describing what they saw under the microscope etc. I went, and no one talked to me, the class was very silent, and not very comfortable to be in. So I didn’t make any connections, and the teaching assistant who taught the section suggested that I meet with the professor who was in charge of those lab sections and discuss my options. I already knew that the disability services office did not provide someone to attend classes and help in the class itself. I also knew that my state agency would not help provide or pay for this either. So I would have had to hire someone myself to attend the lab with me, so they could look into the microscope and describe what they saw. Well, I didn’t have the money for that, which is why I was hoping to connect with a fellow student.
I was hoping that in meeting with the professor in charge, he would have some ideas on how to make the class work for me. Maybe he knew a student who would enjoy something like that etc. So I went into this meeting with high Hopes.
When I met with the professor, everytime I made a suggestion, it was met with a huge wall of uncertainty. It wasn’t like he was mean, more like he had never met any sort of disabled person in his life. When I suggested that maybe another student could help, he said that that wouldn’t be fair to the other student, and we didn’t want to burden them with that. So then I asked if there was maybe another Teaching assistant available to help me out occasionally. And the answer was: no, that is not their job. Then he asked how I was going to be able to take the tests. So I told him about how the disability office would provide a quite room with a reader and a scribe for when taking the tests. At this point, the professor, not understanding that the disability services office itself provided this accommodation, told me that it wasn’t fair to take up their time just to give me a test.
This meeting lasted about an hour, and though I don’t remember every word he said, I do remember the gist of it. If I got help I would be a burden on the university, it’s students, and it’s resources. I walked out of that meeting almost in tears feeling like all I was in life,was a burden to others because of something I could not control.
I should have stood up for myself in that meeting, or taken action and reported him. But I didn’t, I couldn’t. I felt that every word he spoke rang true. I was a burden. What business did a blind person have being in a science related field? I would! like to say I would do things differently now, that I would have reported him, but I don’t know that I would. Now, I of course know that he was wrong, that I am worth the time it would take to take a test. But when one is made to feel so small, it is near impossible to pull oneself back up again.
That was at the beginning of the semester, and I had a few other negative experiences that semester. I ended up dropping out at the end of that term. And feeling like a burden on the university, was definitely a contributing factor in that decision.
I hope you learn from my mistakes. If you are struggling, or have had some negative experiences, don’t be afraid to contact someone. There are several resources you can utilize such as: your vocational rehabilitation counselor, the state agency you work with, or your disability resources office. That is what these services are for, they are in place to help people with disabilities. All you have to do is ask. Use your voice, because you deserve success as much as, if not more than, any able-bodied individual!
These next two are from when I attended a local community college for veterinary assisting. The first project due when I was in the program was writing a paper about going to the college’s farm, restraining, and giving lambs their vaccinations. I was taking a pharmacology class at the time, so we also had to learn how to measure and draw the medicine into the needle. I sat down with the teacher and offered up suggestions on how a blind person could participate in this project. I told her about how there were most likely needles marked in some way so the blind would know how much they were drawing up. I suggested letting me feel and get to know a clean needle, and to practice on an orange, which I’ve heard are great for practicing giving shots, before actually attempting the real thing. I wasn’t going to worry about not having a special needle, so I just needed to practice under her supervision using one of their needles.
The teacher thought that this would be a good solution. If she still wasn’t comfortable with me giving a shot after our practice session, then I wouldn’t do it. I asked multiple times during the next few weeks, when we could get together so I could practice and attempt to get the hang of it before we went to the farm to actually give the shots. Everytime I asked she just said that we would get to it.
Then one day she, without warning, announced that the class was going to the farm. I figured she was just going to demonstrate for everyone how it was done, and maybe let us practice restraining. But no. After she showed the class how to do it, she had them get needles, draw up the vaccine, and distribute it to every lamb. I was very confused and shocked. Was I supposed to have brought an orange to practice on first? Was I even supposed to be giving shots that day?
When it came time for the last lamb, one of the teacher’s picked up a lamb, and showed me how to restrain it- which he then helped me do, instead of letting me do it by myself. While I was holding the lamb, another student gave the shot. Also that day, we were practicing banding, which is the procedure used to dock the lamb’s tails. Basically you use a tool to stretch out a heavy duty rubber band, which is then placed at the base of the tail. Which was something I could conceivably do, but when I asked to try it, I was told no because I could possibly get it in the wrong spot, or get it stuck on my finger. Was that not a possibility of happening to any of the students?
At the end of the day, still in shock, I thought maybe we were going to go back to the farm another time to deliver other shots. Maybe the teacher wanted me to observe how it was done first, and before the next time, I could practice, so I could give the shots for real. But then she started talking about our papers, and when they were due. We were to write about our experiences with restraining, banding, and administering the vaccines. So I asked her how I was supposed to write my paper, when I didn’t do any of that. She just told me to do extra research into the vaccines we had given and write about that.
I had a lot of similar experiences in that program. I had to take a domesticated animal anatomy class, and I wanted some 3-d pictures of some of the things I would need to identify. An anatomy book is large, and full of pictures, most of which I wouldn’t really need. So I asked the teacher to provide the pictures that he would use in the slides, and the ones that he would use for the tests, so the Disability services office could send them off to be raised. I started asking for this in the spring, and my class started in the fall. Over the summer, the disability office and I reminded him many times that he said he would do that. The last week before the fall semester started, the disability service office decided to just send the whole book off to be 3-d printed. This resulted in boxes filled with volumes of pictures, and was a huge expense to the college. And wouldn’t you know it? The teacher rarely pulled out the volumes pertaining to the lesson, and hardly ever marked the exact pictures they were using that day.
There were many other things that happened, from the computer program we had to use only being halfway accessible, and being told that I would just need someone to help me finish the assignment; to being told during a kennel design project to just have a sighted person do it for me. Needless to say, I felt like I was wasting the teacher’s time. If they wouldn’t give me a chance to prove myself, what veterinary office would? I was being told every time I turned around, that a sighted person would just have to help me, so why would a vet hire me over the sighted person that could do all the required duties? I started to feel like a bit of a burden, especially when the college spent all that money to have an entire anatomy book 3-d printed, and I wasn’t even going to be able to do the job.
Something I try to do before deciding on any program, or taking any class,, is to contact and/or meet with the instructors of the class/program. It is extremely important to reach out to the instructor and make them aware of your needs before starting their class. This way, you get to know your professor, and assess their ability to meet your individual needs. You never know, maybe they can help in ways that your disability resource office can’t.
Though this may not work everytime, it is always always always worth a try. Yes I had some bad experiences, but I also had some wonderful experiences because I made that connection. In my first biology class, my professor, realizing that I couldn’t fill out the paper worksheets, would email them to me and have me email them back when they were completed. Morral of the story: always reach out and try to make a connection with your future instructor, because they can help you succeed.
The last thing I would like to share is something I think most if not all blind parents have experienced at some point in their journey. The other day, I had a group of friends who were thinking of going snow shoeing. This is something I am really interested in, and have never gotten a chance to do. Unfortunately, I did not have a baby sitter, so if I were to go, I would need to bring my son. This didn’t seem like an issue to me, as I would just rent him snow shoes and have him on the wrist leash. But I wasn’t sure if the group would want a kid a long, so I decided to ask.
I happened to mention this idea to someone completely unrelated to the group of friends going. This person told me, that I couldn’t do that … I couldn’t ask my friends to watch my kid. I of course said that they wouldn’t be watching him, that I would. When met with this explaination, the person said that it didn’t matter because my friends would feel obliged to keep track of my son. This was kind of a blow to me. I didn’t want to burden my friends with this responsibility. I didn’t choose to have a child to burden others with our presence.
It turns out that my friends would have been fine with him coming along, but they were going pretty far and weren’t sure a four-year-old would be able to walk that far. Even though my friends wouldn’t have minded, it still reinforced to me that a lot of sighted people, no matter how close to you they are, don’t understand blindness. They see it as a burden, because they can’t imagine what it is like to be blind. This is not going to be easily changed. So in the mean time, we need to remind ourselves, that we are not a burden. That we have our own way of doing things, and if someone feels the need to tell you that your child is doing something that you didn’t see, well … that was their choice. We did not ask them to watch our child, they chose to.
Sometimes in our lives, there are things that we cannot control. No matter how hard we try, how many times we ask for those pictures to be sent; ask to practice giving those shots, it still may not happen. At that point it is out of our control. We cannot make others understand that blindness is not a burden, that perhaps they are the problem, not us. But what we can do, is recognize those situations, and work hard to get everything we need to succeed in life. You are not a burden, I am not a burden, and hopefully the people we interact with will start to understand that.
This is me! Hope you enjoyed the read. I love questions, so if you
have any, or just a comment, feel free to email them to