As a result of premature birth I have an eye condition Retinopathy of Prematurity, referred to as ROP. This condition affects several parts of the eyes. In my case it ruined my retinas, which means I have peripheral vision loss more commonly known as tunnel vision. If you are good looking, stand in front of me not beside me, please. I am also blessed with Myopia, or short-sightedness. This means if you are good-looking, and now stand in front of me, please come closer, much closer.
To add salt to my wounded eyes I also have Strabismusand Astigmatism. Thanks to the Strabismus I can simultaneously keep eye contact with two people sitting at opposite ends of a room. Astigmatism means my corneas are asymmetrical, making it hard to focus. I have had all kinds of surgical procedures on my eyes. The result is that I have about three percent sight left – just enough to get into trouble. Humour is my crutch. What is wrong with seeing the funny side if you can’t see much else? This has proven to be my lifesaver. There are, however, some situations when even I cannot see the funny side.
Most disabled people would tell you it is not the disability that is the real challenge, but rather the attitude of those around you. People often think that you cannot see, therefore you cannot achieve. My experiences of such limited views are endless: From people believing I should avoid stairs to those who cannot see me succeeding in furthering my education or boosting my career.
I studied for a degree in Business Management through an organization whose staff had no vision when it came to the abilities of disabled students. My most challenging subject was quantitative methods. Statistics has never been a problem for me. I can easily interpret and apply the principles. The challenge was the actual formula chart. I could not identify the squiggly little symbols. After months of nagging emails the best they could do was to take the formula chart and enlarge it to A3. I could have done that! In fact, I had already tried. It did not work. I explained that I needed the chart in a different electronic format such as MSWord. This would allow my screen reader to access the document, which was not possible with a PDF file. The representative, Jo, wrote me a letter explaining that it is impossible for anyone to accommodate my outrageous request. He even went as far as sharing his medical opinion.
“To be unable to distinguish between these characters at this size font, leads me to think that it is not just a visual impairment that you have – there may be a sorting gene at fault that no amount of printed modification is going to address.”
A sorting gene? Does such a gene even exist? I did not see this one coming.
I should have reported Jo. I should have gone to court with all guns blazing. Instead, I decided to use the services of a different provider. This meant that I had to redo many of my subjects. My “sorting gene” issue was cured in a flash and I passed the quantitative methods exam with ease.
Just in case you feel like discovering another unknown gene or to force your self-educated medical opinion on another unexpected disabled student, Jo, I have a message for you: We can and we will. We might be blind, we might be disabled, but youhave no vision. I passed my degree with distinction and while writing this, I am preparing for the graduation ceremony of my Masters in Project Leadership and Design.
We all have Joes in our lives: People who are blind to our abilities. We can’t avoid them but we most certainly don’t have to believe them. Being blind has brought back my self-belief and made me better than I used to be. Having to cope with the loss of sight, has taught me that people like Jo and their negative limiting attitudes are not worth fretting about. Take my advice, next time someone tries to get in the way of you realising your dreams, simply turn a blind eye.