Part IV: Stagges of Disability: Acceptance

 

Within a year of returning to the sighted world, I had both a job and a social life.  On my 27th birthday I realized my days and nights were full of friends, Pittsburgh sports, opera, symphony, and Broadway shows. The urban life was different from my beach life, but just as rich, if not richer.

I’d come here for a rehab program that introduced me to many and diverse Blind people, a minority group I’d never have connected to without my eye troubles. I’d fallen in love with books and had transformed into a reader, because an insightful nurse introduced me to audio books during one of my 3-week stays at a hospital.  Reading delighted, comforted, and stretched me beyond my little bubble of the world.  The thirst to learn about anything, Pirate pitchers, historical figures of importance, about music, everything—took hold of me.  Despite the Long Beach, CA school superintendent’s openness to hiring me back as a third grade teacher, I chose to enter grad school and change careers where discipline and my slow Braille skills wouldn’t be a deterrent.  There, I met another diverse population of folks younger, older, and inner city-bred.  I joined a church that had recently merged with two other churches, 2 White, and 1 Black, to integrate the 11:00 hour, often the most segregated hour of the week.  Soon I had conversations with several African-Americans about stereotyping.  I’d struggled against the notion that, now blind, I’d be helpless, chronically depressed, or saintly.  We talked about discrimination in jobs, housing, and education.  Fortunately, I didn’t undergo as much of this  as many of the blind people I’d spoken to, and certainly a different kind of discrimination from my new Black friends.  What I experienced was benevolent, not malevolent—where a sighted person thinks he knows better than the blind person what is best.  (I encountered this when I was in the hospital with my newborns—both times the head nurse told me I couldn’t have my babies in the room with me because they could turn blue and I wouldn’t know.  Fortunately the floor nurses trusted me and I had the rooming in experience that all the sighted moms had). 

A year after grad school I married the son of Holocaust survivors. Though raised in Boston, Bob essentially grew up in a German home.  Because my in-laws had been able to come to the US, they considered themselves fortunate.  They assimilated beautifully and loved Boston, like no other home.  But their losses as Jews in Hitler’s Germany became powerfully clear to me, so that when we had kids, we raised them as Jews.

And because our kids were sighted and few books existed with Braille, print, and pictures, I told Leslie and Joel stories. Soon they’d ask me to tell their friends stories, too.  Because of my kids, then, and because of becoming such a reader, I joined a children’s writing group and began publishing books.

Finally, I gained a voice. From the time I became blind, Rotary groups and Lions Clubs and schools and libraries invited me to speak.  Without realizing it  I was developing a cause, a call, to dispel myths and demystify disability.

Foundational, then, to all the fullness of my life was blindness and the subsequent deafness.  They changed me…improved me.  Daily life with disability is much harder, more challenging, and exhausting.  The deprivations of not seeing kids and grandkids and of struggling to pull off technology are huge.  But the gains outweigh everything.  Acceptance that began a year after I became totally blind continues and continues over the years.  I’ve had many blessings that have made acceptance and gratitude possible: beautiful friends and family, governmental grants, both federal and state, which supported my rehab and my grad work, technology that makes such things as editing books and grading student papers possible, a spouse who really is Mr. Knightly, a series of excellent pooches, and the gift of hope, something I attribute to my dad, which always buoys me.

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About Sally Hobart Alexander

Blinded at the age of twenty-six, I left California and elementary school teaching for life in Pittsburgh, Pa. There, I met my husband, got a Masters' degree in social work, had two kids, now 35 and 32, and became a writer. Surprisingly, the writing career led me full-circle to teaching, and I teach in Chatham University's M.F.A. program and lead two writing critique groups. Always, since the age of 26, I have traveled, not in the stereotypic darkness attributed to blindness, but a mist. My blog then, "traveling through the mist" will deal with issues in my culturally different life as a blind writer, teacher, speaker, and human being.
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