Many transabled people have written about the young, open minds of children when it comes to disabilities. It even features in a lot of fiction written by transabled people for transabled people. After all, we have a unique perspective on the world, experiencing it both as a disabled person and a non-disabled person, and we can take an outside view on the way that people with disabilities are treated by society, having experienced this ourselves first-hand. And now I have my own story to tell.
I was heading towards the bus stop while pretending, and I must admit that I was a bit lost. This bus stop has two shelters and three places where the buses can stop, and even though I knew which part of the stop I needed to head for knowing which part of the stop I’m actually at is a different matter. Presumably I looked lost too, for as I approached the stop an old lady (at least, I assume she was old because her voice sounded weak and worn) grabbed my arm – yes, I know it’s annoying when people do that – and asked me “are you OK?”. I said that I was needing the number 6 bus to Middleton (I’ve removed identifying details from this post) and asked if I was at the correct stop, which she confirmed. She then guided me to the bench in the bus stop and begged me to sit down, with which I complied considering that I had just missed the 15:42 bus and would have to wait half an hour for the next bus.
I hadn’t been sitting there long before I heard a young girl’s voice (about ten years old) at my two o’clock, and she seemed to be talking to a middle-aged woman who had arrived on my left (the latter of which was not her mother but did seem to be related to her in some way). She was asking the older woman to sing a song “from the 21st century”, although of course in the style typical of children her age she didn’t wait for a response before explaining that her mother was born in the 20th century but she was born in the 21st century and that the 22nd century would come in the year 2100. Feeling that such a comment would be appropriate for her age, I interjected in a casual manner by saying “yes, because the centuries are counted from 1 but the years are counted from 0”.
A few more minutes of silence ensued, and during this time I contemplated what I would say if anyone asked me about my blindness. This isn’t something that I’ve really had to consider before, and I was perturbed by pretending in public on my own without having a cover story ready. And rightly so, because just then the same girl that I had heard speaking before asked me “were you born with your eyes closed?”.
Immediately the older woman on my left started exclaiming “that’s rude!”, “don’t say that”, and other such statements to the girl, and I defended the girl by saying “it’s OK, I don’t mind people asking”. Then I answered her question, “no, I wasn’t born with my eyes closed”. Then the follow-up question came from the girl: “how did it happen?”. Fortunately I had my story ready: retinal detachment. Now to figure out how to explain retinal detachment to a ten-year-old girl…
I began by explaining that pictures enter the eye through the front and shine onto a particular part of the eye at the back, which allows you to see them. Then I said, in as positive a tone as I possibly could (since, after all, there’s nothing negative about it), that in my eyes this particular part had come loose from the back of the eye, so I can’t see the pictures that shine onto the back of my eyes. The girl responded by saying “thanks, I need to know this in case I become a doctor” whereupon I asked her if she wanted to become a doctor but she said she wasn’t sure.
She then became the most helpful person that I have met in a long time. Despite me having already told her which bus I was waiting for, she read out the number and destination of every bus as it arrived at the bus stop, and when someone else walked up she said “we won’t be here when his bus comes but he wants the number 6 to Middleton so tell him when it comes”.
After a while she asked me “so does this mean that you can’t tell the time?”. I replied “no, I can tell the time”, and pulled my phone out of my bag and showed her the screen. I pointed to the screen and said “see, the time’s shown on the screen”. Then she listened eagerly as I turned the screen off and on again, causing the screenreader to announce the time, and said “but it also reads everything out to me”. I touched a few other things on the screen as well, and while I didn’t expect her to be able to hear what the screenreader was saying she said that she could understand how it worked.
Then she asked “how do you know when to get off the bus?”. I said that my stop is at the end of the route (which is true), but that a lot of blind people will feel the bends in the road and so know where they are and when they’re approaching their stop. I heard a bus pull up just then, and as the older woman hurried the girl onto the bus she called out to me “that’s interesting, I never thought of that”.
And thus ended my brief encounter with the delightful minds of children, who have not yet been poisoned by society’s attitudes towards disability. I’ve read a lot of other people’s accounts of similar stories, but experiencing it first-hand gives me a kind of anger at the world that you don’t feel just by reading. I could sense that the older woman was, at least at first, uncomfortable with the girl talking to me, a blind person. But the girl didn’t view blindness as a reason to avoid talking to me, and why should she? Why do people have such negative feelings about people with disabilities? Why did the older woman feel it necessary to tell the girl off for being inquisitive? Why do people think that that’s rude?
It also makes me sad. Sad because I lied to an innocent inquisitive young girl, and she enjoyed it. Sad because she helped me, but in reality I only needed help because I’d voluntarily put myself in the position of a blind person for no physical reason. Sad because maybe she’ll see me at the bus stop again tomorrow, and maybe I won’t be pretending then, and then either her, her mother, or the middle-aged woman will realise that I’m a faker, a liar, a deceiver, and whatever else you want to call me – not just blind, as abhorrent a thing that is to society, but pretending to be blind, fooling people into thinking that I’m blind, making up a story to go with it, and receiving help that I don’t need. Yet, I do need it, because I need to pretend to be blind for my own well-being and in pretending I need the same help that blind people need.
I hate having to lie to others in order to survive.
When I originally wrote this post, I neglected to mention anywhere that I was pretending to be blind at the time. Sorry for any confusion caused – when you think of yourself as a blind person, travel as a blind person, and write blog posts as a blind person, it’s easy to become so strongly “in character” that you forget that you’re not blind.