How Many Fingers Am I Holding Up?

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How Many Fingers Am I Holding Up?

This was a common response in my childhood when I had to explain I am ‘partially sighted’ or ‘almost blind’, my peers and even adults would immediately shove their hand in front of my face and ask “How many fingers am I holding up?” It was the most frustrating and undignified experience but I never spoke up, I just dryly answered their query hoping they might just leave me alone.

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Blindness Vs Ignorance

I often wonder to myself, if I had to choose between my poor eyesight and being ignorant towards peoples’ disabilities, what would I choose? Would I be selfish and go for that 20/20 vision or take the understanding I have gained from years of being the recipient of that ignorance? 

Somehow I just can’t imagine myself asking lots of personal questions and performing ‘eye tests’ of my own as if I was some kind of expert in ophthalmology, nor can I envisage hurling abuse at and bullying disabled people. I went to a school with a special needs unit, a lot of the kids were wheelchair bound and only able to communicate through grunts and groans, I recall watching in horror one day as a fully able schoolboy spat at one of them, maybe that was the defining moment for me when I said to myself ‘I never want to be like that’ and by that I mean I never want to be that sadistic ignorant cowardly bully, I’m happy as I am.

Accept Yourself No Matter What They Say

What’s wrong with your eyes?” people would ask and every time I had to rattle through my explanation to them, if only they could hear the tone in their voice when they ask, the barely concealed contempt. But it’s OK because I learned from them, I learned from making the best of my situation in the workplace where no one seemed to understand me, when I had to stand up on step ladders and dust the ceiling or trim branches, when I typed in EXTRA LARGE FONT just so I could see the screen and got the work done without any special aids. I learned from them when they demanded I play football with them then lost their rag at me for committing a clumsy tackle even though I have no depth perception, they taught me with their jibes, jeers and thoughtless comments, oh I learned from them, I learned what not to be…

Rise above the ignorance, don’t be among the truly blind

Newspapers (if you can call them that) scream about people like me, how I’m a burden on the state, I have a ‘chip on my shoulder’, I’m a ‘freeloader’ according to them, they can print what they want because what they claim is lies, a completely artificial higher moral ground, they haven’t walked in my shoes, they haven’t even stepped out of their ivory towers. If these self appointed ‘meritocrats’ had suffered a mere fraction of the abuse I have experienced, they would break down and cry. If these deluded people ever had their teachers go round the classroom and shove their faces into the workbooks of their classmates like I did or had their glasses broken and rubbers thrown right in their eye like me, if their legitimate complaints were met with indifference from the teachers would they understand? I somehow doubt it…

But it doesn’t matter because I know I was born with something I cannot change, people may care little about my limitations and I’m not so sure I can even change that, I have become oblivious to them but I owe them this much, I can credit them for showing me what it is like to be inhumane, for showing me some of the worst qualities; for showing me a path I do not intend to follow. I won’t judge people the way they have judged me, I won’t speak in the manner they have spoken, I will not be a callous, soulless tyrant like them.

I will look for the virtues in my fellow human beings, treat them with respect and dignity, I will help whenever and wherever I can. I will prove my worth and stand up for myself and I will stand up for you too, this is the lesson I learned from their blindness for their blindness is the blindness of the heart not the the eyes so don’t let them get you down. Rise above their ignorance and be free. 

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