Amazing Revisited. Again.

Don’t roll your eyes, but I’m back to that “amazing” thing. Again. This time with something new. Promise.

I get to a doctor’s office via my dog, my feet and a bus. When the receptionist discovers this, she is in awe of me. Previously I’ve thought about this behavior in two ways. I’m amazing because I have failed to live down to the low expectations another individual has. I also become amazing when a person imagines walking in my shoes and decides I am doing something they could not. Now I think there might be a third possibility related to obstacles.

When people consider me going from point a to point b, they generate a mental list of all the steps that they think involve sight– assessing traffic to cross a street, determining what bus pulled up at the stop, getting on the bus and finding a seat, knowing what stop to disembark at and so on. Each of these tasks becomes tagged as “obstacle for blind person” in their heads. Because I have surmounted these obstacles, I become “amazing.”

This mental process is distinct from the first two, for there are no assumptions made about what I cannot do. The accolade is *earned* by doing things perceived as *challenging*, granting the praise the distinctive flavor of possibility. My amazingness is engendered not by doing the impossible but by accomplishing the unusual.

I have less objection when amazing is about overcoming an obstacle. I’m not performing magic, just doing something that might be hard. I can live with aspects of my life being perceived as hard, calling for skills most haven’t cultivated or even simply requiring above average persistence. It feels far less dismissive of…me.

Many people with disabilities, myself included, have issues with the concept of overcoming. The root lies in the fact that typically what we are seen to overcome is our disability, not the physical and social barriers society has created. To me, blindness is my natural state of being, so deciding that I have overcome it seems absurd. Do people of color overcome their skin color or the societal inequities and prejudice they encounter? Do cis-gendered women overcome their biology? Disability is a form of human variation that is an inherent part of the person possessing the trait. They’re not something you can discuss in terms of overcoming.

So, while being seen as amazing for overcoming obstacles is not totally insulting to me, I do take issue when the obstacle is perceived to be my disability. It’s like seeing me as amazing for overcoming my curly hair or extraordinarily narrow feet. The concept literally makes no sense. Fish, here’s your new bicycle. Ride it.

2 thoughts on “Amazing Revisited. Again.

  1. In terms of how deep the “impossible” sentiment goes, I’m reminded of something from my past. In 2001, my family and I took a vacation to Costa Rica. While there, we visited the Barre Honda cave system. It’s a large cave with many chambers and the path that is publicly open is perhaps 2000 feet from start to end. It is one of the least accessible places I’ve been. OSHA isn’t even there, much less the ADA. To even enter the cave involves descending about 50 feet down a wire ladder. It’s properly secured at the top, but swings around freely as one climbs it. Exiting the cave means going back up. There are no walkways or handrails, and the floor is wet uneven rock. Part of the path requires crawling through fairly tight passageways that aren’t much wider than a standard human. There’s no illumination except for the provided headlamps and the single shaft of sunlight coming from the ceiling in the first chamber.

    Anyway, the reason I bring this up is that when we got to the end, the guide had us turn our headlamps out and sit in the absolute darkness. He then said that even if we had no lights, we could still get out by throwing pebbles and listening to their echos. Now my mom is somewhat hard of hearing. Between the guide’s accent, and her difficulty, she thought he was saying that’s what we were going to do to get out. She protested loudly saying it was utterly impossible for her to do that. He in turn thought she was just saying “I can’t believe we could do that.” and so kept insisting that it was possible. She in turn thought he was continuing to insist that’s how we were going to leave. Eventually the lamps were turned back on and she was very relieved.

    Maybe she could do it if she really had to. But she perceived it as beyond possible rather than any degree of difficult. I wonder how that lack of confidence in one’s senses relates to other things some people find personally impossible; public speaking, running a race, quitting smoking. Lots of people pen themselves into boxes of their own design because of their own self doubts. It’s said that we often assume of others what we know about ourselves. And You’re right, the difference between something a person considers impossible for themselves versus simply challenging is subtle.

    • Steve,

      I totally agree that we pen ourselves into boxes by what we perceive as possible and impossible for ourselves. Recently, I had an education in how others can pen us into boxes as well. I want to learn how to sew something more complicated than a pillow. I am not skilled enough to cut out fabric — some blind people can, but I’m not one of them — so I had my mother cut something out for me and mail it. By the way she sent it and her other comments, I know she thinks it is not possible for me to do it. I have been unable to tackle the project. Even though I know it’s nuts, I just can’t do it. I feel like I’ll totally mess it up.

      I wonder how often other’s beliefs about what was possible for me to do have, without my realizing it, limited what I try?


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