In the past few days I have taken part in a series of interactions that have led me to wonder, where exactly do I fit in? This theoretical question has been on my mind a great deal lately especially as I am working on publishing my graduate thesis. This question can be taken in different contexts. Where do I fit in the grand scheme of the world? Where does my research fit in the health and illness literature? Where does my experience and ability fit for a successful career? Lastly, where do I, a woman with an invisible disability fit in our understanding of disability?
I will give you an example of one of these interactions.
The other day I went to a well-known organization that provides support and services to people with varying degrees of vision loss. After waiting a few moments to be noticed, as they were serving a customer, I was told to go to another desk where I would be helped. The woman behind the second desk looked up at me and asked if I was there for myself, or on behalf of someone else. I told her I was there for myself and gave her my member card. As I went to leave the building a short time later, I decided to ask the location of the closest bus stop going back the way I had came. The main receptionist explained where it was and led me to the front of the building, pointing in the direction where I would find it. Next to her was a crossing guard in full uniform waiting for the next client he needed to escort across the street. He never even looked at me. I said thank you and made my way to the bus stop.
None of the people I described above assumed that I was blind or at least did not act on that assumption. This example may seem like a small case study, but similar exchanges happen to me everyday. Presenting my member card at the second desk verified my disability because the employees are aware of the criteria for membership (a doctor assessment and paperwork confirming I am legally blind). For a fleeting moment I was apart of the club and with no extra explanation needed. What becomes apparent is that people with an invisible disability must become their own self advocate. I am sure that if I had of asked the crossing guard for an escort across the street he would not have said no, given where he is employed. It is very likely that I would have received the same quizzical look that was usually reserved for teachers who did not understand why I needed a copy of the notes on the blackboard.
In the everyday context, it seems that I am not “blind enough” to be viewed as blind, nor am I sighted enough to be considered sighted. So where does that leave me?
* Originally posted February 1, 2013