Last Thursday I spoke to a U of I class in Champaign. Monday morning I spoke with second graders at Chicago’s Francis Xavier Warde School. Yesterday I spoke to visually-impaired adults at Blind Service Association.
Each of these three presentations ended with a Q&A, which lead’s me to today’s quiz. Tell me if the following questions came from a college kid, a second-grader, or an adult with a visual impairment :
- How do you know what you’re wearing?
- How does it feel to be blind?
- What is the name of your book?
- What’s your favorite thing to do with your dog?
- What is it like to be blind?
- When you’re up there in front of us, do you picture what we look like?
- Do you know my girlfriend?
- So is there one thing that’s happened since you’ve been blind that you just can’t picture, you know, like instagram, or, like something like that?
- Is it sad to be blind?
That’s the quiz, now for the answers – let’s see how you did.
- A college girl asked this. I was wearing black shoes, black jeans, a gold sweater and a colorful scarf. The shoestrings on my black shoes feel different than the shoestrings on my gym shoes. I put a safety pin on the tag of my clothes that are black, and the gold sweater is the only one I own that has a cowl neck (so I just memorize that the one with the cowl neck is gold). My multi-colored scarf is the only one I own that has textured stripes I can feel, and the woman who sold it to me said it’d go with anything. “Does it?” I asked the class. They chorused a yes.
- A second-grader asked this one. I’ve been blind half my life now, I told her. “I know it’s hard to believe, but it usually just seems normal.”
- A visually-impaired adult asked this. My talk was about memoir writing, so gee, you’d think I might have mentioned the name of my book, huh! I’d forgotten, though, and when I told him my memoir is called Long Time, No See, he said he knew my story sounded familiar. “I read the audio version!”
- The college talk I gave was to an animal sciences class, so you’d think this question would have come from a student there. But no, it came from a very cute second-grader. I’d never been asked this before, and I needed to take a few seconds to think before answering. “You probably guess I’ll say playing fetch with a ball, or having her chase a Frisbee,” I said. “But really, my favorite thing to do with Whitney is have her lead me to a place downtown, you know, get there by ourselves.” I explained how good it makes me feel to have confidence in my Seeing Eye dog.
- Another second-grader asked this question after I’d answered it the first time. She was no dummy: she didn’t buy my first answer! This time I admitted that being blind can be frustrating. “It can take longer to do certain things,” I conceded. “And I always have to remind myself to slow down so I won’t fumble around so much.” They seemed to like that fumble word.
- A college kid asked this, and I told them the last time I was able to see was 30 years ago. “So I picture you all dressed like college kids in the 80s.” They gasped, and then they laughed.
- An adult with a visual impairment asked this. “She’s from Champaign,” he said. And know what? I do know her.
- A guy in the college class asked this one. There are tons of things I can’t picture, but the one that stands out is 911. “The plane going into the building, the smoke, the people jumping,” I said, explaining that I went up in the Sears Tower and the Hancock Building in Chicago when I could still see. I remember how little the cars looked from up there, and how slowly they seemed to be travelling on the highways below. “But I just can’t picture how little the people who were trapped on top of those towers looked, or what it was like to see them jumping off the buildings, all of that.” It felt shameful to be intrigued by such a gruesome event, but I try to be honest when answering questions people ask at the presentations I give. I didn’t want the students to try to describe 911 to me – heck, they were only 6 or 7 years old when it happened. “Lots of people have tried explaining it all to me already, I’ve read books and articles, listened to TV shows and documentaries about that day,” I told them. . “I just can’t get it into my head.”
- This same question about my feelings came from yet another second-grader. At Francis Xavier Warde School the students spend a lot of their year in second grade learning about special needs, and I think these second graders were worried about me. “You’d think being blind might make me sad, or maybe lonely, but it really isn’t that bad,” I assured them, explaining some of the benefits of being blind. “One of them is that I can’t judge people by what they look like — I get to judge people by what they say, and what they do.” Judging from the concern those little kids showed about my feelings Monday, the second-graders at Francis Xavier Warde School in Chicago are beautiful.