Who’s the Witness

Silver and gold police badge with eagle at the top with the words police, protect and serve in all caps on a white background

“I’ll be fucked if I get shot in front of you though.”

 “What are you talking about?”

 “Who’s the witness?”

At night the front of the police car can be seen, doors open, with sirens flashing
The bass gradually slows, the beat diminishing as the song reaches its climax – forcing my brother and I to pay more attention to the rapid words. The words “siren” and “police” remind me of a conversation that I had with a friend earlier that day.

I was taking my service animal out to use the bathroom when the police sirens could be heard a few blocks away. The closer they got, the louder they were. Pressing my phone closer to my ear, my friend joked, “You know you’re in Pine Hills when you hear sirens a couple times a day.” I laughed. It’s the truth; it would be odd if I went to bed and didn’t hear the sirens come past my house a few times before I fell asleep. An insidious lullaby – who are the sirens supposed to bring peace to?

Telling this conversation to my youngest brother, he said – with more truth than joke – “I’ll be fucked if I were shot in front of you though.”

Surprised, I asked why. Was it because he knows my aversion to guns? Is it because I made it clear that if there were a mass shooter (police officer or any white man, take your pick), my ass is out – they’ll just have to take one for the team; I am a queen at tripping people and smacking ankles out of the way with my cane, after all. His response took me a back and reminded me that I am not the only one in the family with dark humor.

“Who would be the witness?”

Last year, I called in a domestic violence with a weapon – gun – to the police. I was the only disabled one there, the rest were able-bodied. The police made it very clear how serious they took the situation when they came; searched everyone – but me – for weapons, asked everyone – but me – about what happened, took everyone’s – but my – statement, and made sure everyone – but me – were alright.

“Don’t you want to search me?”

Cop one: “Oh no honey, you’re fine.”

“I’m the one who called it in; I was in the house, D- is actually wrong about one thing, you see, what happened was…”

Cop two: “Alright. Is this true?” Stares at E- for conformation of my version of events.

                “Don’t you want me to write a statement?”

Cop two: “That’s quite alright. Thank you so much for your help. Why won’t you go inside.”

                Patronize. Disbelieve. Dismissive.

I am well aware that my encounter with the police last year went very, very well and there were a few reasons that made it so:

  • I am blind – and the cops were confident in their knowledge that I was blind with no other disabilities. Blindness is something that society fears, but also finds fascinating and is also familiar
  • When I knew the police arrived, I had two choices: either leave my cane inside – and risk being considered drunk or on drugs when I eventually stumbled in the unfamiliar area – or I bring my cane and hope that they do not consider it a weapon. I chose to bring my cane with me and hold it loosely at my side. I announced – clearly and loudly – that I am blind. I also repeated this on the phone with the operator.
  • I am short. Standing at four feet ten inches, I am automatically considered a non-threat.
  • I am a woman. Women are more likely to be dismissed as a threat and receive thoughts of sympathy rather than danger.
  • I am light-skinned. The police do have a bias towards POC (people of color); the darker your skin is, the more threat you will be considered.

If I were darker, my disability not identifiable or was something other than blindness, and taller, I’m sure my experience with the cops wouldn’t have been so great.

Negative stereotypes and attitudes have – and continue to, keep PWDs (people with disabilities) back – in all areas of life: from employment, housing, education, health care, immigration status, etc. Is there any surprise that when it comes to social justice, we would have a hard time for equality?

Being a light-skinned, short woman protected me from suspicion or police violence. Being blind did contribute to me not being taken seriously, my recounting of my experience being called into question, and me being dismissed from the area. As I’ve said above, this experience was a good one. It could have ended in my death.

Pictured from the knees up, Charleena Lyles can be sseen standing in front of a house wearing a bright black and yellow top with matching earrings, smiling at the camera with one hand on her hip. In the far background, we see a small child standing on a stoop. This picture was found at https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/jun/22/police-killings-disabled-black-people-mental-illness

It is not a surprise that the police are ignorant when it comes to PWDs: how to recognize and interact with us; the difference between stereotype and reality.

It isn’t only disabled stereotypes holding us back. For most of us, disability only represents a part of us: people often forget that we are intersectional; stereotypes on race, class, gender, sexuality, and religion can all come into play in our everyday lives.

This is evident when it comes to being black and disabled: labeled monster twice over; once for your skin and once for your disability – either way, you are a danger and need to be taken down.

Disabled people not taken seriously when reporting a crime, disabled people considered dangerous and a threat, and disabled peoples experiences absent when police brutality is talked about and researched. The police are part of society and they bring their prejudice with them when they go to work. Society treats disabled people as nonexistent, unintelligent, or dangerous.

The training police receive on PWDs is practically nonexistent and do to that, it shows just how minor they consider us and our problems. This leads to impatience, misunderstandings, then violent reactions. The police are also not held to accountability, which dissolves them from guilt and responsibility or change in the system, which allows this cycle to start over and over again. What can we do to fix this?

We – society – need to consider disabled people as human and treated as human. Once that happens, we need to hold police to accountability with true and harsh consequences when avoidable mistakes are made. Along with that, we need to make sure that research on police brutality, policies against police brutality, and protests police brutality are inclusive; this cannot be said enough: people with disabilities need to be present, we need to have a voice in the conversation, our experiences need to be told and valued just as much as others.

We see the backs of two white male cops pointing guns at a black man in a wheelchair. They are all in the street.

I am Here (#CripTheVote)

In the author's openpalm is a circular, unused sticker displaying the image of a red, white, and blue cartoon American flag and the words "I Voted" in blue, block lettering below on a white background.

Today, I demanded to be heard. I stood in front of you, awkward, blushing, annoyed with your surprise at seeing me here, angry with my mother – because she let her anger with you flow freely, and me too busy with holding my own anger back, jealous of her freedom.

“What do you want me to do?” I ask. Subtly telling you that I am here. Me. I. Do not speak to my mom. Do not give her instructions.

You repeated yourself: “Have her put her signature here.” After the second attempt of me signing my name – “Have her write right there,” and “She has to push harder with the pen.” – someone remembers that they have a signature guide. I am instructed on how to use it; the irony doesn’t escape me.

My subtlety never seems to be blunt enough. Or, it is too rude – not polite enough. I am always one or the other. Too quiet or too loud.

Later, as we walk out, I laugh it off. Telling my mom – who is still furious – not to worry, that it’s okay. The sunglasses hide my eyes tearing and my smile hides me pushing my tongue and holding it down.

I am furious.

I try to tell myself that I was unexpected. It was the woman’s first time and I was – clearly – the first blind voter she’s ever had to sign in. It could have been worse.

It doesn’t help. From the lady who told my mom – not me – to follow the arrows, rudely interrupting me when I tried to ask for actual directions, to the couple of women behind the sign-in desk that had no idea what to do with me and how to deal with me, to the children running around, not listening to me when I said DO-NOT-TOUCH-THE-DOG, and to the man who refused to take a “I’ve got it, you don’t have to help me,” as evidence to GO-AWAY-I-CAN-TAKE-IT-FROM-HERE.

Telling myself that I voted, I was heard, I am here and have proof that I am here doesn’t help.
I could write a post about the struggles and triumphs the disabled community has had when fighting for the right to vote. I could write about how I am not sure the candidates I voted for will actually remember us (not just when using us as an example or feel-good moment), recognize that we are here and we want – should – be heard, and realize that health care – although important – isn’t the only thing we care about: equal access to education, justice, employment, housing, and society; we are more than disabled, our lives and bodies intersect with all areas of life.

The fact of the matter is: it is all the same – rather, it begins in the same place.

People with disabilities are disabled and only disabled. Until we stop being “unexpected”, nothing will change. All stories will have the same starting point, the same hope, the same struggles.

She stands with an "I Voted" sticker in her left hand. She is wearing black sunglasses, a sleeveless top with vertical white and coral colored stripes, blue jeans, and black sandals. Her curls are swept to the side. She is standing in front of a poster that reads: "Orange County Supervisor of Elections; EARLY VOTING CENTER". Sitting in front of her is a golden retriever seeing eye dog, who is looking at the camera.

TO ORGASM OR PITY: THE SURPRISED INTERVIEWER

From under a desk we see a white male wearing a green shirt and blue jeans with his right-hand inside his pants on his crotch.

It is a day of the week at a certain time and I am on my way to you. Just like I was last week, last month, and last year. It seems as if I am always on the way to you. Today, I am wearing my favorite blouse – the deep purple, V-neck – the same one I wore last month – along with my black pants and black heels. I have a binder with me today; not the one I came with two months ago – this one is a dark green and contains different – although equally important – papers.

Although I usually get to you by Lyft or paratransit, today – like last month – my mom is taking me.

I am meeting you in an office building today; an office building is the usual place – but there have been times you asked me to meet you at a restaurant or café.

I am an hour early. I always try to get to you early. This allows me to find the room you are waiting for me in. Sometimes it is easy – the directions I receive are simple and to the point; other times the directions are harder to understand – given to me by someone who confuses their left and right and mixes up floor or room numbers.

Just as the location of our meetings are different, so are you. This time you are two women. Last time you were a man. The time before that you were two men and a woman.

Regardless of location and who you are during the meeting, your reaction to me is always the same: surprised. I am expected but somehow, I am always unexpected.

It amazes me the different ways you show your surprise. Silence. Annoyance. Awkwardness. Lack of a hand shake. Confusion. Staring. Anger. Amusement. Laughter. Defensive. A full body embrace. Avoidance of touch.

Today you greet me by remarking on my sunglasses. Not the color or style – but the fact that I have them on. “I was confused at first – but now I understand.” You say this laughing. You shake my hand after.

This is one of your better greetings. You once asked me if I’m sure I’m who I say I am: “You’re Miss Scott – applying for Employment Specialist? The one I spoke on the phone last month?”; I had to assure you twice that yes, I am her. One time you said that the position has already been filled but you would love to talk to me. Another time you told me how shocked you were when I walked in to the office. Another time you told me right away that you were unsure I would be a great fit (that was the only time I let you see me cry).

Our meetings are different too.

There are five people lined up dressed in business professional clothing waiting to be interviewed. From left to right: a male of color, a white male, another male of color, a white female, and a white male who is in a wheel chair. Each person except the white male has an X above their head. The white male has a check mark above his head.

Sometimes we go over my qualifications, education, and experience. You coo over my list of publications. A few times you caressed over how great it was that I was pursuing my masters in this field and how much it would help with this job. There were moments where you flirted with the idea of me being a visible symbol to all the employees – my work ethic and personality will be sure to arouse a better work environment and would give them ample opportunities to help those like me. Once you even invited me into your confidence – amid gushing over what you perceived to be my successes in life and intoxicated on me and my abilities, your curiosity was excited: how do I cope with my disability? (That was the first time I felt like walking out on you.)

Three older white males are sitting at a desk. The first male states, "So that's agreed then, we don't need to make ANY changes to our equal opportunities employment practices!". The second male states, "If it isn't broken why fix it?". The third one states, "It's always worked for ME!". Found at: https://www.cartoonstock.com/directory/e/employment_practice.asp.

Sometimes we briefly talked about my education, qualifications and experience. There were times where you refused to even go over them. When you didn’t want to talk about what makes me a great fit for the job, you talked about how hard it would be here for me. You were only looking out for me. No one would respect me. No one would confide in me. How could I do this job anyway? It would be too difficult on me. You told me once that I just wasn’t a right fit, “because you are blind,” you said. You once told me I would be a liability (that was the first time I showed you my anger).

Our relationship has always been difficult. I dread seeing you sometimes. There were times where I would cry the morning of – hopeless and exhausted over trying to be good enough for you. There are times where I leave you with no expectation of you calling me back.

Sometimes your website isn’t accessible with my screen reader. I always get through that though – with Aira or my family and friends. And you know what? You pick me. You always choose me – sometimes I get an email or phone call the day I submit my application – you do like me.

There are times your building isn’t accessible – lack of braille at office doors. I always manage to get to you though. Always.

You love me on paper. You love me during our phone interviews. There were even times where you wanted me enough to meet up with you again. But it always ends.

I used to think it was me. I knew it wasn’t my background – you liked it enough to schedule a meeting. So, there was something about me that put you off. Was I too stiff, too slow to shake your hand, were my sunglasses dirty or too dark or not dark enough? Is it because I flinched away from you when you tried to guide me to your office by holding my hand? Was it because my “no, that’s not necessary,” too forceful when you tried to stop me from running into a trashcan – that was at the end of the hall when we were at the beginning of the hall – by putting your arm around my waist? Was it because I was open about my disability during the interview and invited you to ask me anything? Was it because I never brought my disability up?

No matter what I did, you were never satisfied. You were always surprised and either enthusiastic or distant. You’re not interested in knowing that I am blind beforehand – you never call me for an interview when I check the I-am-disabled box. You even try to turn me away during the description of physical demands and requirements: vision abilities including close vision and ability to adjust focus or must have a valid driver’s license.

You won’t let me show you what I can do for the company. You are not interested. When I try, I am too pushy, financially demanding, too much of a liability. You tell me my disability doesn’t matter, then give me a list of requirements (ignoring – or not caring – that they are easily dealt with using assistive technology), write out the Equal Employment Opportunity Statement, then ask me to check the box that will make it easier for you to narrow your search.

Our relationship has never been easy. I no longer blame myself. You are the one to blame. I am here, willing to work – but you refuse to look further then your ignorant prejudice.

Do I have my faults? Yes. There are times where I am nervous. There are times where I fail to answer a question correctly. However, you have given me plenty of examples where my disability is all you will see.

I am tired of being the surprise that never gets old and a symbol to jack off to or – at best – a waste of time – or at worse – a potential lawsuit. I am here and willing to work. All I need is a chance.

BEFORE AND AFTER THE BLOOD

Cartoon with sky blue background of two legs spread with pink panties extended between them. In the center of th epanties there is a clean white pad. The panties are spattered with blood on almost all areas but the pad. Above them, a pink line is drawn with "Literally everywhere but the pad" wirtten in black handwritten letters. Image found at: https://www.google.com/search?q=bloody+pad+cartoon&rlz=1C1CHBD_enUS799US799&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiyr86F9aTdAhVD1lMKHckdAQAQ_AUICigB&biw=1920&bih=920#imgrc=_PI5XiIAOP3eUM:

Cartoon of a white tampon with outstretched arms, large round eyes, and a smile on a light blue background; print to the right reads "Welcome to hell! Erm, I mean, womanhood!" in bold capitalized font. Image found at: https://www.buzzfeed.com/lorynbrantz/if-tampon-instructions-were-actually-helpful

 

It started when I was sixteen – at night, standing in the kitchen. I don’t remember what I was doing or who else was there – I just remember the rolling, pinching pain in my lower abdomen and a stabbing pain in my lower back. The pain would stay with me for the entire week – coming and going – before the first drops of blood was – angrily? – regretfully? – squeezed out.

Before the blood, I didn’t know what was going on. At first, I thought – due to the constant diarrhea, farting, and bloating – that I ate something bad (cafeteria food). Then I thought I had a UTI – a slight discharge and always thinking I had to go pee – but eighty-percent of the time I didn’t – just sitting there, for minutes on end, listening to the running sink water, hoping that’ll get me going.

But then the blood came: droplets at first – barely noticeable, then a gush of blood, then back to barely-seen droplets. It lasted two days. The pain lasted longer.

Before I got my period, I remember wanting it so, so badly – it was a conversation I couldn’t be a part of. My friends would go on and on about pads and tampons and shots – and although none of it sounded great, I foolishly thought that to have your period is to be a woman. And I wanted so badly to be a woman – no longer a girl, finally able to be part of the world as a young woman.

But the pain – I rolled my eyes when my friends complained; I stared when my friends took pills every six hours – I was not prepared.

No. I was not prepared.

Twelve years later and I’m still not prepared. The worse part: I’m not regular. I never know when it’s coming. Last time I had it was two months ago. Sixty days.

It came a few days ago. I no longer have droplets, then a gush, then droplets again. No. Not anymore. It’s constant. A rainfall – pitter-patter against my pad, then a splat every few minutes – a large helping of blood, if you will.

The pain is not as bad as the first time. Thankfully. It still hurts – as if someone is clawing, kicking, stamping, punching my insides and drilling – yet also sitting – on my ass. I have diarrhea beforehand. I am gassy and horny. My nipples are sensitive (and not in a good way) and my breasts ache. And there is always that one craving – that one craving that I want so badly – but once I get it – after threatening and blackmailing anyone and everyone who is in my presence – I no longer want it.

Sometimes I have pain a few days before my cycle starts. Other times, I have no pain until the day of my period. And there are times – very rare – where I have no pain at all. Sometimes I know – pain or no pain – that my cycle will start soon; and others – despite the symptoms – I am one-hundred-percent sure that it is not because of my period. The mind and body are strange.

I was twenty-two when I first decided to use a tampon. Small and slim; it felt so weird going in and hurt so much coming out. I still don’t like pulling the tampon out. It took me a while to get used to it. There’s a little dance I have to do when taking it out; since I bleed heavy, I have to have a Ziploc bag in my left hand, squat over the middle of the toilet, my right hand pulls it out, and immediately goes into the bag. Avoiding blood splatters. Thankyouverymuch.

(There’s nothing like having your younger brother call you in to the bathroom and telling you that there’s blood on the toilet – and in the tub. And before you can tell him you’ll clean it up, he takes your hand and shows you how. I was so humiliatingly touched.)

If I’m doing a lot of running around for the first few days of my cycle, then I’ll use a tampon along with wearing a pad – I am really, really, heavy in the beginning. I change the tampon and pad every five hours. If it’s the weekend, or I have nothing to do, then I’ll wear a pad and change it every three hours.

Overall, I had a good experience when it comes to my period. My family was supportive, my mom was there every step of the way and answered all my questions. She showed me how to put my pad on, the different types of pads out there, and when and why you wear certain pads. My friends talked me into wearing a tampon, (peer pressure).

 

At left, a small blue female stick figure in a wheelchair with a short ponytail. To her right there is a speech bubble reading "Mom, I would like to begin my sexual life somehow. Can we discuss this?" To the right of the bubble, there is a great tone female stick figure wearing a dark gray dress and wavy dark grey ponytail. There is a speech bubble extending down and to the left of her reading, "Eh, is this your biggest problem now? You really do not have enough issues? You are only 28, you still have plenty of time." At the top right of the image, there is "discrimination begins" written in bold blue with "in the family" below it in bright red. Below that is written "too many people find it very difficult to openly discuss sexuality with disabled people. Instead, they choose to suppress or ignore it." In the bold capitalized grey text at the bottom right, there is written "WHAT'S YOUR EXCUSE?" By Marius Sucan, image found at: http://marius.sucan.ro/propaganda/discrimination-begins-in-family-sexuality/

 

Being disabled and a woman – these two identities don’t always intersect; many think that the sex of a disabled person doesn’t matter – it is not as important – it does not take preference over being disabled. For many disabled women, being a woman, having the body of a woman, does not get the attention that it deserves.

A lot of disabled women – women who are disabled – are not told about their body and the changes that they will go through. Puberty. How will a disabled girl be able to keep up with all the changes? Will they be able to mentally understand what is going on?

I was in the fifth grade when the boys and girls were split up – the boys went to the gym and the girls went to the library. We watched a ten-minute cartoon video that went over our bodies (vagina, breasts, ovaries and uterus), pregnancy, didn’t mention sex, and did not go into consent. We did not have someone talk to us – it was just a group of girls on the floor of the library watching a ten-minute video of a silent cartoon woman and the voice of a man occasionally chiming in with key words. There was no discussion afterward. We all got up and went back to class. I didn’t have a clue what was going on in the video. A silent woman and every now and again, a man would say “egg,” “ovary,” “uterus.” Yelling words at me didn’t do me any good.

I learned about puberty, sex, and STD’s later. Talking with my mom, giggling and wondering with my friends, and researching everything else on my own.

I was one of the lucky ones: many who are disabled didn’t have the talk with a family member – some were told by doctors or felt that it would be useless because they wouldn’t understand or wouldn’t need the information; or when it came time to sex education at school, the teacher made the decision to exclude them – thought it would be better for them to go to lunch early, go study, hang out for a few minutes. Many disabled adolescences are turned away if they ask questions on puberty or sexuality. This is not unusual. To society, the thought of people who are disabled and their sexual organs – working sexual organs – doesn’t seem to go together.

 

Photo has a black background. At top center, "people with disabilities have the right to" is written in bright pink. Below this, there are three horizontal rows of white bubbles, with three bubbles in each row.  Starting from the top left, moving right the bubbles are:   First row: two black stick figures with bright pink hearts for heads, one on top the other, with "sexual activity" written underneath; two faces, one black, one bright pink, facing each other, surround by black and pink hashmarks, with "pleasure" written underneath; a bright pink bra with what appears to be a black silhouette of a penis between the breasts, with "sexual and reproductive) self-determination" underneath"  Second row: six individual hands, two with hairy wrists, two with three pink bracelets and no hair, and one with hairy wrist and bright pink nails, with "choose sexual partners" underneath; two stick figures kneeling and facing each other holding hands with bright pink hearts for heads, one heart filled in and one a pink outline, with "consent to sex" underneath; female sexuality symbol, with transgender sexuality symbol interlocking it to the right, male sexuality symbol interlocking to the right of the transgender sexuality symbol, all with pink centers, with "explore and express sexuality" written underneath  Third row: A thin profile outline of a head facing right with a cloud like brain outline in pink, inside are the sexuality symbols for female, transgender, and male, with "self-definition" written underneath; A thin profile outline of a head facing left with a cloud like brain colored in pink, inside is a white heart, with "self-expression" written underneath; two pieces of paper, one top of the other, outlined in black with pink wobbly lines representing writing, with "information and support written underneath   Image found at: http://blog.sexualityanddisability.org/2016/06/how-can-we-recognise-people-with-disabilities-as-sexual-citizens-2/

 

The result: ignorance leads to unpreparedness which leads to negative consequences. If someone doesn’t know basic human reproduction – what is a sexual organ, what is the use of it, how to keep it clean, where does a baby come from, how is a baby made – then – at best – the young woman is pregnant or has an STD, or – at worse – the young woman is raped.

Many times, the family decides or takes advice from the doctor instead of asking the young woman for her thoughts; menstruation suppression, hormone therapy, birth control, or sterilization. Before the young woman even knows what is going on, her choice is taken away. She is not even given a chance to prove herself or to get used to her body.

The United States has always had a problem when it comes to sexual education – in school or at home. Comprehensive sex education or abstinence only. Knowledge or ignorance. Acknowledged or avoidance. Good or bad. Healthy or unhealthy. Who deserves it, who doesn’t. The right way and the wrong way to have and think about sex. Immoral and moral. When, where, and how to have sex.

The way we talk about, teach, and present sexual education isn’t working. But also: the audience we choose is wrong too. Students are missing in that classroom. Those who are there aren’t getting the full effect because it is not accessible. Those who try to learn more are turned away because someone has made the decision that the young adult doesn’t need to know.

We need to change the conversation, yes. But we need to change the audience too.

Puberty hits everyone – not all at the same time and not the same way – but it comes. We all deserve to meet it with knowledge and understanding. We have that right.

IT FINALLY HAPPENED

On a white tile lays the Revolution mobility cane in 5 pieces. The handle lays on the far left side with the pepper spray bottle tied to the frayed handle loop and the string that connects the five pieces laying above the five separate pieces. The wear and use of the cane is evident from the many dents and scratches.

It finally happened. Twelve years in the making; from high school prom, my high school graduation, and through college.

 

My cane finally met her end.

 

We had so many firsts together: when I got my period, crossing my first major intersection by myself, the first time a man asked me out, my first job, buying my first adult toy, my first college course…

 

She was there (and responsible for some) of my embarrassing moments: when a guy asked me out and I thought he was making a joke, so I laughed out loud, missing the Caution Wet Floor sign and causing me to trip over it – of course making a loud racket (cursing as I fell) and causing everyone to freak out and ask if the poor, blind girl was okay, tripping (accidentally!) my friends/family/professor, missing a stranger’s legs, having me think the chair was empty…

 

You were there when I got lost, confidently tapping against every landmark but the one I needed. You were there when I was angry, smoothly sliding side to side in front of me, catching every obstacle that was in my way. You were there when I was sad, felt hopeless, felt ashamed, confused, and tired.

 

You were there the first time a man slid his arm around my waist, fingers trailing across my skin, dipping at the curve of my ass, ending with his hand clenching at my side, forcefully directing me to where he ‘thought’ I wanted to go. You were there countless times after, solid, every time a man or woman directed me with their hands instead of their voice.

 

You were folded, tucked in my purse snug against my wallet when I got Sadie.

 

You were there when I second guessed my partnership with Sadie.

 

You were there when…

 

My brother and I were at the store; standing in front of the frozen dessert aisle, debating on what we wanted. I was holding my cane loosely in my right hand when it happened. Broken. Five pieces.

 

There we knelt, in front of the pies and ice cream. My brother gathering a few pieces, trying to put them back together. The string tying the sections together seemed to have snapped.

 

Not bothering to move – and being calm all the while, I slid the string attached to the handle through the second section, then the third, then the forth. The string wasn’t long enough to go through the fifth piece.

 

It is stupid, I thought, to tear up over a cane. I barely use it anymore.

 

Gathering my pieces, I slipped them into my purse. My feet moved automatically after that. Left, right. Confident. How odd, I thought, that my legs are confident and strong, but my right hand didn’t know what to do – closing into a fist, then grasping for something, then hanging, limply.

 

When my brother left me to get something in another aisle, I stood there feeling foolish. What if someone stands in front of me, waiting for me to move out of their way so they can get something from the shelf behind me? I won’t know they’re there. They won’t know I’m blind. Just someone wearing sunglasses in a store. No cane. No blind identifier.

 

Hours later, my cane rests, folded in my purse. It’s useless now and I should throw it away, but…

 

It is stupid to tear up over a broken cane. It’s not like I use it very often.

 

Keshia smiling broadly, her long dark hair framing her face in fashionable sunglasses. Wearing a red and white sleevless top and blue jeans, holding a Revolution mobility cane with a pepper spray holder tied to the handle loop of her cane. Standing in front of a brightly lit window with red curtains.

Freedom

The Seeing Eye harness, black background

Today is not just your birthday but our anniversary. It’s been three years. Three short years since we first met. Working with you has been freedom; I am not grounded when walking with you, I am soaring, I am untouchable, in flight – and the only thing that connects me to Earth is the smell and sound of the environment…and you: the pull of your harness, the turn and direction of your body; informing me to slow down, speed up, turn left, turn right, there is a door, a curb, a bench, the Publix bakery, a hallway, my favorite chair at the university library, home.

 

This is not to say walking with a cane is not freedom. Having complete control over your movements, knowing as much of your surroundings, making sure to stay in contact with landmarks that will inform you to turn soon, turn now, wrong area – turn around…this is freedom too.

Me sitting at a fountain wearing an orange shirt and blue jeans with Sadie sitting next to me looking towards the sun. Behind us is the blue water in the fountain and some strollers for people at the outlet mall to use. Beyond that, some bushes and ttrees just starting to get their leaves back and a tall brick building against ablue sky

However, with you I am in constant flight. The skills I use with my cane take me to the next level with you. I do not trip, my feet are in constant motion, never stumbling. My hand is steady, they do not tremble with second guessing (did I miss that landmark?). I am just as confident with you than with my cane; head held high, back straight, body direction forward.

 

There is also a quickness and a sense of security with you. If there is a crowd that I need to walk through, a flick of the wrist and a command, you will lead me through it – and not once will I bump into bodies, trip over feet and other objects. I am turned around and need to find my way back, the turn of my body, a flick of the wrist, a command, and you will take me there. The buildings are too far apart and there is a wide-open space separating them, there is no landmarks that I can find to tell me that my body direction is correct but with a flick of the wrist and a command, you will take me there.

Me with my hair down wearing a yellow T-shirt and blue jean shorts with white sneakers walking Sadie at Lake Eola. We're on a sidewalk in front of some green grass and willow trees. Sadie is looking at something interesting to the right of the camera

It hasn’t always been easy. Our bodies haven’t always walked as partners: I didn’t trust you at first, always second guessing your direction, instruction, and feedback of the environment; you, who can be playful and compliant out of harness, refused to listen to me, to follow my commands, you knew where you were going, so there was no need for me to tell you anything.

 

I cried during training. I thought it was a mistake to give up my cane and pick up a harness. I was so nervous that you would do something un-service animal like that would cause people around me to judge me, judge you, judge the Seeing Eye. I imagined running into doors, walls, tripping over things, I imagined you taking food off of plates and out of trash cans, I imagined you jumping on people, barking when in classrooms, chasing after squirrels and birds. I doubted myself, would I have the strength to correct you in public when you did something wrong?

 

Things, of course, did get better. While in training, you started to listen to me more. I became more comfortable with you – and with the harness. I made mistakes and so did you – luckily, I was in good company, people who were in training for the first time, telling me the same fears and doubts I had, and there were people there for the second, third, eighth time, telling me about the times they felt as if they weren’t going to be good handlers, telling me the different ways they made mistakes.

Me in sunglasses with my hair hanging down over my left shoulder wearing a white off-the-shoulder sweater that reads "Believe in Love" with black pants and sandals next to my luggage at Orlando International Airport. Sadie is laying down between my feet as she waits to see her new home for the first time

We graduated from training. And some of my fears did come to pass.

 

At the university, I learned quickly not to let you use the bathroom on thick grass because you would eat it. It was Florida and September and the second week of school – so hot and busy and loud – and since I had my hands full of things, I decided to put you on long leash and let you do your thing. Standing there, sweating and weighted down with books, a laptop, your bowls and bag of food and a few bottles of water – for me and you – I wondered what was taking so long. “Park time,” I repeated. The leash didn’t move. “Park time.” Nothing. Then, from behind me, a man asks his friend, “Dude, why is she telling her dog to eat grass?” I was embarrassed. I am able to laugh about it now but back then I felt as if I didn’t know what I was doing.

 

You don’t grab food from plates or trashcans, but you do love napkins and wadded bits of paper – receipts, notebook paper, essays. I learned this because in one of my psychology courses, there was a young woman who loved to look at you. She would coo at you and make kissing noises. To my pride, not once did you look her way, you did not return any of her kisses. But she had a half of a hamburger that she wanted to give to you. Without knowing it at the time, she placed the hamburger on a napkin and placed it in front you. I didn’t know she did it until I heard you chomping a way. Napkin in your mouth and burger ignored on the floor.

 

There were quite a few service animals on campus and you ignored every single one of them, until they licked your paws, rubbed against your side and sniffed you. You would say a quick hello back; you were working and didn’t have time for playing or conversing.

Sadie laying on her bed with a red ball in her mouth with an expression of "no cameras, please" in front of the fully-ornamented Christmas tree and wrapped presents

I was noticed more. Being a blind woman, I am used to the glances and comments from people, but with you, their glances were longer and their comments were louder. With the cane, people would usually get out of the way – no one wants to get their ankles hit – but with you, a small, fluffy, golden retriever, there was no hesitation in blocking the way so they can have that quick pat, a conversation – with you – about you. People love the way you look and watching you work; without asking, they take pictures and videos of you. You are on Instagram and SnapChat – despite me not having an account, you are a photo on Facebook posts – despite me not knowing them.

 

It took a while to move fluidly. There were quite a few times in the beginning where my body direction and my commands were in complete opposites. You would choose one and we would trip over each other’s legs. You would choose another and I would correct you. And there were times you wouldn’t move at all. Our walk is better too; we do not walk head to head – my body is behind your ribs. We do not race one another, you are the guide.

 

I am comfortable with you now. I am quick to repeat a command if you need a reminder. I am also quick with a correction if you need it. When you stop and refuse to go any further, I fix my body direction, if that doesn’t work, then there is something in the way.

 

You and I are more in tandem now. I move with your body and you move with mine. You follow my commands and I trust you will get me there, even if it feels as if you are going the wrong way. We are perfect together. I am extremely light sensitive, and you will always choose to walk in the shade rather than the sun. You are up for a cuddle just asMe in my white sunglasses with my hair cascading down over my goldenrod colored shirt and shite pants. I'm kneeling down for the puppy love as she goes to lick my nose, and behind us are some yachts and trees, and even some of the Orlando skyline farther away much as a quick nap or a few hours of play.

Claiming My Education and My Anger

On top of a red and white tablecloth sits a white plate with a shiny red apple. The apple has a jagged bite taken out of the right side. Image courtesy of www.inabeautifulmess.com

Years ago, I took a course on women writers. I was particularly excited about that. By then, most of my courses focused more on white Christian men; poems, novels, and essays full of justification on why they supported racist ideology, or why they supported keeping a woman subservient (legally or socially) to their fathers and husbands, or how intelligent or stronger they – or their main (white male) character – was compared to the ignorant and weak male character (who was from another country or lower class). The course featured all women writers, ranging from poor to rich, white to POC, Christian to Muslim; our readings ranged from poems, novels, to essays; and public outreach was a large part of the class – for Women’s History Month, we had to create fliers (of our choosing, that had something to do with women), we split into groups and decided what (or whom) to use as a theme in our exhibit at the university library, and we had to do a presentation at the main library downtown. Other than a few accessibility issues, the course was great.

I love courses that make me think – philosophically, spiritually, about myself, about my loved ones, about society. Luckily, being an English and Gender Studies major, I had a lot of courses like that. In this course, we were asked two questions that made me stop and think (and gave me the feels – of the not so good kind):

  • Have you claimed your education?
  • Why are you angry?

 

These two questions hit me so hard. You know those questions – those questions that are so simple, so innocent sounding – those questions where the answers come quick but the emotions rarely match and you have to stop and analyze yourself, or your answers end up being longer than you thought – or doesn’t end up being the answer you thought you would have given if you thought of it first, or the answer, after given, leaves you drained, emotionally? Yeah.

As for the first question, it comes from “Claiming an Education,” by Adrienne Rich. She delivered this speech at the convocation of Douglass College in 1977. She says,

The first thing I want to say to you who are students, is that you cannot afford to think of being here to receive an education: you will do much better to think of being here to claim one. One of the dictionary definitions of the verb “to claim” is: to take as the rightful owner; to assert in the face of possible contradiction. “To receive” is to come into possession of: to act as receptacle or container for; to accept as authoritative or true.

Basically, we must be active in claiming our education, not passive. We must be assertive and take responsibility for ourselves and our needs; advocate, never settle for less and know, in the end, you know what you need better than anyone else.

She then goes on to talk about the professors and how they should take their students – women – more seriously. Instead of focusing on their student’s intellectual abilities, they tend to eroticize their students – treating their students as sexual objects.

The education of women has been a matter of debate for centuries, and old, negative attitudes about women’s role, women’s ability to think and take leadership, are still rife both in and outside the university. Many male professors (and I don’t mean only at Douglass) still feel that teaching in a women’s college is a second-rate career. Many tend to eroticize their women students–to treat them as sexual objects–instead of demanding the best of their minds. (At Yale a legal suit [Alexander v. Yale] has been brought against the university by a group of women students demanding a stated policy against sexual advances toward female students by male professors.) Many teachers, both men and women, trained in the male-centered tradition, are still handing the ideas and texts of that tradition on to students without teaching them to criticize its antiwoman attitudes, it’s omission of women as part of the species.

I was so self-assured back then; I told myself that I do claim my education, then list why that statement was true.

As for the second question, I can’t remember why our professor asked us this; all I have are fragmented rambles taken after the question was asked:

I am angry because my professors see nothing wrong in asking students to write down their opinions, while telling me that do to it not being accessible, she will read it to me, and I can tell her how I feel. Out loud. In the middle of class. Meanwhile, the students write down their private thoughts, reassured in their privacy.

I am angry because I am not being represented in books and poems; where is my body? Do I – and others like me – exist outside of medical textbooks?

Out of our five-person group, he was chosen to speak for us. Group discussion: when did we first realize gender differences? He ignored mine; told the story of the boy and the other boy and the girl and the other girl – but did not tell my story. Why said the second girl. He did not verbally answer. I do not understand why. I am angry because too many times my voice, my story, has been put aside, not good enough to be repeated, told, fkjdls;ajfdl

The professor wanted us to write down – anonymously – why we are angry. She would collect them all and turn them into a poem. When I got the poem a few weeks later, I cried. It was raw and ugly and real and heart, stabbing heart-breaking real pain beautiful. I loved it. I still read it from time to time.

With shaky fingers that are no longer used to writing with a pen, I wrote,

Practicing self-silencing.

I look back at those questions now. I know better now. I have not claimed my education; not entirely, anyway. This is an ableist society and being disabled, claiming education is the difference between living or existing. You either will sink or swim. Too often parents of disabled children are told by friends, doctors, and others – regardless of disability – that the child will be unable to live a reasonable quality of life (because having an impairment has such a traumatic physical or psychological impact on a person). With society set against believing you can achieve success from the start, it is up to the disabled child’s loved ones – then as the disabled child gets older, up to them, to push for accessibility and inclusion.

When I look back at the countless times in college, where I sat silent, not able to fully participate because the materials weren’t made accessible in time – do to the Disability Resource Center running behind, or the professors failing to give the materials to them in time; or when I fell in love with math, and wanted to minor in it, and an advisor kindly told me that it would be too hard, considering my…impairment; or when I failed Gender Studies because the professor refused to create an actual lesson plan, and enjoyed randomly showing – and testing us on – movies that were subtitled or silent…

How many of those times did I stand up for myself? More than half. Did I claim my education? I sent emails to professors a few months before the semester started, informing them of my disability and what I needed done for the class to be made accessible. I invited them to ask me questions if they were unsure of anything; I assured them that I would do everything on my end to make this easy. Most took me up on the offer, some informed me that they knew all of this because they “had a blind student before,” – which then I had to explain that, no, that student can read print, I can’t – but there was a couple who, no matter what I did, I was always an inconvenience. There were professors that had to be reminded constantly to be descriptive when talking about art, or that they had to finish the list of extra readings as soon as possible so that they can be made accessible in time, or that had to be told, no, they can not randomly pick an essay for us to read or movie for us to watch, because it won’t be made accessible in time and I won’t be able to participate in class discussions.

How many times was I silent because I was tired of the constant fight to make sure I had the things I needed to pass the course, or scared because I thought the professor would give me a lower grade out of spite, annoyed by my constant nagging, or ashamed of having a disability. How many times did I feel as if I had to justify to my professors why I was there, in their classroom instead of at home. How many times did I sit in the back, or front, or middle of the classroom, silent because I couldn’t participate. How many times did I feel stupid and weak? How many times did I let things slide because the professor was too busy, or the professor was trying their best, or the professor will get to it later? How many times did I feel as if I didn’t belong there; that I should just give up?

Too many times. So, no, I have not claimed my education. Not entirely.

Am I still angry? Yes. Yes, I fucking am.

However, this time, this time I will let my anger guide me in claiming my education. Claiming my space in classrooms, claiming my voice in class discussions, claiming my right to be here. I will no longer hold my anger back, letting it lay on my tongue, refusing to roar. No longer will I ask politely, then beg; I will ask, then I will demand. I will no longer give a pass to those who barely try; I will no longer be thankful for at least getting ‘something’; I will get everything I deserve, everything that is given to the other students.

I belong here. I have a right to be here. And if you don’t want me here, in your ivory tower, too fucking bad. I will get what I deserve. Make way for my cane. Make space on these desks for my brailled notes and laptop with a screen reader. Become comfortable with me here, in front of you, because you have no other choice.