For some that know me, the fact that I have low vision may come as a surprise. It’s a luxury that many of us with invisible disabilities have. We have control over who knows we have a disability and who does not know.
It wasn’t always like this for me. In high school, I was marked by many as “that kid that cannot see”. Not that this was a bad thing, I embraced my identity (mainly because when you’re in high school having a solid identity is more of a blessing than a curse), but as I moved out into the world, I decided that there were other aspects of myself that I wanted to be known for (you know like my personality).
But what changed? How did I gain access to this type of control? Simple, through the use of mainstream technology. As our dependence on computers increased, I was able to trade out my desktop video magnifiers and enlarged copies for a windows computer, and unless you look at the size of the text on my phone, you probably would never know that my vision sucks.
And yet, this is a luxury I have that some of our students do not. While I, with a visual acuity of 20/70 can do this seamlessly, for someone with 20/800, their disability will never be truly invisible. But… it may be able to be more discrete.
What can we learn from this?
In today’s world, in which a 20 volume braille book can be read on a 32 cell braille display, discretion has never been more possible. For our braille readers, this MUST be a consideration, not just because Assistive Technology happens to be a part of the ECC but because they need to learn how to fight bias.
What does bias in blindness look like? It looks like an employer looking at an interviewee that happens to be blind, starting to calculate how much it will cost to hire her.
How do we fight this bias? Teach our students to use mainstream technology. Yes, of course braille notes and victor readers are nice, but at the end of the day, if we want our students to be employed, we need them to be able to arrive on their first day of work, at a computer they have never touched before, download NVDA and check their email.
Although this will not give them the luxury of invisibility, it may allow their colleagues, friends, and yes, their employers see some of their other great aspects (you know, like their personality).