When most people think of memories of school, they are positive and happy. They involve Continue reading “Feeling Isolated In a World All Your Own”
He’s sick, I’m sick, and we’re both miserable. Howdy everyone. Welcome to day 6 of the #UltimateBlogChallenge. I am writing to you from the comfort of my bed, where I’ve been pretty much all day. I’ve been blessed, (AKA cursed), with the continuation of that same infection I mentioned in last night’s post, but it seems to have moved to my ears, which for me, is not fun.
Aside from that, Dodson, who had been having some poop problems for the past few days, had seemed to recover, deciding that being sick with me was better than being healthy. Yep, he’s sick again. So not only are we sick together, we both have medical stuff going on tomorrow to hopefully get ourselves sorted. In the meantime, he, ever the happy pup, is happy to inform you that he has a Nyla bone, whereas I, his human, have discovered my dislike for the ending of the movie Whiplash.
One of my biggest supports during this time has been my mom. I know I talk about her often, but sometimes having a stellar mom requires you to brag. She went to Petco to grab Dodson’s special food; she went to the pharmacy to get my meds a few weeks back… she’s been the ultimate multitasker that I am forever grateful for. She tries to defy the odds in the most sasstastic ways possible: with a spitfire attitude, a love for coffee, and a hard worker’s mindset.
Growing up, it’s sad to say that my mom and I fought, a lot. She was extremely overprotective, something I didn’t understand, sort of in-your-face about accessibility and advocacy, but most of all… she was raised in Mexico during a time where your children obeyed you 100 percent of the time, no questions asked. If you know me or my siblings, you know we asked a LOT of questions. My mom could be scary when her temper flared, but I was also an anxious shy kid who didn’t know any better. Still, she was my greatest support and I clung to her for dear life. Unless of course, I was off camping, rafting, or horseback riding.
My mom was overprotective in the sense that she had no idea what she was going to do with a blind child. She wanted to help me, but for the first few years of my life, a lot of it was guesswork. No one told her of the available resources to her. Hell, when she asked the government for assistance or resources, they told her no because of my dad’s earnings as a nurse. But of course, the government couldn’t point a worried parent to any available resources, riiight? It was only when I went to pre-K that she learned about IEPs, advocacy, tools to help me learn. With this info, my mom and the district of Los Angeles Unified became fast friends… or not.
My mom is an amazing advocate. One who doesn’t give one single damn if you disagree or don’t think her daughter needs this accommodation, you are going to give it to her and do, your, damn, job. She enforced that she didn’t care if the other kids didn’t need an in-class aide, she wouldn’t be leaving until I got one. Spoiler, I did.
A very vivid memory that I have that I still remember is my first IEP. I wasn’t required to be in the room while all the adults were making decisions on my educational goals going forward, but she had entrusted the teachers to watch me during recess. (Oh yeah man, she went to school every day with me for the first few years and still took care of my brothers. She’s that awesome.) When recess ended, all the kids filed back inside and my little four-year-old self, not knowing that the teacher had come and gone, wondered where everyone had gone off to. I remember wandering off the school property, only to come back and try to find the entrance. I had no mobility training, so I was relying on my wit and my poor vision at the time to figure out where I was.
When I eventually made it inside, I couldn’t figure out where in the heck the classroom was. It’s worth noting that the people in charge of the class didn’t notice the blind four-year-old missing, but hey who needs details, right? I wandered down the halls of that building, looking for any possible sign of where my mom could be. I was scared, lost, and no amount of times I called out did anyone answer. Plenty of adults saw me pass by, but no one bothered to stop the crying little kid to ask if they were lost or confused. The education system in the early 2000s was simply stellar, I tell you.
Eventually, I pressed my face up against the window of the door, sobbing because at this point, I had no idea where I was. I could see through the window that there were people in there, but I just wanted them to notice me and tell me where my mom was. It was by some miracle that my IEP meeting was happening in that room. (You go, four year old Nat), and my mom, having heard my crying, immediately flew out of the room and brought me in, hugging and positively raging at the sheer incompetence that occurred to allow her blind daughter to get lost. The adults at the table, no doubt furious at this woman for daring to say their administration was lacking, told her I didn’t need to be present and she let them know, under no circumstances, were they allowed to take me back with the other kids until this meeting was over. All I wanted was some one to tell me where I was, and they had ignored me. I sat in her lap and quietly stared at all the adults and even then, I knew, they had no clue who they were dealing with.
It was with this mentality that my mom followed me from school to school with. Where we lacked in communicating why we were upset with each other or why I did something the way I did, she made up in advocating for me. Without her, I wouldn’t have learned Braille, orientation and mobility, or even how to tie my shoes without her insistence. The school system is happy to let kids like me slip through the cracks because we require so much extra attention, but we deserve an equal education. And my mom, who came from a place where equality for people with disabilities isn’t common, did all that, for me.
The great thing about my mom is that she set aside her insecurities and overprotectiveness to allow me to take trips with Braille Institute of America and Junior Blind of America, (now known as Wayfinder Family Services.) She knew that I had to have these experiences, so she, under all motherly worries and pretenses, allowed me to go white water rafting, fishing, horseback riding, and snow and water skiing, just to name a few. With these two organizations, I found my love for nature and adventure, as well as tasting hints of freedom that, under other circumstances, I would never have. I camped for several weeks at a time during the summer, I stayed on a ranch for one weekend, I learned that rock climbing and I weren’t meant to be. But I wouldn’t have learned any of these things if my mom hadn’t been the one to push me to try it.
I write this all to say… that my mom is awesome. She’s funny, sassy, and can be overbearing, but she’s also loving, fierce, and strongly independent. I love her entirely. She taught me how to advocate for myself, how to push myself to be better, and through our little spats, she helped me discover who I am as a person. Don’t let kids with disabilities slip through the cracks just because a school district thinks it’s easier. Work with parents, give them resources, help them be a support system to their kids. School is not only there to teach your kid about geography and science, they exist to be a support for all the kids there. Just because your child might be blind or hard of hearing or otherwise disabled, doesn’t mean they don’t have a future. These kids deserve a fighting chance to succeed. Share resources, hold meetings, understand and validate fears and worries, but ultimately come out of those meetings with a game plan to help these children reach the potential they hold. Now is not forever and never is a load of crap.
Why Advocacy Is Important (and Why I’m Tired)
Happy Friday everyone! I hope you are all, (at least for us Californians), enjoying the rainy weather and staying safe during these trying times. I come to you this week Continue reading “Why Advocacy is Important (and Why I’m Tired)”
Just the Square Peg in the Round Hole
Happy march, everyone. Or, as most young adults know it, acceptance/denial/graduation prep season. It’s that time of year where we feverishly work our butts off to turn in papers, study for midterms, spend loads of money on entry fees, and try to be academic angels, at least until September. Personally, I like to call this season, ‘find all the pieces and force them to fit… even if they don’t match’. This time of year is not my particular favorite, as like akin to a toddler trying to force a square peg into a round hole, I try to figure out my life and make sure all my corners fit and conforms to the standards of academia, all in the name of a piece of paper that claims I know what I’m doing. I’m already exhausted, if you can’t tell.
People tell me I should be excited. Junior transfer! New school! New opportunities! What I see that no one else sees are: new struggles, having to prove to everyone else that I deserve to take up this space, proving that I should be heard just because I can’t be seen, fighting with vocational rehab for financial assistance, wondering if I’m doing the right thing. All of this compounded keeps me up at night, wanting to reach for my phone to text my worries to someone who is most likely asleep and probably doesn’t want to hear it. It is very easy for sighted people to see new chapters as exhilarating new opportunities, but in higher education, I can’t help but dread it. People urge you to fight without knowing how utterly exhausting constantly fighting can be. If I could give you a taste of what I look at when it comes to new schools, the best is this.
While filling out an online form for disabled student services at the yet-to-be announced university, I came across several portions that just caught at me like thorns in a garden. When selecting my ethnicity, I had to choose ‘other’ because I couldn’t select African American and Mexican. I had to be one, the other, or simply go unidentified because apparently, we live in a day and age where mixed kids are still nonexistent. Later during this same form, I had to choose my disability. Blind, cool, that’s quick. Then I scrolled down… and saw that they listed mental retardation as a category all on its own. While I do not identify as this, what I’ve learned as being a minority in a sea of other minorities that words that have a history of being used in derogatory contexts do nothing but open anyone who has to tick that box to unnecessary prejudices. Not to mention that this isn’t a recognized term anymore, but hey, you’d think a disability office has sensitivity training.
I wish my visible recoil from my keyboard had been captured at that moment. Sensitivity training exists for a reason, mainly because we must teach the rest of society how to be aware of their behaviors towards persons with disabilities. It’s aggravating that the smart mouth indignant part of me that lies dormant wanted to rise up and lodge a formal complaint against this office… even before I set a foot through their door. Being exhausted does this to you. It eats at you and infuriates you when people don’t know better but hide under guises of disability representation.
I am still torn on whether I want to say something, because while I should be conserving all my energy to fight my own battles, I am reminded… I am constantly reminded of the boy who was bullied and harassed by my high school adapted PE teacher for being ‘different’ and getting on his nerves. A man who got a degree to teach disabled youth sports… was belittling and constantly being rude to a boy who couldn’t stand up for himself and who had no support from the other fully able-bodied adults in the room. I remember how he used words like ‘gay’, ‘retard’, and, in the case of when he saw my “I <3 boobies” wristband, (in support of breast cancer awareness), he told me that was such a lezzy bracelet. And then he laughed in my face.
I later went home and cried, tearing at that wristband until it was destroyed. It was only until later that I realized I was being silenced for making a grown adult uncomfortable with my identity. And every day I resolve to do better, to fight harder, to reserve my anger for the people who rightfully deserve it. But this same social justice warrior attitude I possess is equally as draining as clicking ‘other’ under my race. Having to force myself to identify who I am before I can even get a phone call in… it opens doors, sure, but it also opens the doors of prejudice that leaves me exhausted and crumpled in bed, sobbing with frustration. Do I want a degree? Yes, yes, I really truly do. But would I love to be able to obtain the same degree as everyone else without a barrier literally around every corner? Good lord yes please.
As I clicked through the form, they wanted to know all my medications, the things that hindered my abilities, and a proof of disability. Separately, they wished to know if there was any other issues they should be aware of, and here’s where I hesitated. In coming to terms and treating my anxiety, I’ve often wondered if I should inform the people at the DSS office that I got easily overwhelmed and in terms of heavy course loads, mentally checked out. I agonized, because until this point, I’d only told my current DSS counselor that I struggled so she’d understand why I struggled so hard, not just visually, but mentally in Statistics. This intense approach to figuring how to best serve me has left me extremely wary. Handing over a packet of information that I don’t even get to discuss in person has my hackles raised… and I haven’t even stepped foot on campus. That’s, exhausting.
I consistently feel the pressures to do better, to have better grades then last year. But what my grades don’t show is my deep sense and want to understand others, to unravel how we communicate and the best methods of communication. All that a paper will show is that I got a C in Math. And that, makes me proud. Higher education isn’t just about getting straight As. It’s about being able to make it through and said you did it. Disabled college students just… have it ten times more difficult. I’ve been in college for three years, moved out once, came back, and want to move out again, even if I’m only a stone’s throw away. Why? Because it’s the only way this square peg might fit into the round hole.
I struggle to find my place not only in academia, but in general life. I’m not a sorority type, I can’t commit to study sessions that aren’t broken by sporadic needs to declutter my brain and drink more caffeine. I don’t have a ‘dream job’, just a desire to help where I can. I want to be there to see my niece and nephew grow up, but I want to be out in the quiet edges of a city, in a mountain or just some log cabin in the woods with Wi-fi. (priorities, I tell you.) When everyone else chooses right, I always choose left. While I identify and struggle with being an HSP and anxious introvert, everyone is debating whether to go out and party right before an assignment is due. Does it make me responsible? Sort of. I’m no straight A student, so you can deduce a more accurate answer.
I fear that I will always be the black sheep, the square peg who shaves down her corners to feel like she belongs somewhere. I’ve only met one other person who understands my drifting, lost feeling. I know I want a degree, I know I’m exhausted by being the Disability Police, but I also know that feeling adrift is awful, especially when you are alone.
I break a lot of expectations, but I also crumble under all expectations. I’m either supposed to be perfect or a failure. And this notion has translated to my everyday life, where if I’m having a bad day, I apologize profusely. Ask around, someone would probably say I’ve apologized for seemingly small things that in my mind, were huge. I start texts, then erase them for fear of waking the person up. I feel incredibly guilty if I’ve forgotten something or said something wrong. It’s a constant fight to remind myself that not everyone will storm away because that’s what I’m used to.
So, this square peg thanks everyone who keeps me sane. It’s extremely difficult to find where I belong, and I’m currently awake this late wondering if I’m doing the right thing and missing my rock terribly. I’m restless, confused, and a public relations major. Please someone find the irony. I can and will continue floating about, trying to find when I can finally be put together in the right puzzle with all my other square pegs forced into round holes. /despair season, everyone. Be kind to each other.
Hhowdy! Below is a post I wrote last year about an uncomfortable experience I had while taking a Lyft with Dodson on my way home from school. I’m glad to say this sort of stuff is still pretty infrequent, but it happens. My words are blunt, but they’re saying something. Please take a moment to hear me out
Hello everyone. I hope your week is going well! Guess what? It’s Friday!
Today, I wanted to write about a recent experience I had while using Lyft. For those who may be unaware, Lyft is a ridesharing service that allows for paid transportation to a destination. Unfortunately Lyft, and its rival company, Uber, are very well-known in the blind and guide dog communities resspectively, for drivers denying service animals into their vehicles.
I’m happy to report that on this particular day, I was not refused service, thankfully. But, oh how I wish I was. Let me explain.
I was extremely grateful when my driver successfully located myself and my pup on my college campus, as it was raining terribly here in SoCal. When we settled into the car, the ride was pretty enjoyable. We exchanged pleasantries, the driver asked about my major, everything was going great. This, of course, had to end, due in part to the (apparent) elephant in the Prius.
“Are you blind?” He asked. I smiled and nodded in affirmation, feeling the dread in my stomach. “How do you do your schoolwork?” I relaxed, thinking that this was a harmless question. I responded by informing him that I did my schoolwork by using a Braille display, showing it to him briefly at a stop light. I explained how I used Word and a screenreader to do my work and affectively keep up with my peers.
Then, the “question” came.
“Do you believe in Jesus?” At this point, I’m pretty sure my stomach got left behind about a mile behind us. I tentatively answered yes. This, readers, seems to be a very big mistake when interacting with uninformed sighted people.
The rest of this uncomfortable Lyft ride was spent with my driver telling me that Jesus would heal me, that one day I would no longer need Dodson, because I would be made whole again. I was so exhausted, and frankly too anxious to be indignant. I fear the utter control this driver had over my safety, so I admit that I was complacent and didn’t advocate correctly. But, unfortunately, this can only get worse from here, so….
When we pulled up to my house, fifteen minutes into the Jesus-shall-save-thee lecture, my driver ended the trip. As I gathered my belongings, he locked the car doors, turned off his car, then proceeded to ask me the Question universally recognized by all blind people as the most uncomfortable and invasive of them all. “Do you mind if I pray for you?” Before I could recover from the shock that my driver had indeed locked me in his car, he began praying. And I became angry. He asked God to join our faiths, as I was (apparently), a fellow Christian in good faith and heart. He asked God to “fix” me. Notice the quotation marks around ‘fix’.
What many people will not realize that just took place is that the driver inevitably told God that I was broken, he pulled a power play move over me as a disabled blind woman. By locking me in his car, he told me that he had control of the situation. What he failed to realize is that, in his attempts to do, what he thought was a good deed, he put me in a vulnerable position that I despise. I felt dehumanized, judged for not “working” by his, and presumably, God’s standards, and boxed in. Worst of all, I felt invalidated.
To give some background, I was born with Congenital Glaucoma, something that is not very likely in newborns. Fifty four surgeries later, I went almost completely blind in 2016. At the time, I was devastated. Frustrated, because I would never know what my children would look like, upset because my nephew had just been born and I’d never see his milestones with my eyes, and scared. Uncontrollably, bone-jarringly afraid. I had moved about 300 miles away from home a few months prior to attend school at UC Santa Cruz, my dream university. All these emotions, fueled by a late night conversation with my partner, helped finalize my decision to reapply for a guide dog. Lo and behold, two years later, I have this golden raggamuffin, (who is currently sleeping with all four paws sticking straight up like the true derp he is).
So yes, my life is immeasurably better. I do get twinges of emotion, wishing I could see in the moment JUST so I could see my nephew in his blue footie pajamas dancing, or to see my just born niecelet sleep in her basinette. But no, overall, I do not want my sight back. If I could have corrective surgery, of course I’d consider it. But my eye condition is incurable, and I’ve long since given up this notion.
So what did this Lyft driver do? Well, besides being intensely invasive of my privacy, he decided for me that I wanted to be fixed. He made a choice for me that I never consented to. Silence does not mean “yes”. Uncomfortable silences and asking to be let out does not mean “keep going, speak for me, do what you want.” My dog whining and kicking the car door with his front paws does not mean “ignore us and our needs and try to fix us.” What this all means is stop, apologize, and Let. Us. Go.
After this prayer session ended, he let me out of his car with the promise that Jesus would save me. Needless to say, I reported him to Lyft and asked never to be paired with him ever again. What many sighted people do not understand is that many blind people do not want their sight back. Are there a few that do? Of course. But our wants and wishes are not the wants and wishes of others and vice versa.
As a community, society needs to realize that not all disabled people want to be “saved”. If you want to take that route, consider that God, or whomever you worship, made us this way because They wanted it to be. What’s even more possible is this: if you must, pray for us in private. Do not back people into a corner and use your able bodied self and ideas to further push the envelope. Trust in us that we know we are a minority. Always remember that your beliefs and your abilities are not the only ideals that exist in society. Remember that figuratively backing any person into a corner and continuously pushing your ideals onto them until they crumple beneath your will, is, and will always be, harassment.
As I conclude this piece, I want to leave you with this idea. What if a blind person cornered you and prayed to God or whomever their preferred deity, to have your abilities taken away? It’s angering, invasive, and feels like you’re being harassed, doesn’t it? Exactly. Safe travels, my loves.