By the very nature of being a handler, my life is intimately intertwined with that of my guide dog. And so, by extension, is my blog. But clearly based on the variety of tags and such in the sidebar, I have many other interests. In fact, I often think of something randomly to post while doing something completely unrelated — most times even to the thing I think of to post. As such, I’ve amassed a great deal of draft posts with notes to write a post about such-and-such when I have the time. Though, more accurately that could be described as inclination because while the idea might be an interesting thing to blog and I may have had tons of things to say when it popped into my head, letting it sit for even a few hours seems to rob me of the desire to write it out. But I’m working on that and trying to whittle these draft posts down — or at least determine what my random notes to myself mean so I can write the post someday!
So, what’s all that have to do with reading? Well, the lesser reason is that much like I am wishing to whittle down these draft posts of mine, I’ve also been diligently working at decreasing the mass of books that I’ve been meaning to read. I started the year with 154 books in my queue. I was very appalled at this staggering number because I’ve always been a voracious reader and yet this pile had just grown and grown. In fact, much of the reason it grew was because I was so intimidated by the size that for a long time I avoided even attempting to read any of those books because I felt it was such an impossible task. And then, earlier this year I decided that was just stupid and there were far too many good books amongst those many tomes that I just had to start working at reading them and getting that pile down. Since joining Goodreads I’ve been more able to be organized about this endeavor and it seems that while I’ve read, as of today, 74 books this year I still have 105 books in that pile. This is mostly because of my obsession with acquiring books and I don’t regret it at all. But I have realized, much like getting all these draft posts actually written, that this will be a long, possibly never-ending task.
However, the more accurate reasoning for this post came about because of two things. One is that while I have wanted to blog more about my visual impairment I tend to forget to really sit down and do just that and even when I have something related to the subject I somehow gloss over it without even realizing. I think this is mostly because I don’t sit around and think of myself as solely a blind person, anymore than I think of myself solely as a guide dog handler or a writer or half-Asian. All these things just are facets of me as a person and so I tend to be rather unconscious of anything specific unless it is there as a true focus of what I’m currently thinking. The second reason came about at work yesterday when I was reminded of another incident from a few months back.
One of my issues at my work revolves around the task of data entry. When I’d interviewed for this position I’d been very honest about both my extreme distaste of that task and my abilities, or lack thereof, in doing such work. I know this for a fact because the task itself was one I’d grown to loathe as my previous job, which was only supposed to have a limited amount of data entry, had morphed into purely data entry. (Mostly because I type fast.) And also because of the chronic headaches I suffer. Data entry — and to a lesser extent computer use in general — is a strain for me even with adaptive devices. So, wouldn’t you know that eventually it’d come to a point where I was doing a lot of data entry. And if that weren’t bad enough, it was in a program where JAWS does not function and the text is black with a grey background that can’t be manipulated. With a larger monitor, I can see well enough to read regular text, though I prefer to enlarge it if I can and given my color perception issues black on white is the best format to see things. Though that in itself is where the strain comes from because it affects my light sensitivity and thus can be painful after a length of time, which is why I rely on JAWS. I’d made all this clear, but continued to try and explain my point. And then one day one of my superiors said to me that she had seen me, prior to my work shift beginning, at my desk reading a paperback novel. Her exact wording was: “If you can read a paperback book, you can work on this data entry.”
I was quite literally shocked into silence.
This type of statement isn’t something new to me. In fact, the first person to ever verbalize it to my face was my TVI¹ who took it as a personal insult that I’d refuse to use large print text and force myself to read a regular print novel. But herein is one interesting tidbit about achromatopsia, my cause of blindness, I can very comfortably read regular sized print. In fact, it’s not a strain at all, though; it might appear so because of the fact I need to hold it so close to my face. But this is true of ANY size print because I do not possess cones, the part of one’s retina that allows them to focus on things far away. This means that while I could theoretically hold a large print book farther from my face than something in 12 point font, it would still be relatively close. Having tested this over the years, the difference in distance is infinitesimal if it exists at all. But this is a concept that is really difficult to get across to others because it’s not, for lack of a better word, normal. And as my condition is frightfully rare, I’ve spent a good portion of my life talking myself blue trying to get the point across.
Anyway, what infuriates me about it – with specific regard to my superior’s assumption – is that no one really knows how another person can see. A fully sighted person has no more concept of how my vision is than I have an understanding of how perfect vision is. I’ve always seen the way I do and given the astounding non-degenerative aspect of achromatopsia probably always will see this same way. More insulting, though, is the idea that because I can see one thing I surely am able to see another even though those two things are hardly the same.
I’m pretty sure that this woman, in her misguided attempt to justify expecting me to complete a task I am basically incapable of working on, is arguing the same point that TVI was back so many years ago. The TVI thought I was straining myself to read the novel because I was refusing to use the adaptive accommodations given me. This was almost a logical reason because I was doing that in other cases, just not this specific example. My superior however seems to be of a more common belief that vision is so easily subjective and if I can easily sit there reading a book, then a computer screen is similar enough. To her, the two are not mutually exclusive and therein is the flaw so many sighted people have about those of us with low or no vision.
The rudeness of the comment notwithstanding, I must admit that I understand the concept of its root more than you might think. As I said, it’s not the norm for a visually impaired person to be so easily able to read regular print — and yet not be able to see a computer screen’s blown up text from more than 10 inches away. But that’s just one of the many strange things about achromatopsia — and I do promise to continue blogging about those as the mood strikes. In fact, it’s only been in the last decade of my life that I’ve truly begun to realize how, well, thankful I should be for this fact. Though, it should be understood that while I can read regular print, it’s not so simple as that given the other limitations of my eye disorder. In specific I am referring to my extreme light sensitivity. For instance, for the most part I am completely blind outside. And it’s not a lack of vision, it’s a painful saturation of vision because of the light from not just the sun, but the very sky itself. (I’ve often thought of moving to Washington State just to see how that would affect my navigation outside given all the overcast days, but then I’d have all the accompanying sinus issues from all the moisture.) It’s also why I abhor snow because it only increases the discomfort of being outside — and I sort of hate being cold. So, for the most part this little ability is pretty much useless in my daily life and so generally I don’t bother with trying to read things except for pleasure. That is, books.
However, I won’t say that there aren’t times I’d trade being able to sit at home with a reading lamp on and a good novel spread out in my hands for the ability to read a damn street sign or go outside without physical discomfort or pain. But then I think about how disorienting that would be and I can’t justify consciously inflicting that on myself.
1. TVI stands for “Teacher of the Visually Impaired” and is an itinerant teacher assigned to a blind person usually through primary school (elementary through high school). They do a wide variety of things from giving lessons in Braille and other “adaptive techniques” to advocating for the student for services and acting as a liaison between the student, their school, state and parents.