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Second Sense - Beyond Vision Loss

Redefining Independence

July 14, 2022 | Leave a Comment

by Siobhan Midgley, CVRT, COMS, TVI

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A street scene under an overcast sky, with snow swirling and slick sidewalks.

It’s a blizzardy Saturday in Chicago; sidewalks slick, visibility low, fingers and toes frozen. I get a text from my client, and he has a conundrum. His usual route to his book club is just one stop away on the L. He knows the route well and normally has no difficulties traveling it. But he also knows that he has other transportation options, or he could participate through Zoom. But he doesn’t want to use his other choices because “it’s usually a very simple thing to do.”

 

What is Interdependence?

My client and I used his conundrum to talk about the term “interdependence.” Interdependence recognizes that everybody, disabled or able-bodied, lives within an interconnected society where we must depend on others for varying levels of assistance. The visually impaired influencer Molly Burke, puts it this way, “Asking for help doesn’t mean you’ve failed. In fact, I would argue that failing to ask for help when you need it, that’s failing.”

 

Trying to Prove a Point?

My client felt that if he stayed home, he wouldn’t be proving to himself, or to others, that he’s capable of traveling independently as a person with low vision. He would be failing. Don’t we in the vision community, all the time, hear the word “Independence?” But what do we mean by that? Does independence mean you risk safety or efficiency so you can prove to others that you don’t need assistance? Do you walk to the train in a blizzard rather than stay home, use paratransit or ask for a ride, just to prove a point? Sighted people don’t hold themselves to the same standards of independence at all costs, so why should you?

Interdependence allows you to shed this notion that to live a fulfilling life, you must be able to do everything on your own. And assistance looks different for everybody. In my client’s case, he could choose to have his wife take him to book club, use the Taxi Access Program or he could participate through Zoom. These options include varying levels of asking for assistance, but the important part is that he had choices.

 

Why are Choices Important?

In the novel Blacktop Wasteland by S.A. Cosby, the main character has a conversation with his son about growing up as a Black man in the U.S. and the importance of choices. He says

Listen, when you’re a black man in America you live with the weight of people’s low expectations on your back every day. They can crush you right down to the [obscenity] ground. Think about it like it’s a race. Everybody else has a head start and you’re dragging those low expectations behind you. Choices give you freedom from those expectations. Allows you to cut ‘em loose. Because that’s what freedom is. Being able to let things go. And nothing is more important than freedom. Nothing.

When receiving life skills training, assistive tech training or orientation and mobility training, you are learning that you have choices. And sometimes those choices involve asking others for help. At the end of the day, though, those choices give you the freedom to live your live how you want to live it, not how others expect you to live it. And sometimes that might just mean skipping the train ride and curling up in bed with your book and your virtual book club.

For more thoughts on what independence means to disabled people, check out Molly Burke’s Talk About Independence.

Siobhan is a Certified Orientation and Mobility Specialist and Certified Vision Rehabilitation Therapist at Second Sense.

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