Learning Ally College Success Program mentor Joe Retherford shares his perspective on keeping a positive attitude about blindness and the life challenges it can present.
I have learned through my journey as a blind individual that it is important to be able to laugh at yourself. If I were to take life too seriously, I would be knocked down immediately. I am relatively new to blindness, and having people treat me differently could truly destroy my self-esteem if I let it. I did not ask to have this disability, but I did realize that I only get to live once. I can’t exchange the cards that I have been dealt, so I might as well take ownership and try to find the fun in life as a blind person.
As I mentioned, I lost my sight recently and am not used to being treated differently. One of my biggest pet peeves is when I can tell that a person feels awkward talking to me. I had not dealt with that experience in my life before losing my sight, and because I feel like I am the same person I have always been, it hurts me when it happens. My options in that situation are either to feel bad about it or to find some way to relieve that tension. I decided to fight awkwardness with awkwardness. When I start talking to someone and it is clear that they are feeling a little weird about talking to a blind individual and dealing with me differently, I compliment something very visual about them like how beautiful their eyes are or that I like their shoes. Almost always their response is, “Thanks. Wait… I thought…”
I let them sit in the awkwardness for a second or two before I relieve them with a laugh and I explain that I can’t really see their eyes or shoes. We laugh and they usually ask a question or two about my disability then we proceed to converse as normal. It is such a simple solution, but it relieves the tension every time.
When I walk down the hall, I have just enough vision that I can see people jump out of the way and backwards-suction cup themselves to the wall. They leap out of the way and stare at me like I am a circus freak. I can’t see their faces, but I can feel the terror as I walk by them. This situation could make me feel like an outcast, and I could beat myself up about it. But sometimes, when I am in the right mood, I might turn this depressing instance into a situation that makes me feel better. Sometimes I walk by and when I get right in front of them, I turn my head and say, “Boo.” It is the last thing they are expecting and my ownership of the “circus freak” persona makes me laugh.
I studied at UC Davis, and at my university there are a lot of tour groups. They usually consist of 40 or 50 high school students who get one last look at the college before they make their decision about where they will be going to school. As I walk down the sidewalk, sometimes I feel like I have a magic force field around me or like I have a contagious disease. But if the timing is good and my mood is right, I get in front of the crowd and I try to split the group exactly in half. It gives me such a sense of empowerment to magically part the crowd. Again, I could feel so unwanted and isolated that people are diving away from me or I can make myself feel a little better and use my powers to have fun with life.
After losing his sight in a hunting accident during his senior year of high school, Joe made a commitment to himself to live life to the fullest. He has since graduated from UC Davis with a degree in mathematics and plans to pursue a career in teaching. Hear more from Joe on Learning Ally's College Success Program website
as he discusses "Losing Sight, Gaining Purpose." To learn more about the program, visit www.LearningAlly.org/CollegeSuccess