Parenthood is a joy and a challenge for most parents. You question yourself, second-guess decisions, worry about your children, and hope that they grow up to be happy, healthy, productive members of society. But what happens if your child is born blind, or becomes blind due to illness or accident, or whose vision decreases over time? Do those worries disappear or amplify? Do those hopes diminish?
I may not be a parent, but I’ve been the child of parents. You may not be blind or know blindness firsthand, but I have, and so have many others who have contributed ideas to this post and the ones that will follow in the coming weeks. You may only recently have received news that your child won’t see the way “typical” children do. You may have fought for a diagnosis or it may have been immediately apparent. Whatever the case, you, as a parent, have both the responsibility and the power to teach your blind child ways to adapt to a world that doesn’t keep them in mind.
You have the Power to Educate
Education is a hot-button topic for many parents. Do you send your child to a public or private school? Is homeschooling the best option? If your child is blind, will they receive an equal education at a school for the blind or at a mainstream school? Many parents of blind children emphasize academics; they realize that blindness does not in and of itself impair intellect, and greatly encourage academic pursuits. Most encourage braille literacy, with which I am in full agreement. As important as education is, it’s also important to listen to your child, to learn their gifts and talents and skills, and not push academia for its own sake. Maybe they want to work with their hands, to become a stay-at-home parent, to create or invent things. If you have sighted children that have the space and encouragement to try new things, to succeed and fail, then don’t deny this to your blind child. Education is important, but higher education is not the only way by which your blind or visually impaired child can succeed.
You have the Power to Empower
Education itself is not limited to the classroom. Children frequently want to explore their surroundings, to learn new skills, to ask questions and get answers. Often times, it’s parents that quell a child’s curiosity because something’s too “dangerous.” Of course this happens with sighted children, too, and of course some activities are dangerous or scary and should be approached cautiously. But experiencing new things is scary for everyone, sighted or blind, and sometimes we do those scary things anyway. You worry about your sighted child riding his bike for the first time, or taking their driving test. Of course you worry when children are young and impulsive and inquisitive. It’s only natural. But blindness doesn’t make a child more of a safety risk than sighted children. You can empower your blind child by harnessing his or her curiosity in productive ways, encouraging them to dream, and letting them make mistakes without swooping in at the first sign of trouble. You, parents, have the power to clip your child’s wings or let them fly.
You have the Power to Inspire
When you think of famous blind people, who comes to mind? Stevie Wonder and Ray Charles both made enormous contributions to the music world. Louis Braille invented the braille code, which allows blind people all over the world to read and write in a wide variety of languages.
But beyond them, blind people have always lived among us. Would you be surprised to know that the inventor of cruise control was blind?
Many of these stories have in common a determined parent (sometimes more than one) who encouraged their child to learn, to dream, to work hard, to persevere.
Blind people are currently holding down successful jobs, serving in political office, raising families, running businesses, volunteering in their communities, climbing mountains… the list is endless. There are blind people in your own community who are shattering stereotypes, working publicly or behind the scenes to make the world a more accessible and inclusive place. And you have the power to encourage your own blind child’s hopes for the future and the world in which they will grow up and live.
You have the Power to Foster Independence
Most blind or visually impaired children are provided with aides to daily living by state, provincial or federal sources. Whether this independence comes in the form of a white cane or a monocular, or later a guide dog, it’s your blind child’s ticket to independence and self-sufficiency.
Not only that, but skills like cooking and cleaning are essential to being the member of any household. Sighted children model what their parents do; blind children need that instruction as well, because most will want to live independently. Not all will be great gourmet cooks or the best housekeepers in the world, but it’s important that they know the skills. And if you can teach and model for a blind child’s sighted sibling, you should do no less for your blind child. Siblings notice inequality, and rightfully would be frustrated at lowered expectations for their sibling. If you’re unsure where to turn, there are blindness organizations with trained staff to help; if those services don’t work for you or your family, the Internet and social media have opened up a wide variety of tutorials and social networks and can get you in touch with blind people themselves who’ve learned to live life non-visually.
You Have the Power to Advocate
As your child grows up, they will likely encounter misunderstanding, inequality, and ableism. When your child is too young to understand these things or express their feelings articulately, it’s up to you to include them in school or church or extracurricular activities. As they grow older, they will begin to model advocacy from what you taught them, and if you teach them both in word and example that they are equally as gifted, valued, and important – with the responsibilities that accompany that knowledge – as their sighted siblings, classmates and friends, the more they will believe it themselves. They will then go on to advocate competently and articulately for their needs as they continue on their life’s journey.
You have all of this power! The power to shape your blind child’s life just as you would have if he or she were sighted. My next post will address what is sometimes accepted as a cheap substitute for this power.
I would love to hear your stories about how you were raised as a blind child. Or, if you are the parent of a blind child or children, what do you wish you had been told at the beginning of this journey? Do you wish your relationship with your parents/child(ren) (as applicable) were different? Parents, are you using the power you’ve been given as a parent, or are you trading it in for a consolation prize? As a blind child, did your parents empower you, or did you need to fend for and empower yourself?
Your stories are important – as parents, as children. Lack of sight does not mean lack of potential, lack of dignity, or lack of worth.