It’s Not About the Bike: Expectations and Blindness

The last thing I do some nights is remove them. I flip my long hair over my shoulder and take the first one out of my ear. I tilt my head, toss my hair again and pull out the other one. I make sure to tuck the pair safely out of the terrier zone because my dogs like to chew on earbuds. I lack aa jewelry addiction instead I have a technology addiction with a predilection for podcasts. They don’t strain the eyes and they feed my brain.

Whatever my brain encounters joins a lifetime of thoughts in my gray matter to fuel creativity through writung. Other writers show me the way with their voice and style–in print and by ear. Listening teaches me rhythm and I learn new things about the world, too. It’s a win-win.

What I believe can change over time. The other day when I listened to an Invisibilia podcast episode, How to Become Batman, I was challenged to consider if internal thoughts affect other people. The smart hosts, Lulu Miller and Alix Spiegel, discuss a lab experiment which proved expectations lead to affective behaviors–belief affects outcome. (Insert a Joey Lawrence whoa.)

Interesting, but at an hour long, why did this podcast continue to hold my attention? Well, it went on to introduce the assumptions our society has about blindness. They hooked me. No one, disabled or not, likes to be trivialized. People dislike it as much as being ordered around. But disability awareness can be like herding cats, mixed messages traveling in contradictory directions. If you struggle with how to act around someone with a disability, all you have to do is ask, but in my experience it appears easier for others to make unfortunate assumptions.

Lulu and Alix interview Daniel Kish, a man who lost his vision at a young age to retinal blastoma. He uses a white cane, at times a walking stick, but most notably echolocation. It is a skill that uses sound–tongue clicks–to identify objects in the environment. His proficiency in echolocation gives him the ability to do things independently like climb trees, travel widely and ride a bike.

Invisibilia podcast logoI appreciate that Invisibilia addressed the sensationalized focus by other media outlets on his ability as a blind man to ride a bike. Kish says, “I definitely think that most blind people could move around with fluidity and confidence if that were the expectation.”

They unpack his story, revealing the unwavering support from his mother who allowed him as a child to keep going, exploring, climbing, running, riding despite descent from others like neighbors and the school. His mother said at one point, “There’s life and there’s living your life.”

Some listeners would’ve preferred more on-air representation of professionals in the blindness community and do not agree with all of Daniel’s methods, flagging his admitted bullying behavior such as in this AFB blog review. I felt including thie info about Kish humanizes him, reminds listeners that Kish is a person not a saint.

After meeting Kish, Lulu and Alix introduce us to Bob Scott, a sociologist who explained he believes blindness is a social construction. A line that stuck with me was when he recounted a paint factory employee, disabled at work, but whose employer supported him to get retraining and come back, visits a rehabilitation center only to be told, “Blind people can’t do those things.” That haunts me.

While tuning in, if you get caught up in the sensational Kish story, listen to the episode again and focus on the parts about societal expectations of blindness and the imperfect but improved system of blindness rehabilitation. Stifling independent activity and exploration leads to fearful dependence. A person must develop the new mobility skills and can’t learn if he doesn’t try. Worse yet, you can’t learn if others don’t expect it of you and therefore don’t allow you to be able to accomplish it. When I finished the episode and removed my earbuds, I agreed with Lulu and Alix, low expectations hurt people who are blind.

If you haven’t listened to the podcast, I think you might enjoy it along with the other interesting and entertaining episodes of the program. Lulu and Alix take subjects seriously, but not always themselves. It happens to be the top podcast this week as well, nudge. Here’s the link to the Invisibilia podcast How to Become Batman.

What are your expectations of people who are visually impaired or otherwise disabled? Do you think your expectations of others affects their capabilities? Tell me about it.

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11 Comments Add yours

  1. floridaborne says:

    There are “superpeople” in every field and every walk of life. I worked for a man who was totally blind. He walked to the train each morning in a congested city to go to work in another city. He had to cross a busy highway to get to the tran station and was once hit by a car. Yet after he healed, he continued going to work without assistance. In my eyes, he was a superman..

    1. Sounds like he excelled in orientation and mobility. And setting a strong example of independence.

  2. Casee says:

    I admire people who can do great things but sometimes it leaves those of us “ordinary” folks, who do need a little extra help feeling even worse than we already do. I think that everyone can be impacted by low expectations but people can also be hurt by folks thinking they can do things that they cannot do. I know of someone who has struggled for years with orientation and mobility. He is completely blind and has had training many many times but it is a hurdle he has not been able to get over. He is college educated and very smart and a delightful person but this has held him back. Other blind people seemed shocked if not disappointed that he can’t overcome this issue. Sighted people are much more understanding of his issue. We have to take the time to know people as individuals and not take a one-size-fits-all approach to anyone’s abilities.

    1. That sounds like a very frustrating situation for him. And you’re right Casee, one size never fits all in rehabilitation.

  3. I learned a valuable lesson on expectations when fundraising a few years back. We were told by the organization we were supporting that oftentimes we get what we ask for. In other words when raising money, for whatever reason, people can have a tendency to set a lesser goal. On the other hand when taking the sky’s the limit approach, in setting higher goals we can not only meet but exceed what we may have originally thought impossible.

    I think low expectations can hurt anyone and yet there are those, who when told ‘they can’t do or can’t be (fill in the blank),’ exceed low expectations because they were told they couldn’t. If we can just give people a chance, look at them as unique individuals with their own gifts and talents, then we can get beyond our preconceived notions.

    1. Stephanae you sound like you could give a speech with those words. (Have you done public speaking?) Interesting facts about fundraising. It makes sense to me.

      1. Thank you so much for your kind words. I did public speaking when I was doing fundraising and other volunteer activities but had to pull back to regain my sanity. Now that I’ve figured out what I want to do at least for the short term I’d like to get back into that realm again.

  4. Joy says:

    Oh my gosh I love listening to podcasts too! And I’m so glad you told me about this one. I find it fascinating especially this episode. I was a sociology major so I just eat stuff like this up. Funny thing is I heard one of the hosts- Lulu interviewed on Radiolab and loved her! I didn’t realize she had her own show. Blindness as a social construction make sense to me though I agree it will take a long time for it to ever change. I’m wondering if anyone else found themselves walking around their house with their eyes closed and tongue clicking. I don’t have much vision but I do have some usable so I’m not sure if clicks would work for me!!

    1. Invisibilia is a top-notch podcost in my book. The hosts do an incredible job. I look forward to the episode each week, they fascinate me, too. Also, totally guilty of clicking a bit the first time I heard about Daniel Kish. Maybe it was after a This American Life episode a few years ago? Not sure. But I would need a lot of work to hone my echolocation ability.

  5. Tom says:

    Hello, Thanks for this post! Yes, I think the expectations of others has gigantic impact on the differently abled among us. I have low vision and my wife has always assumed that I can do whatever I set my mind to and has assumed I don’t need help unless I ask for it. She has been my biggest supporter without ever assuming she had to “do for” me. I also think we need to break stereotypes of what we with low vision can and cannot do. I am a photographer, https://www.flickr.com/photos/27136821@N02/ and I use to get annoyed with a fellow photographer friend who refers to me as her blind photographer friend. She is amazed at what I can do and likes to promote me to others. I use to find it annoying because I think of myself like anyone else so why is my ability so amazing. Lately I’ve begun to embrace the moniker, “my blind photographer friend,” as it gives me the opportunity to show other people that it’s not helpful to assume and inability based on a disability.

    1. Thanks for stopping by and sharing that, Tom.

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