Thu. May 16th, 2024

I’m not going to speak for everyone with low vision. Each experience is different.

I’m not going to speak for an “imagined community” as esteemed scholar Benedict Anderson wrote.

I am an individual and as such I can only and will only tell my story.

When I first began catching the bus independently after starting university, I was completely gobsmacked by how inconsistent bus drivers’ attitudes towards me were.

On numerous occasions the bus would speed past, completely ignoring me. Or, if eventually stopping, the driver would argue that I didn’t signal them therefore they did not realise I was waiting.

On a few occasions (keeping in mind this is over a period of almost a decade), I accidentally left my metro pass (allowing people with low vision to travel freely on metro services) at home.

On one occasion I was allowed on with very little issue, being politely reminded that I ought to be carrying it. On another, I was aggressively told that if I had no ticket I needed to pay and upon informing the driver I had no money on me was then told to get off the bus at the next available stop.

Now some of you will say ‘well that will teach you not to forget your pass’. To which I do agree to an extent. However I have to question if that had been the norm, that none of the bus drivers had allowed me onto their vehicle, I would have been left stranded in the middle of the CBD.

I do wonder if these instances were because I wear glasses.

Upon looking at me, my cane (when it is in use) is the only indicator of my having low vision. My eyes can focus giving the impression that I can see as well as anyone and my glasses (used because what little vision I do have is also short sighted) give the impression that I merely have a correctable vision impairment.

I received my cane in 2012 during my penultimate year of high school. Having ended up frustrated at my lack of independence; my constant walking into things or falling down stairs and the angry looks from strangers I accidently walked into, I decided to swallow my pride and get a long cane.

This was not an easy decision to make. After having seen me get around without one, the kids at school automatically began arguing that I was ‘pretending to be blind’ in order to gain pity and special privilege. Keep in mind these were seventeen year olds who really should have known better.

I automatically felt like it didn’t matter what I did, if I accepted the aid of my cane I was seeking pity, if I didn’t I was being prideful.

So when people today ask me if I am proud of all I have achieved (sometimes it is hard to tell whether this is because I have studied two undergraduate and two honours degrees or purely because I entered the room) it is harder to answer than one would think.

Am I proud of my achievements because I worked hard? As a good friend once told me ‘we have to work twice as hard to get the recognition people without low vision do’. So in that regard yes.

But am I proud because I think that having low vision means I have somehow achieved more than others? No, not really. Because the outcome has still been the same.

The person who does not have low vision, who achieved the same as me will still be the first person considered for that job.

The person who does not have low vision, who achieved the same as me may have worked just as hard as I did. I don’t see why my having overcome adversity makes it any different.

Maybe I should see the world in a different way. Maybe I am being bitter or silly.

But until I am recognised for what I can do based on my abilities and not on what I can do considering what I can see or what adversity I have overcome you’re not achieving much.

I know there are some jobs and some things I cannot do because of my low vision. That is just a fact. I know there are some people who will say ‘but you can do anything if you put your mind to it’. Well, just as someone who is bad at maths is not going to become an astrophysicist, as someone with low vision, I was never going to be able to grow up to be a police officer or a jockey (the two careers of choice I preferenced prior to losing my vision).

But there are many of which I can.

I don’t want to be considered for a position purely because I have low vision, because a business or organisation wants to meet a requirement.

Sure if having a requirement to fairly consider people with a disability helps promote employers to look beyond a person’s disability and towards their skills then great.

I want someone to look at me and my skills and consider me based on my merit.

It isn’t a lack of quotas or education that makes this problematic. But the social structures of privilege; prejudice and the constant framing of people with disabilities as either weak or inspirational.

So no, I’m not proud of living my life. I am proud that I have achieved a lot of great things, but not because I have low vision. It is because those things (getting into university, studying my undergraduate and honours degrees etc.) are tough things for anyone.

By Melissa Marsden

Melissa Gillian Marsden is a passionate advocate for social justice and a self-confessed political junkie. After being diagnosed with with a life long, life threatening medical condition six weeks after birth she knew from the beginning that fairness and equality are notoriously contested and complex issues. Read more on my 'About Me' page.