Monday, April 2, 2018

Enters Stage Left...

...tapping my cane with signature red reflector section on the bottom portion...

If you're sitting back in satisfaction that you got the right blog about that poor blind scientist, that's not me... sorry, check again...

If I were asked to describe myself, I would say I just earned my Ph.D. in Psychology, in Cognitive Neuroscience specifically and I would inform you that I am looking for postdoctoral positions. I would say that I'm thrilled to be looking. It's an exciting prospect of moving to who knows where, meeting new people, exploring new places.

I would not think to tell you that I am legally blind. I would not think to tell you I'm a woman as part of my description of myself. I would not think to tell you that I was born somewhere in Asia. I define myself by my emotional state or my accomplishments. I am not sure I understand the fascination with labeling people based on some irrelevant social construct like "race" "gender" "ability", but I think that is part of the reason I'm here, writing this. I am a cognitive neuroscientist, but I think my view of people may be skewed. I'm writing this to help me understand why my visual impairment, my identifying as a woman and my ancestry matters so much to you. In my mind, it shouldn't matter one bit. What matters is how you treat the person.

I am INSANELY curious about how and why people treat others the way they do and I'm sure my blog will be filled with my razor-sharp understanding of interpersonal relationship that many seem blind to (pun intended). I also have a hard time understanding why people cannot see that what they do has repercussions. I will be writing from a place incredible sensitivity toward these interactions. The social aspects of being who I am. The finer nuances of interacting with the world.

The fact that I am legally blind has not been easy, but not for the reasons you may think. Sure it's hard to see things like a "normal" person, but since I don't know what a "normal" person actually sees, from my perspective, I'm not missing anything. The reason it's difficult is for social reasons. All of these I will go into further detail as the blog unfolds, but I will touch on them here now.

It's been isolating in some cases because I sit too close to the computer screen and hold a book too close to my face, causing people to react in ways other than to be normal and treat me normally. It kind of makes me think that no one told me that "blind" also means "crazy" or "weird", "unreasonable", "unable to think logically"... what else?! This list really goes on and on...

 It's been infuriating because people have "disclosed" for me. No, that's not your information to share, thanks. Every single time this has been disclosed "for me", I have been so pissed as to barely be able to return. I understand that the people thought they were being some kind of noble savior, but it just doesn't work that way.

Mostly it's been interesting because it points to a much larger, problem of respecting differences. I do not want to contribute to a growing problem of people insisting on particular labels, so I will attempt to continue to talk about this in terms of respecting differences.

And, recently, it's been very eye-opening for me because I have come to realize I have many vulnerabilities because of my differences and it has made me act out in ways that show that I am not comfortable with myself and it has caused me to be taken advantage of numerous times. How the heck did I get here? How did I finish a PhD without visual aids? How did I move halfway across the country by myself?

So how blind am I? Try this. Go outside and measure 200 feet, and see what you can see from that distance. Now, in order for me to see the same thing with the same amount of detail, I would have to be 20 feet away. Go on, measure 20 feet from that thing you were just looking at. It's probably declined a little more than that actually.

Here are some things you should know about me before we get started on how I did all those things I did and why I'm sitting here writing this. I had a stroke when I was 2 and a half. Just fell over on the kitchen and my parents took me to the hospital. I was right handed before I went into the hospital, and now I'm decidedly left handed. No big deal. I was speaking Korean when I went into the hospital. 6 months after recovering, I was reading and speaking English. So by 3, I was reading. When I was 4, I started playing the violin.

I have been stubborn from a young age. In kindergarten, I remember being pulled from class to visit with a very thin woman with a deep voice and big earrings. I was fascinated by her because she seemed to have some magical swirling energy around her. She was kind and I remember she wore sandals and had brown, short cropped hair. She did not wear glasses. I would later learn that she was a heavy smoker, but no matter. She had equipment with her. Little telescopes, special glasses, and magnifiers. She showed me how to use them and asked if they helped me and if I wanted to take one back to class with me. Even at that age, I was beginning to understand the social implications. I don't know if it was because I overheard my three older brothers talking about special kids, or if it was somehow a part of my observations of interactions around me, but I understood that teachers had no patience for the "special" kids. I also knew that students who were too special were picked on. I felt I did not need to have anything else stacked on the "cons" side of life. I don't remember how that first meeting ended, but I do remember having a bar magnifier and a tiny telescope in a soft brown case with a clasp on it that I kept in my desk. I stashed those things to the back pretty quickly though, through my younger years in elementary school.

I do remember seeing the woman with the big earrings again over those first few years of education. I would later learn that she was checking to see if I was using the equipment and checking on my grades. It was probably the equivalent of today's IEP (individualized education plan, for the special kids).

In retrospect, I can imagine this woman having a meeting with my parents, and my parents having a discussion about what to do. Should they force the equipment on me or should they let me make my own decisions about what I needed. Who knows if that actually happened, but here is what I do know happened. My parents did not force me to use the equipment and they let me continue to explore my world.

I think the school thought I was going to fail. Not even close, little elementary school. Maybe I should go back and visit my teachers...? :) :) :)

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