by Teddie-Joy Remhild
I lived in the mainstream sighted world for the first 37 years of my life and in the world of blindness for the last 44 years. As a mainstream, middle-class woman, I had internalized all the fears and myths of blindness which permeated our society's belief system. Surveys taken during the 1970s, while I was living through my loss, reported that, second only to cancer, blindness was the most feared condition for anyone to confront.
As a normally sighted female during my early years, I don't remember knowing or even seeing a blind person, except as a corner beggar, selling pencils for income.
My vision loss was gradual and wasn't labeled “legally blind” for about two years. Because I was losing my central focusing vision, I retained some peripheral vision and could “pass.” I could not accept that I was like the blind depicted by the mythology of the day and thus refused to use any tools, such as a white cane, or training available. I was married with three young children in the beginning and these responsibilities also contributed to my denial.
Two years after my official diagnosis of legal blindness in 1967, I divorced and began a new chapter in my life as a single parent who needed a job. It was then that I began to accept blindness as my reality, to the extent that I was astute enough to enroll into vocational programs specifically designed for blind adults.
While I was employed as a blind woman, my personal world was populated by my sighted circle of friends. I became a willing participant in parallel worlds. By day I was a blind female employee and after work I was still “passing” in a sighted world. This duplicitous lifestyle continued for the next 20 years.
It wasn't until 1988, at age 55, that I ventured into a world populated only by blind people. At that time, I had left my 16-year live-in relationship following the death of my oldest son. I had attained my B.S. degree in gerontology from USC and I was, once again, in search of a job. I had a totally blind counselor at the State Department of Rehabilitation who was providing services for my employment needs. During one of our counseling appointments, she invited me to attend the annual convention of the National Federation of the Blind. It was being held in Chicago in July of 1988. My rehab counselor, Nancy, would be the only person I would know, but I thought it might be a new adventure, so why not?
Off I went to Chicago to attend a convention of blind people, not knowing what to expect. I walked into the hotel and was confronted with over 2,000 blind individuals with white canes and guide dogs. It was a stunning scene which evoked an emotional reaction. I broke down and started crying, thinking, “I am not like these people!” I cannot ever remember feeling so alone, and I wanted to return home immediately. However, I was encountered by one member who was also low vision and he provided me some solace. He said, “Once you get to know folks, you will find that you are among friends.” I finally found my rehab counselor friend and she also soothed my anxieties by introducing me to a new circle of friends. I spent a week in Chicago and returned home with a new outlook on being blind.
I joined the National Federation of the Blind and remained a member for two years. Eventually, I became uncomfortable in the NFB because of their rigid expectations of “how to be a blind person.” One year later I joined the American Council of the Blind and felt more comfortable. They had an affiliate called the Council of Citizens with Low Vision.
While I do not completely fit into either the sighted world or the world of the blind, I do experience a definite comfort zone when I attend national or state conventions of ACB, as I am accepted without question. This also applies to my newly acquired circle of blind friends with whom I share many social occasions. As I continue this journey in the sighted world, I have given up on “passing,” despite the many and repeated inquiries as to the degree of my vision loss. At age 81, I am finally “out of the closet” in both worlds!