Legally Blind – Part 2: Four Eyes

The expression "four eyes" may have come from the thick black-framed glasses.

The expression “four eyes” may have come from the thick black-framed glasses.

This is continuation of my post: Legally Blind – Part 1: How It Affects Me  If you haven’t read it yet, please do, before reading this post.

Hey There “Four Eyes

As long as grade schools existed, there would always be one kid out of so many that had to wear thick-framed glasses all of the time. As you all know, these were the “four eyes.”  Many of them got picked on because they wore stupid looking, heavy framed glasses.  Yes indeed, I was one of them.  Up to 7th grade, I wore plastic rimmed glasses all the time.  I can still picture the black-rimmed glasses that some wore back in the 1960s.

Every elementary and high school has 3 types of kids: 1) the “different” kids – those with some mental or physical defect, 2) the bullies, and 3) the more fortunate, innocent, normal kids.  As you may have guessed, I fell into the first category.  My constantly moving eyes and my near-sightedness not only limited my vision, but caused me to develop weird mannerisms that made me seem inferior to others.  Such mannerisms were in the way I walked, the way I had to hold reading materials close to my face, and the way I had to get extremely close to objects (such as electronics) to read them.  Also, I need to turn small printed materials sideways to decipher the tiny printed alphanumeric characters.

I was teased a lot and thought of as being mentally retarded.  Kids would ask me things like “How many fingers am I holding up?”  I could always tell them outright.  Some outright avoided me because I was different and others were sarcastic and mean.  Just by seeing me walk, kids who didn’t know me were sarcastic and told me to watch where I was going.

While in high school, anonymous people would call up my mother and tell her that I definitely needed a seeing-eye dog.  This astounded her.  She could never understand how people could exaggerate my visual condition.  The SSDBVI constantly called us and sent me mail.  She felt they were “making a mountain out of a molehill”, but on the flip side, between all 8 schools in our district, there were only very few of us “blind” students, so this agency had to do keep busy with us to continue operating.

During my high-school years, I was one of those kids that stood out from the rest in my own ways.  People would razz or question me about my eyesight.  They were not so cruel, but became casual acquaintances.  I wonder if my visual impairment in an odd way attracted their attention towards me.  Some would call me Cylon after the Battlestar Galactica TV series while others called me “stigmite.”  I took no offense to these names.  In fact I got a charge out of them.

Because of my vision, sometimes I fell into the “disabled” group.  Com-on, I’m not disabled, I can walk and get around like everyone else.  The word “disabled” was degrading and by no means wanted to be a part of that group.  I wouldn’t need special services if only I was granted with a little luck and a secure job.

How My Visual Impairment Became My Biggest Asset

Even though I got teased and hassled a lot, couldn’t do certain things others could, and had a hard time finding a decent job, my visual impairment which was once a liability, turned into a great asset.

In the past decade, I had trouble finding and holding jobs.  Still, I have one tool at my aid: a document that states I was declared legally blind in November of 1968.  Whoa, I was only six years old then.  Whenever I apply for various services, I just send them a copy of it and surely be accepted.

Currently, I live on Social Security Disability because of my (legal) blindness.  I would rather be able to work than to live off federal income.  But due to the bad economy and the recessions we’ve been through, it is best that I receive this.

Still there are certain restrictions with my benefits.  Although I am allowed to work to supplement my income, I cannot make more than $1700 a month.  If I did, my benefits may be reduced or terminated.  Also, in today’s job market, jobs are hard to find and employers are more apt to let workers go with little or no warning, even for the pettiest reasons.  Hence, job security is as poor as it’s ever been.  I just don’t dare to live without my SSI benefits.  Now, jobs around my community are few and far in between, or in neighboring towns 30 miles away.

I feel sorry for unemployed individuals and couples without a disability.  Their only options are to collect unemployment (if they’re eligible) or other public assistance (if they can).  Many of them have been forced out of their homes and some are homeless.  Without my benefits, I would be homeless too.

Still, the greatest benefit of being visually impaired is when people comment that I’ve done a lot for someone that can’t see well.  I’ve had a number of people tell me that.  For one thing, I owned and maintained a home in Minneapolis for 18 years, doing a countless number of repairs myself.  I did electrical wiring, plumbing repairs, painting, etc.  I strive to be as independent as possible and rarely ask for the help of others.  Being recognized for my accomplishments makes me feel good.

Today, I’m a 50-year old bachelor who co-owns a home with my brother.  Because of my home repair experience, he relies on me to do the repairs.  I am confident that our house will be well-maintained and suit us well into the next decade.

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