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1. The Art of the Blind Joke

Many people would think that I would choose to use my crappy yet relatively functional vision to pay attention to my surroundings, but I can assure you that never happens. I am the type of person that will walk into poles because they're talking to their friends or looking at their phone though, to be fair, a lot of sighted people do that as well. Some of my proudest accomplishments include walking into a closet door, thinking it was an exit, and running through caution tape. Yes, these are on my resume. My friends and I often joke about how my blindness combined with my clumsiness can lead to some unfortunate, but ultimately hilarious situations. However, people often have a hard time understanding how I can use humor to talk about my blindness. We're gonna talk more about that today. My name is Marissa Nissley and welcome to the very first episode of Legally Blonde & Blind.

*Intro Music*

Hello, everybody. Thank you so much for tuning in. I am very excited and honestly, a little terrified to be recording the very first episode of Legally Blonde & Blind. This honestly almost feels surreal to me because I have wanted to do this podcast for months, and I am so glad that I can finally start sharing content with you all.

Now before we get into it, I just wanna make a quick disclaimer. I am only speaking from my own personal experiences and I am not claiming to speak for all blind or disabled people. People may disagree with some of the things I say in this episode. So when in doubt, listen to the experiences of others and don't make assumptions.

So when I was younger, I was very used to speaking about my blindness in very serious contexts. Think like IEP meetings or doctor's appointments. My friends at the time knew about my condition, but we did not talk about it very often. In fact, I was what I like to call a closeted blind person in elementary school and the beginning of middle school. I talked about my condition like Harry Potter characters talk about Voldemort, and you may be thinking to yourself, “Marisa, you have white hair, pale skin, and eyes that shake uncontrollably due to nystagmus. How could you hide that?” Well, if anyone can try, it's an insecure 10-year-old, I would hold my phone a foot away from my face, even though it actually needed to be almost touching my nose to read it. So I would just sit there looking at basically a blurry screen. Yeah, I made great use of my time back then. I also was the type of person that would pretend to see dogs on the bus. Like when people pointed them out, they'd be like, “oh yeah, look at that dog. It's so cute.” And I'd be like, “yeah, it is.” I was always very anxious that people would figure me out. I was worried that one day someone would be like, “what kind of dog is it? Marisa?”

And I would have to say to them, “uh, a blob,” but in all seriousness at the time, I was very unsure of myself and I would feel extremely uncomfortable, especially in situations that highlighted my conditions such as when I got lost or when I unsurprisingly got picked last all the time in gym class, I don't know why they didn't want this star athlete.

Anyway, since I was used to speaking about my blindness in a very serious and unfortunately, negative context, I never knew it was really possible to make blind jokes or think about my condition in a more positive way. To be fair. I'm not saying that I wish someone would come up to me and say, “how many blind people does it take to change a light bulb?” in first grade. I'm just saying it was never really a possibility for me at the time.

However, I started to change my mindset after watching Avatar the Last Airbender. If you've ever watched this show, you know how hard it is to sum up the plot in a single sentence. And it's not really relevant to the point I'm trying to make. So I'll just say that basically in the Avatar universe, people can bend elements like earth, water, fire, and air, and there's one special person called the Avatar that can bend all four. So one of the characters on the show, her name was Toph Beifong, and she was an earth bender who was completely blind. And what I really liked about how the show represented her is they didn't shy away from the struggles she faced. For example, she couldn't read. But the show also displayed how her blindness allowed her to develop a unique style of earth bending that proved very useful in battle. She also frequently told many blind jokes. For example, one time when the characters were all looking at a series of shooting stars, she said to them, “you've never seen something once you've seen it a thousand times” and there are many others, we're just scratching at the surface here.

And at the time seeing a blind character, especially a blind character that wasn't portrayed as completely helpless, was really eye-opening for me. And by the way, I think she is one of the best blind characters ever. So if you want me to make an Avatar the Last Airbender episode I gladly will, though I doubt anyone cares. In addition to watching this show, I also began building closer friendships with other people with my condition. At the time I went to several NOAH conventions, which are for people with albinism. I went to them ever since I was about, I think like two, or three years old, but when I was in middle school, I started building closer friendships with other people I met there.

These conferences were a great opportunity for me to connect with those who understood my situation and interacting with these people helped me realize talking about my condition doesn't always have to be some sort of grave or serious topic. For example, I distinctly remember one of the NOAH conventions I went to when I was, I think about like 12 years old, we played this game called albino pigmento, which is like a much better version of duck, duck goose. And it's a silly example. But these interactions showed me that I did not have to hide my condition or that I didn't have to treat it as though it was some sort of bombshell fact about me. Honestly, when the situation improves, I highly recommend if you haven't already and you are legally blind, go to a convention for people, either with your specific condition or just for blind people in general. I personally have only been to Noah conferences before. But I also know that the National Federation of the Blind and the American Council of the Blind, for example, also put on great conventions and I hope I can go to one of those at some point in the future. They're a great place to meet friends and also do some blind dating if you catch my drift.

As I'm sure you can imagine, going from the girl who would hold their phone a foot away from their face pretending to read it to now hosting my own podcast about my blindness took a lot of personal growth and by no means did it happen overnight. This was honestly a process for me that is still continuing. I think people can relate to this with any type of personal insecurity or struggle. This doesn't necessarily have to be a disability, but I think some days you can feel very confident in your skin. And then other days you can feel as though you've taken five steps back, but overall humor played a huge role in helping me develop my confidence and feel more comfortable talking about my disability with other people. And you may be wondering why that is.

Well, for me, there are three main reasons. Firstly telling blind jokes started out as a defense mechanism. I was very lucky to go to a K-8 school where most people knew me since I was five. So bullying was never that much of a problem, but as I'm sure, you know, middle schoolers can be pretty evil. And so there would occasionally be some backhanded compliments or other mean comments. So telling blind jokes was a way for me to take the power back in those instances, in a sense that I could get to it first and they couldn't make fun of me. If I already made fun of myself. This was fine. People use humor as a shield for criticism or other negative comments all the time, but it came from a place of anxiety and insecurity.

So it never really was sustainable for me. However, as I became more confident, using humor became empowering to me in a very different way. As I became more confident, humor started to become a way that I could rewrite the narrative around my disability. And that might sound kind of crazy, but just stay with me for a second. And let me try to explain what I mean by that.

Essentially there is a concept called the medical versus social model of disability. And if you're more interested, I highly recommend doing more research because I'm sure you could find articles that will explain this better than I will in a few seconds. But according to the medical model of disability, disability is something that is inherently negative and abnormal about a person. Essentially the problem with a disability is the disabled person and they should seek to be fixed in a sense so that they can be more normal. Whereas in the social model of disability, disability is just a difference like somebody's gender or height, or ethnicity. And the only reason that it is a disability is that the society around the person is inaccessible. A cool way to think about this is to imagine, “what would happen if every single person on this planet were blind?” Obviously, if that were the case, society would have a completely different structure to suit people who are blind, but alas we are not all bats.

And you may be thinking Marisa, “what point are you trying to make? Why are you going off on this tangent?” Well, essentially since people predominantly view disability via the medical model, people tend to assume that those with the disability are inherently bitter about their condition or wish they didn't have it. People also tend to think that disability creates insurmountable struggles in the daily lives of people that have it. And that it should only really be talked about if ever in a very serious or negative context. And I think one of the most prominent examples of my life is after I did some sort of achievement if you will. I can't say what it is, because if I do then people who know me will know who this person is, but so after I did something good, right. I had a teacher come up to me and congratulate me. And I was thinking that this person would come up to me and say, “oh, congratulations for doing this thing. You worked really hard,” but they came up to me and they were like, “you know, Marissa. I am so proud of you. I see how much you struggle every day to read and see things. And it just makes me so proud.” And this was such a confusing moment for me, because I was like, “Uh, what I just did has nothing to do with my disability.” Is the real accomplishment here not what I just did, but the fact that I got out of bed and got dressed and I'm not sulking? I know I have been saying people often or many people throughout this episode and keep in mind that I am not trying to make vague generalizations. Most of these things have happened multiple times in my life, and I'm not trying to call particular people out. So that's why it may sound pretty vague throughout this.

But anyway, if you're still with me, which I hope you are, the point I'm trying to make is that humor is a way for me to show other people that my blindness is not insufferable. It is not something that I resent every day. It is just a part of who I am. And it's something that I can make fun of. Like people make fun of their height or their clumsiness. I can make fun of my blindness. It can lead to some pretty funny situations as we've already discussed.

So that's the main reason that humor has helped me in my journey, but another reason as well, my third and final reason is it usually makes it easier to talk about my condition with others. As I was saying before, since people predominantly view disability through the medical model, they tend to think about it in a very negative way. And it comes from a good place. I know that, but people are often very reluctant to talk about it because they don't want to offend the person with the disability. But through using humor, I can show people that this is something I'm comfortable talking about. You can ask me questions about it. In essence, you don't have to walk on eggshells when you're talking about it. I've had several instances, for example, where I've said to people like, “oh, Hey, like don't mind looking at my nose, like I'm really blind and I have to look very close on my screen. So if you're on zoom, you'll probably get a great view of my mouth.” And I've had people who are just like, “thank you for sharing” as though I'm in like a support group or something like, no, like it's just a part of how I have to go through my daily life. Like, you don't have to treat it as if I've just announced to you that my mom died or that I'm suffering from a drug addiction. Like it’s fine.

Now that we've discussed how and why humor has helped me build confidence in regard to talking about my condition. I now would like to share some tips for people that aren't legally blind about how to approach blind jokes. And really this advice could apply to using humor in regard to any other disability or any other topic that people may consider more sensitive. So, firstly, I cannot believe I have to say this, but if you are just getting to know someone who is blind or if you are god forbid in a position of authority over someone who is blind, do not make blind jokes. Yes. I have to say this because, in my senior year of high school, I had a teacher basically joke about my accommodations in front of the entire class. They, basically said, “oh wait, I'm not supposed to point at her. Oops.” Because he realized that if he points at me across the room, I won't be able to see it. Fortunately, this wasn't much of a problem because I gave him the nastiest look I could muster. And I think he realized that he wasn't supposed to joke about that, but essentially. Just don't be that guy.

My second piece of advice is if someone brings up their blindness to you, either in the form of a joke or just an FYI, don't shut them down. And what I mean by that is there have been several instances where I've told people about my condition and they've responded with, “oh, you didn't need to share that,” or, “oh, thank you for sharing.” And then they go to change the subject as quickly as possible. And I know they're trying to be nice when they do this and they're trying not to make me uncomfortable, but the problem is that you're missing out on an opportunity to learn more about me. And most of the time when I bring up my blindness, it's because I need your help in some way. So if you just shut down the conversation and don't allow me to elaborate more on what exactly I may need from you, you're basically closing off the opportunity to help me. And additionally, when people give these very short responses when I'm trying to share my story, it can make me feel very uncomfortable. And the reason why is because you're acting as if it's something so negative that you don't even wanna talk about it. Once again, I know this is coming from a good place, but it makes it a lot harder for me to share what I need in the future. And it just makes me feel out of place.

Now my third piece of advice has a huge asterisk next to it. So I will explain, but do not immediately intervene or stand up for the blind person. And what I mean by that is to take a look at the context. If you hear a blind joke, is the person with their friends, or are they with strangers? Is the person smiling? Does the person look happy? Do they look anxious? Use these to determine whether or not you should intervene if you hear blind jokes. The reason why I say to have some caution with that is that there have been, there have been times when my friends have made blind jokes and then people have said, “how could you say that to her? That's so mean.” And once again, I know that these things are coming from a good place, but how it feels to me is you don't think I can stand up for myself. So if you run into a situation where you hear a blind joke and you think that there might be some maliciousness. What I would suggest doing instead is to try to find a way to pull the blind person aside, and take them away from the group. Don't make it too obvious though. And then you can ask them, is everything okay? Like, are you comfortable with what these people are saying? And the good thing about this is first, you are separating them from the group. So if they are uncomfortable, but they don't want to stand up in front of their whole, entire group of friends, then they're in a more private place. And secondly, you're giving them the power to decide what to do next. You're letting them speak for themselves and let them tell you how they're feeling instead of just assuming how they're feeling. And that's what I think is really important here.

Now, if you're getting to know a blind person better, you're starting to become closer friends. And you're wondering if you're in a position where you could make a blind joke without offending the person. My biggest piece of advice to you is to follow their lead. See what kinds of things they're comfortable joking about and see when they're in the mood to do so. See, for me, I'm usually comfortable joking about how my blindness can lead to some awkward situations either because I can't see something or because other people don't realize I'm blind. There are a lot of things that you wouldn't necessarily think about that can go wrong because of my condition. But usually what makes me more uncomfortable is if the butt of the joke is that I'm weird or different. For example, my friends and I were once talking about who was the weirdest in our group in high school. And one of my friends said it was me and we didn't really know why at first, because they didn't really give an explanation. But then it became apparent that it was because of my albinism and blindness. And one of my friends was like, “oh she's not weird because of that.” But then they said, “oh, well then let's just call her different.” So it's mainly joking where the whole idea is that I'm weird or abnormal which makes me uncomfortable.

And my final piece of advice is that if you do say a blind joke, that ends up offending a blind person, learn how to apologize properly. This once again is advice that can apply to many areas of life, not just blind jokes, but what's really important is to know that even if your intentions were good, your actions had a negative impact and you need to acknowledge that negative impact in order to make a proper apology. In this particular instance, I pulled this person aside after the group had left. So it was just the two of us. And I explained to them that their particular joke made me feel very uncomfortable because it made me feel as though I was weird or abnormal. I told them that in my friend groups, I want to feel supported. And those types of comments feel very othering to me. Now, when I told this person how I felt, they apologized profusely, of course, and I didn't hold it over this person. Knowing them. I knew that they were just trying to be funny and they saw me making blind jokes in the past. So they probably thought anything goes, but what would've been best for them to do in this situation, instead of just saying sorry, is to acknowledge why their particular comment made me feel uncomfortable. Like repeating back what I said to them to show that they understood how it negatively affected me. And I would've really appreciated it if that person had said to me, “Hey, I want to make sure that this doesn't happen again. If it does, please let me know because I don't wanna make you feel like you're not a part of the group.”

For my fellow blind people watching, I know how daunting it can be to confront people, especially those that you consider your friends about comments that make you uncomfortable, but setting boundaries consistently will make it so that when you're telling blind jokes, you're doing it from a good place. You're not doing it as a sort of defense mechanism, and it's not coming from a place of anxiety.

I don't know about you, but for an episode about blind jokes, I think I have been far too serious for the past 20 minutes. I think the only proper way to close out this episode is to rate random blind jokes. I found it on the internet. We are going to be rating jokes from 1-10 that I found on a website called Worst Jokes Ever, where people can anonymously submit jokes about various topics. Some of the related topics I saw when I looked up blind jokes were short jokes and blonde jokes. So I, guess if you're ever in need of one of those, I am both short and blonde, so maybe I'll rate those at some other time. But anyway, it's kind of embarrassing how I actually came across this website because I Googled blind jokes in preparation for this episode. You may be thinking “Marissa, you have been a blind person for 18 years and you couldn't come up with your own jokes.” Well, I could, I. But my creativity sometimes runs a little short. You see, I don't even know how I came up with the name for this podcast Legally Blonde & Blind. I think it was like a stroke of genius or something because normally I can never come up with titles for my essays.

So anyway, we will be going through these jokes. I do not know if these people are blind or not. I'm leaning towards no, though. Firstly, we have, why did the blind man fall down the well? He just couldn't see that well., We're gonna give this a solid five out of 10 because I like the wordplay, but it's just not that funny.

Okay. Next one, “I donated a hundred dollars to a blind children's charity, but it’s too bad they won't ever see a dime of it.” This one, I gotta give a 6 outta 10 for the joke, but we're gonna have to dock three points because they used the wrong form of “too.”

Next one, “I bought my blind friend a cheese grater for his birthday. A week later, he told me it was the most violent book he had ever read.” Okay. I gotta give this one, like a 2 because the image of like, like fingers with like cuts on them from a cheese grate just, it just makes me uncomfortable.

“A blind man walked into a bar and a table. And a chair. And a counter.” This one, this one, I gotta give a 7 outta 10 because it's extremely accurate. I have like a bunch of bruises on my legs right now, just from walking into various tables in my own house. Like I'm supposed to know the layout and I just can't do it.

Next one.” Why are blind people so good at being a Jedi? They are always swinging a stick.” I'm actually getting cane training in the next week or so. I might talk about that more next time, but I think it would be really cool to have a glowing cane, like a lightsaber. I feel like that would be fun. So we'll give it a solid 8 outta 10.

Next one. “At the funeral of a family friend, I was chatting with June an elderly lady. I haven't seen her since I was a teenager. I was thrilled when she told me what a beautiful young woman I become on the journey home. I remarked to my mother how lovely it had been to see June again. Yes, it is such a shame that she has gone blind though.” I gotta give a solid 8 outta 10 again because I actually do this to my friends. They'll be like, “oh my God, my hair looks so bad.” Or “my eyeliner looks terrible.” I'll be like, “you look perfect to me.” And they'll think it's a compliment for a second. And they're like, “oh, you can't even see it.” So once again, very accurate.

“Why don't blind people skydive? Because it scares their dogs too much.” Actually, I would love to see this. Like if there's a blind person, who has skydived with a seeing-eye dog, please, please send it to me because I really wanna see it. These dogs, especially service dogs, have no fear so I think that would be amazing.

And finally, “stop with the blind jokes. I don't see the point.” We'll give us a 10 outta 10, because I think it calls me out too much, especially given the topic of this episode. Alrighty, if you're still with me, I firstly, wanna congratulate you for tolerating my voice for the past 25 minutes. And I secondly want to thank you for listening to the very first episode of legally blonde.

As I said, at the beginning of this episode, I have wanted to create this podcast for several months and I am so excited to finally be releasing the very first episode. I had so much fun recording, editing, and writing the script for this episode. It was a great way for me to distress, given everything that's going on right now with the election and midterms and the holiday. I hope this was also a good opportunity for you, whether you're blind or not, to just take a deep breath and have a little bit of fun given these uncertain times.

With that being said, if you are interested in listening to future episodes, please subscribe to Legally Blonde & Blind on Spotify, Apple podcasts, or anywhere else you listen to your podcasts. Make sure to follow my social media accounts on Instagram and Facebook. You can find me on Facebook at Legally Blonde & Blind or Instagram account at @legallybb_ for updates about the podcast. Thank you all so much for watching and I hope to see you soon!


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