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5. Legally Blonde & Blind Benefits

There are numerous disadvantages to having low vision. You can't drive. It's much more difficult to navigate. You frequently experience eye strain, but it isn't all bad. I would argue that being legally blind has added just as much to my life as it could have ever possibly taken away. And trust me, having a blurrier worldview has much more benefits than just disability passes at amusement parks. My name is Marissa Nissley and welcome to another episode of Legally Blonde & Blind.

*Intro Music*

Hello, everyone. I hope you all are doing well. I cannot believe that this is the fifth episode of Legally Blonde & Blind. It feels like I just started making this yesterday and now it's been five months. That's completely insane to me. Anyway, I wanted to make today's episode about something a little more positive because my schoolwork has been piling up. I have a lot more projects due and zoom fatigue has been hitting me pretty hard lately.

When I was thinking of different ideas. I remembered in my eighth-grade English class, we were reading this book called The Miracle Worker, which if you don't know, is a play about Helen Keller. And to start off our unit, our teacher had us make this list. I forget the exact wording, but it was something like “things that are hard for blind and or deaf people to do.” I can't speak for anything my peers said about the deaf community, but I know most of the things regarding blind people were true. They mentioned things like it's harder to play sports sometimes, or play an instrument or you can't drive. You can't see people's faces as well. I remember throughout this activity, I was very uncomfortable and upset. I think part of it for me, I had never seen a tangible list of all of the different things that I either couldn't do or would be very challenging for me to do.

I just remembered this a few weeks ago and I honestly hadn't thought much about it up until that point, but it made me wonder, could my peers have made a list of things that a person could like about being blind or that could be good about being deaf? I don't even think I could've made that list in eighth grade.

This is a bit of a side note, but I was very angry about this. And I remember that my contribution to the list was for both sides that people will underestimate you. And I said this in the most passive-aggressive way I could muster at the time. At the age of 13, I felt very proud of myself at that moment, but I think I was mostly angry with the fact, and of course, I couldn't have been able to articulate this then, that we weren't really talking about why these things were challenging and how these challenges are often caused by external factors like inaccessibility.

Another thing that inspired me to make this episode and my own personal list of Legally Blonde & Blind benefits was that when I Googled benefits of being blind, the first thing I found was this list. I think it was mostly a joke, but the main things that they had listed were that you can make excuses not to do chores and that you get disability parking passes. I talked about this in a lot more detail in my first episode, The Art of the Blind Joke. If you haven't listened to it already, I highly recommend it because it's one of my favorite episodes ever. Essentially viewing my disability as a characteristic rather than a disease or a problem that needs to be fixed has greatly increased my happiness because it has allowed me to see the positive effects that it's had on my life, not only the negative. I would argue that it has added way more to my life than it could have ever possibly taken away. My mom always used to say to me that I could be anything I wanted to in life except an airplane pilot. And that is my life motto. I think those are the most obvious benefits, especially to someone who is sighted. But for me, it is so much more complex than that.

Another one that I have. Another, one of the reasons that I saw it actually wasn't the benefits of being blind. The benefits of dating a blind woman. It was that “oh, they're not going to take as long to get ready because they're not going to care about their hair and makeup or appearance.” I was personally offended by that. I mean, has this person not seen Molly Burke, the fashion icon? I don't. I don't think they have. She actually also made a YouTube video about this topic a while ago. And I think it's really cool to hear everyone's take on this because people have such different and personal experiences with blindness that it seems as though everyone can come up with different reasons. We have some commonalities in our lists, but a lot of my reasons differ from hers.

The point I'm trying to get at is that adopting this mindset overall has made me a lot happier. It's not to say that I constantly feel this way. While writing this episode, I wanted to make sure I wasn't giving the impression that I was promoting toxic positivity or that I was trying to diminish the very important conversations about issues facing the blind community. I'm not always a ray of sunshine. I'm not always happy about it. A few weeks ago, before one of my virtual classes, it was like five minutes before I lost my air pods. And I couldn't find them anywhere. You would think that with dark floors and white AirPods, they would contrast enough, but they did not. And believe me, at that very moment, I was not too happy about having very limited vision.

So without further ado, let's get into my fantastic list. In my Social Media and Democracy class, we were talking about how online content often takes the form of lists, think Buzzfeed, or watch mojo because people enjoy the order and structure that lists bring. And I am 100% in that boat. I need structure in my chaotic life. So I hope you enjoy this list.

The first benefit I have is that you have no choice but to reduce your carbon footprint by carpooling everywhere, instead of driving yourself. There are so many inconveniences that go with not being able to drive, especially if you live in a suburban area like I do right now because there's practically zero public transportation in our area. But you can take comfort in the fact that you were doing your part to reduce CO2 emissions. I remember I went to a NOAH conference and if you don't know, it's a convention for people with albinism, which I have. And I think I was about 13 at the time I was talking to someone who was older. I believe they were at least over 17, like late teens, or early twenties. And they were asking me how I felt about driving, because albinism is one of those things where you're on the cusp, like some people with it can drive, whereas others cannot. It was something that I had honestly, never really thought about that much because it always made me very uncomfortable. And I figured that I'd rather be safe than possibly drive and put somebody at risk. But we were talking about it and I said, “oh, I'll just have my friends and family drive me around while I'm in high school.” And then when I go to college, hopefully, I will be in a city. And this guy told me, “oh, your friends will never take you anywhere. They will say they will take you places, but they won't actually drive you.” Thankfully, this person was wrong. I have several amazing friends who are willing to serve as my own personal Uber and drive me around. I also have to give a shout-out to my grandma who listens to this podcast because she is probably driven me to and from doctor's appointments, school events, and practices hundreds, if not thousands of times,

The second benefit is a bit more serious, but when you have a VI. I'm going to call visual impairments VI from now on. I said it way too many times. And my third episode, virtual learning with the visual impairment and now it's just VI. So we're all on the same page. Anyway, I think having a VI causes you to develop communication skills at a much younger age, because when you're in school, your teachers and your peers can’t automatically assume what you need. For me personally, I was very involved in the terms of like the process of getting accommodations at school and whatnot. And it's a very young age. I actually started attending my own IEP meetings when I was in, I think it was fifth grade. I also would do the beginning of the school year meetings with teachers where I would explain to them in person pre-pandemic, of course, all of the various things I needed on tests and during class. And it was just a great way for me to get to know them before the school year started and make sure we were on the same page.

My point is that people need to communicate their needs to people, whether it be their boss, partner, or friend. And even though it may seem really simple to ask my teacher for help in these little meetings at the start of the school year, these meetings gave me the space to learn how to explain and express myself without feeling nervous. It taught me that I don't need to be afraid to ask for help or tell people about my VI. It also taught me how to reinforce boundaries and remind people of what I need while being respectful, yet still assertive. Even outside of school. I still need to ask strangers for help occasionally or explain my condition very quickly. I think having a VI caused me to break down those barriers at a very young age and not be afraid to go up to strangers. Overall. I am very happy to report that I am not afraid of making a doctor's appointment, ordering a pizza over the phone, or walking up to a stranger, and asking them where the bathroom is. And I largely attribute my VI.

My next point definitely goes along with the communication skills, but I feel like being legally blind has also made me a better listener with the very important caveat that this does not apply when I am wearing AirPods, as my parents could probably attend. There's this misconception that if you're blind or almost blind, you will have better hearing than people with normal vision, which isn't necessarily true. I used to think it was when I was younger because I wanted superpowers, but it's not, unfortunately. Though, if you can't see things, you have to rely a lot more heavily on verbal cues. The best way I like to describe it to people is for me personally, I can see larger forms of body language like if someone is crossing their arms or if they're putting their hands on their hips, but I couldn't see if somebody was rolling their eyes or if they were to like, raise their eyebrows, for example. So that means I have to pick up on people's changes in tone and pitch, as well as the types of words that they typically use. Outside of social contexts. I find myself listening for certain kinds of sounds to find where a cash register is in a store or using verbal cues to figure out which sheet of paper my teacher's talking about when they're holding it up. In the COVID era, I've found that this has been especially helpful because everyone's getting less social cues due to the fact that most classes are on zoom. So it's really helpful when you can pick up on more verbal signals when you are not able to meet.

Going off of the idea that I can't see more subtle social cues. My next benefit is that I don't have to see people staring at me and this benefits is kind of sad to write out because admitting that it happens, isn't really fun, but people do stare. I think this has more to do with my physical appearance. I have albinism, which means that I have really pale skin and basically white hair. So I think people stare at me more for that than like vision-related issues because I don't use a cane or a guide dog. So I'm not obviously blind unless I'm looking at my phone because I have to look like two inches away. I've had several instances where people have pointed out that someone was staring at me at a store, or while I was getting my hair done, it could really be anything, but the bright side to it, at least from my perspective is that if people don't point it out to me, I don't have to notice it. And I don't have to deal with that negativity in my life. As counterintuitive as it may sound. I actually don't really like it when people point out that someone was staring at me or try to defend me because it can honestly dampen my mood for the entire day. If I find out that someone was staring at me, I just don't want to deal with that kind of negativity.

And fortunately, I don't have to, unless you're really bad at staring, I have caught some people. There was one instance where I was at the orthodontist of all places. And there was this lady, she was a mom, this wasn't a kid. And she was like, pretending to be me and looking really close at her phone. Yeah, I could see that my mom and I tagged-teamed it. Basically, she was in a waiting room in the front and I was in a room in the back, and basically, wherever this lady went, we would just give her death stares. So rest assured we got our revenge but overall staring at something that's largely negative that I don't have to deal with on a day-to-day basis because I can't even see it. And I'm proud to say that I am getting closer to the point where I wouldn't even care if you were.

And as the lady who was holding her phone really close to her face probably realized, another benefit is that you can use your nose to scroll through your phone. Think about it. So if you're standing in a hallway and you've got, let's say like a cup of coffee and your other hand, and you're just looking at your phone with your one hand, most sighted people, because it's like, you know, further away, they just have their one hand. But since I have to look like an inch away from my phone, I have my nose. And it's very convenient. I have to remind myself oftentimes in public that most people don't scroll through their phone with their nose because I am often very tempted to do so. But that is one benefit that most people do not realize.

My next one is harder to explain. So bear with me, but I feel like being legally blind has impacted my work ethic. And I want to be very cautious with how I put this, because I don't want to give the impression that being blind was the only thing that I think made me a hard worker. I think it's a combination of things like my parents, my teachers, my friends, and all the people that supported me. And I also don't want to give off the impression that I think that every single issue facing the disabled community can be solved if people just try really hard. That sounds like a Hallmark movie. And I am not promoting that, but I guess the best way to put it is that you learn at a young age that there'll be some things that are just going to be inherently harder for you and that you have to push through them.

For example, I mean, I live in the US so I have been taking standardized tests since I was in third grade. And even if they gave me extra time or large print, it was going to inherently be harder for me to sit down for a three-hour exam than it would be for my sighted peers. And that was something that I just had to get through. I think there's also this aspect of wanting to prove people wrong. I think Sam and I were talking about this in the last episode, knowing that some people will have lower expectations for you because your blinder VI can really set a fire under you though. I will admit that it can definitely go too far. I think the biggest thing for me that influenced my work ethic was being surrounded by parents, friends, and teachers who all knew that I was equally capable and had expectations of me that were just as high as they would be for other sighted kids. So the best way to sum that up is I feel that being legally blind has influenced my work ethic in a positive way, but it's not the only thing that has if that makes any sense. So it is a benefit, which is why it's on that part of my list, but I don't think it's the only thing that has influenced that part of my personality.

This benefit has the same disclaimer as the last one. So bear with me for any cheesiness, but I feel that being legally blind has also taught me not to give up. Yes. I know that is so, so, so cliche. I don't mean for this to sound like a Hallmark movie. What I mean is that there are very few things that a blind person just flat out cannot do. Like I was saying earlier, it's pretty much I could do anything that I wanted besides being an airplane pilot. So I feel that it's taught me that even if you can't think of a solution right away, that doesn't mean that there isn't one. Overall, I would say that it has given me a sense of perseverance and resourcefulness that I am very, very thankful for.

Another plus is that you can read in the dark. Now. I am not nearly as cool as people who use Braille. I use eBooks. So it's not nearly as impressive that I can read in the dark, but it still is a plus, especially since I am not a huge fan of the sun. One of my biggest pet peeves, not, it's not when people say they have a preference for reading physical books, but it's when they act as if reading physical books is superior to reading eBooks. When they say things like you have to disconnect from technology and breathe in the scent of old books. No, I don't need that. I can read in the dark and you cannot. The very unfortunate downside to this, I will have to add, is that I cannot read on the beach, given my light sensitivity and extremely pale skin. There's not very much I can do at the beach for a long period of time, but especially reading.

This is another benefit that I don't think most people would think of right away, but being legally blind has made me a huge planner. I love to have my agenda and my calendar organized and color-coded with my different classes, all my assignments, and due dates listed. I'm a huge organizer, at least for school-related things. My room is not always as organized as my Google Calendar. And you may be wondering, okay, well, what does this have to do with being legally blind? Well, when you have a VI and especially when you can't drive, you have to think ahead for a lot of things. You can't just say, “oh, I need a jug of milk. I'm just going to go drive to the grocery store and get that.” At least if you live in the suburbs, I also mentioned in Virtual Learning with a Visual Impairment that being very prone to eye strain and fatigue means you often have to put a lot more effort into time management and academic context because writing an essay might take you longer. Not because you're any less capable, but because you're going to get a headache after looking at your laptop for hours. It can be very inconvenient, but I'm glad that it's taught me the organization and time management skills that are very useful in college. It has made me a mom friend. It has made me the friend that will plan the itinerary for a day trip, who will pack the Advil and tissues and hand sanitizer in their bag. I am a mom friend, and that is my thing. I am very grateful for that. And I would hope that my sighted friends are as well. I hope they don't find it too annoying.

This is an albinism-related benefit. And I wanted to keep this list as general as possible because I know a lot of my listeners don't have albinism and I want to make it something that everyone who's blind or VI can enjoy, not just albino people, but one of the best things about having albinism is that so basically like my hair is white, right. And my skin is really pale. My hair can't turn gray. So I will never have to worry about covering up gray hair when I get older. Another thing too is that, when you have albinism, you physically cannot tan and you will just burn in the sun. So we have to put on a lot and I mean a lot of sunscreens, but that means my skin is getting less sun damage. Unless of course, I decide to go to the beach in a tank top and I forget to reapply. And then I'm like a lobster. I am ashamed to admit that has happened a few times. Other than that, I'm hoping that less sun damage means fewer wrinkles when I'm older.

I had to save this one for the end, because you know, best for last, but I love being a part of the blind community. And there are so many reasons for this. I think the most obvious one to someone who's sighted is the emotional support aspect. It's great to have family and friends around you who are very supportive, but ultimately there's this sort of disconnect because they don't have the same lived experience as us. They can see how people treat you. They can see what you use in the classroom, but they don't have the experience of being blind 24/7. I was very lucky to attend several conventions when I was younger and socialize with a lot of other blind people when I was in middle school, which was especially helpful because around that time, I was very insecure about my appearance and looking really close at my phone. So being around other people that were also looking at their phones super close and realizing, “Hey, this is normal. This is just what you have to do to see” was super empowering for me. I would like to think I'm in a much better place in terms of accepting my blindness, but no one's perfect. And it's really nice to have that emotional support network if you need it.

There are also a lot of Facebook groups online that are super helpful, especially if you need more practical advice, the best way to put it is when you're in an IEP meeting at school, they think about, “oh, how are you going to read the whiteboard?” But they don't often think of “what are you going to do if you're home alone and you drop an earring, or how are you going to cook?” if you're visually impaired. I love being a part of Facebook groups like the albinism community, for example, because you can see different advice, posts, and ideas of things you never even thought of before, especially for me, because I'm at that point where I'm hopefully a few months away from living on my own. But since I've been an online student for the past year, I haven't really had that experience yet. I love hearing from people who have had that experience and I especially appreciate hearing about solutions to potential problems that I might encounter.

In a professional sense, there are tons of scholarships, both local and national for blind students and disabled students in general. They are great, not only for the financial aspect but also because they often link you to mentoring and networking opportunities within the blind community. So if you're in high school or even in college, I definitely recommend looking into different blind scholarships. In the future. I'm thinking of making an episode about how I discussed my blindness in the context of college application essays for scholarship essays. So be on the lookout for that.

There are also several subgroups, such as The National Association of Blind Lawyers or Doctors with Albinism. Pretty much for any profession, you could think of. With the power of the internet, if you wanted to find a blind florist, for example, like if that's your dream job and you want to find another blind florist, you probably could.

Finally, it's just a great way to make friends. If you go to one of these conventions, you will have something in common with most of the people there. You all already have something to talk about, so you don't need to do any of that awkward small talk. I've found that you can make very deep connections with other blind or VI people because you have the shared experience that you don't with most other people. But what's funny is that I rarely talk about it with my other blind friends. It's kind of funny. It's like this, it's like you have this shared experience that bonds you together initially, but you rarely talk about it because there are just so many other things that are going on in your life. I think people that have never been to a convention before would be surprised at how many friendships and even romantic relationships form at these places. But it is such a unique and empowering experience to be around so many people that are like you.

And at this point, I feel obliged to give a shout-out to a particular special listener, an early supporter of the podcast, if you will. So actually the first person I ever told about this podcast idea was in August, and they encouraged me to go. So having blind friends and partners is pretty awesome. I definitely engaged more socially with the blind community when I was younger. I think with all of my college classes and extracurriculars, all of which are online since most of the events are virtual because of Corona, it's hard to hop onto another hour-and-a-half-long zoom call if you've already been on zoom six hours a day for classes or school clubs. But it's nice to know that people are still there and that I can become more involved later in life or when things hopefully become more normal and we can go to in-person conventions.

Well, everyone, that was my list. I hope you found it both amusing and insightful. I don't think most of these things are distinct advantages of being blind over being sighted. Though, I frequently argue that vision is overrated. But these are still nice perks that come along with something that people mostly perceive as negative. As I said, I'm not perfect and I'm not always as positive, but the next time you're on your hands and knees trying to find a missing Air Pod or earring on the floor. It's nice to remind yourself of the good things that come with being blind.

If you liked this episode, make sure to follow Legally Blonde & Blind on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or wherever you get your podcasts. Also, make sure to follow my social media pages at @legallybb_ on Instagram and also on Facebook. I mentioned this a few months ago, but I'm hoping to adopt a more consistent publishing schedule where I release a new episode on the first Saturday of every month. So that means the next episode will be coming out on April 3rd. Thank you again for listening and I hope to see you all soon.


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