James Rath

blind with perspective.

Why I Identify as "Legally Blind"

I recently received this comment on my latest short film “How Apple Saved My Life” [cc] that I believed questioned why I identify as “legally blind” and claiming the video does a disservice to those in a similar situation. Here is the comment, following is my response. 

Commenter: “I have had nearly the exact same experience as you, word for word.

Enlarged textbooks / worksheets,  school administration not actually understanding or able to manage the problem, a multitude of obnoxious “assistive” apparatuses causing more issues than they solve, and finally, walking into an Apple store on a whim, being shown the zoom feature, and instantly needing a Mac.

The accessibility features in the Apple ecosystem are phenomenal and have (from what i can tell) ALWAYS surpassed what is available on Windows. ZoomText, ZoomIt QZoom, and the native magnifier are terrible and extremely resource intensive. In addition, the ability to map special keyboard or mouse buttons to various functions were often unreliable.

On iOS, being able  to change the minimum font size / enable large text is just a essential for me. Applications that do not respect these often go unused or are deleted. (I’m looking at you, Trillian!)

While i do support the overall message of your video (shining a spotlight on something infinitely undervalued) the way it is presented does a disservice to those in a similar situation.

With 20/2200 vision myself and having been engaged with state, federal, and private entities that deal with visually impaired people, I can say that the average person’s stigma towards those who are different has a very clear source. Within this community, there seems to be a constant need to draw attention to, discuss, and project the fact that you are aren’t like everyone else.

(I am speaking about an individual with normal emotional and intellectual capacities.)

Instead of someone (who has been a part of this system) introducing themselves like “Hi, I’m Tom!”, it is instead “Hi, I’m Tom! I have a disability. I am unable to //whatever// as well other people. But i can assure you, i am just as equal and valuable a member to society as everyone else. Please, ask me about how i am different, i will explain at length but in a way that makes me seem just like you. Then let me, the current self appointed official representative, point out what is wrong with society and how you yourself have contributed to our collective suffering as disabled persons.”

There if obviously no question with regard to if a blind or visually impaired person has things more difficult than a “normal” person. At the same time, when we come into this world, we’re given a set of cards. It’s up to you how you play them and to adapt to when things go sideways. Some have it easy, some have it interesting; such is life.

Continually pointing out that someone is different, even if it is meant in a positive or supportive way does not help them cope with their situation. It does the exact opposite. Often causing them become the personification of the difference. It becomes their identity. Who they are, their options, way of expressing themselves, and, in some cases, a crutch to use when things get hard. And why shouldn’t they do this? After all they’re disabled, this is acceptable, and the world is a mean unfair place anyway.

Just my 2¢. (Because: Internet YouTube Comment Machine)

Tl;DR = The stigma towards those with disabilities is not exclusively the creation of average, ignorant, mean people. It’s a fire equally fueled by the communities need to assign labels, “spread awareness”, and ensure everyone’s a winner.“

My response..

James Rath: “Thank you for your comment. I understand your perspective and where you’re coming from but from my stand point, as an artist, I personally identify with what makes me stand out, what makes my art the way it is. I identify as legally blind, because I am, and it is heavily influenced in my art, passions, and activism. I encourage people to identify however they see themselves and feel impacts their daily life.

If Tom wants to simply identify as Tom, I see nothing wrong with that, but if James wants to identify as a legally blind filmmaker, there should be nothing wrong with that either. In a social setting I will usually simply introduce myself as James, and when the time calls for it I’ll mention yes I have a visual impairment, if it’s appropriate to the situation. When it comes to a professional event however, yes I’ll usually introduce myself, then mentioning I’m legally blind and that more often than none, sparks a question or an interest in the receiving end of the conversation. It allows me an opportunity to educate the individual on what my abilities are, how I manage and overcome my limitations, and what it’s made me passionate about creating, and pursuing. It usually creates a good conversation and great lasting impression on the receiving end when I present myself with confidence, honesty, and wanting to clean the room of any ignorance.

Again, I believe it’s up to the individual with the disability to choose how they identify. This film is rightfully my identity, my story, my thanks to Apple, and my piece of art, no one else’s. Thanks again for your comment and watching!“