“Go easy on me because I am visually impaired!”
On hearing a man utter these words, I felt perplexed. I experienced anger, sadness and distress.
Why did he say it? What made him say it? It happened like this.
It was several years ago at a floor volleyball competition for adults. Having completed the draw, each team was preparing for the matches. The official practice was over and the competition was about to start.
Then, a man who appeared to be in his 40s, maybe completely blind, was still on the bench, changing shoes. He seemed dissatisfied with the fit of his shoes. He loosened the laces, tied them again, loosened them once more, tied them yet again… He was taking his time.
But it was nearly time for the match to start. The referee blew his whistle and the players were just about to line up. Then, the man said, “Hey, why the rush? Hang on! I am still getting ready.” The venue fell utterly silent. His attitude irritated me. He was ruining the mood just before the opening match. The referee warned him several times but the man answered back.
Suddenly, the man shouted: “It’s sports for the visually impaired, isn’t it? Go easy on me! I am visually impaired!”
I was lost for words. My jaw dropped in disbelief. In the end, we waited until he was ready. The match started late in an oppressive atmosphere and ended with our team’s victory.
Why did he say it? Was he irritated? Was he just a short-tempered person? Such personality traits may be part of the explanation but I think it was mainly due to his amae or dependence. He was using the fact of his visual impairment as a means of troubling other people.
In fact, he was clearly in the wrong. If he knew it would take him a while to get ready, he should have started getting ready earlier. But he didn’t do that. It was his amae. He knew the people would wait for him. I recognized the gravity of this matter: using one’s visual impairment as an excuse for even the minor eventualities of life.
It is so easy to say, “Because I am visually impaired...” There is a tendency to take it for granted that people will go easy on you. And it is easy to forget that this excuse takes advantage of the goodwill of others.
“Because I am visually impaired...” These words are problematic. They can be a shield protecting you or a sword hurting others. It is disturbing.
“Because I am visually impaired...” Yes, that may well be true. If you can’t see, there are certainly many things that won’t go well or you simply won’t be able to do.
Given these frustrations, I know how tempting it is to exclaim: “I could have done it if only I were not blind!” “When I could see, I could have done it in a heartbeat !” If only I could see, I could do it right away!” To my regret, I am not immune to this attitude.
So I can readily understand why some people are tempted to use their visual impairment as an excuse. But one should resist the temptation.
If you allow yourself to fall back on this excuse, your determination will flag. The upshot will be that you will fail to do the many seemingly small things in life that you would otherwise be able to accomplish if you only made the effort.
This incident was a valuable opportunity for me to reappraise my mentality as a visually impaired person. Maybe because I was aware of my weakness, my amae, I could find myself uttering the same words as that man.
I suffer from retinitis pigmentosa, an intractable disease. I cannot see at all in poorly illuminated environments. My field of view is narrowing day by day. My eyesight is falling. I often have to depend on others. I need their help. So there is a part of me that is tempted to use my condition as an excuse in all manner of situations. But I don’t want to be like the man at the sports event. Learning from a bad example, I am resolved to be modest and appreciate other people, without taking their kindness for granted.
Because I am visually impaired…
Surely, at one time or another everyone has thought, “I’m useless. I can’t do anything.”
I frequently had such thoughts, partly because I was born with a visual impairment. I was always negative and relationships with others were a problem for me. The backbiting of classmates sounded like it was all directed at me. I attributed all of this to my impairment. I thought, “Nothing I do turns out right.”
I had jumped to this conclusion deep down inside and felt no motivation to do anything. My mother would always say to me, “You think that way because you have no self-confidence, don’t you? Have more confidence in yourself!” I would respond, “Huh? What are you talking about? As if you know anything about it. How am I supposed to have confidence in myself, anyway?”
Even so, if someone praised me for something, I felt happy and had a certain amount of self-confidence. However, it was only a momentary feeling. After a while, I would wonder, “Was the person who praised me really being sincere?”
“Miho, you’re really good at drawing, aren’t you?” When someone said that to me, at first I was genuinely pleased and felt some self-confidence. However, after some time had passed I thought, “It was probably just flattery.” That sort of thing has happened over and over again. Still, it was only at such times that I ever got close to feeling confidence in myself, even momentarily.
As I struggled through each day in this way, I became unable to trust people. If a boy was talking in whispers behind me in class, I thought he might be saying something nasty about me. If a girl in class was looking in my direction and giggling, she might be laughing at me.
Before I knew it, I was frequently missing school, and I found myself becoming unable to trust even what my family said. My mother told me again, “Why don’t you have more confidence in yourself?” When I responded, “You say I should have confidence in myself, but how am I supposed to do that?” she said: “It’s simple. You should increase the things you can do by yourself.”
To be honest, I didn’t know how to begin. But, I thought, “I will have a go!”
I decided to start by trying to overcome problems in relationships with the people closest to me. But how to go about it?
Until then, I had only interacted with people I was close to. I was afraid that if I reached out and spoke to someone, I would receive a cold response or be ignored and feel hurt. I wondered whether anyone would speak with a person with a disability like me.
I had always thought about such things and avoided interacting with people. One day after school, when I was studying alone in a classroom, a classmate entered the room. He was one of the few people I could trust. After chatting about nothing in particular for a while, I found the courage to try asking his advice about relationships. “You know, I’m afraid of interacting with people. How can I skillfully interact with others?” He responded, “Huh? You will be fine. Try to find a little courage.” I thought, “I don’t know if I can, but I’ll give it a try.” One day some time after that conversation, someone I ordinarily never spoke with approached me and asked, “Miho, how far can you see?” I was surprised. I told myself to have courage. All I had to do was simply answer the question. “About that far.” The person answered, “Really? I didn’t know that! Thanks.” Wow! I was really able to speak with someone. I was so happy! I somehow felt bright and cheerful! Could this be self-confidence? I thought, “I’ll try even harder!”
From that time on, I think I changed. I started actively interacting with people at every opportunity, and I even became a member of a school event planning committee, a role I would never have taken on before. Tackling new challenges made everyday life fulfilling. And I came to truly and honestly think that even school, which I had so disliked, is fun. I thought, “This is self-confidence!” I believe that self-confidence isn’t something we get from others.
Did I really lack self-confidence because of my disability? Or, did I not even try to gain self-confidence from the start? I often reflect on myself and consider why things are the way they are. And now, I think that I can gain self-confidence by making clear what I can and can’t do, accepting that, and overcoming challenges one by one. Having self-confidence makes day-to-day living fun. It gives me courage. It motivates me.
I have now left home, enrolled in Niigata Prefectural Niigata School for the Visually Impaired, and live in a dormitory. Although there are many things I don’t understand and every day is a struggle, the feeling that the number of things I can do by myself is increasing one by one makes me really happy and is fun. Recently, people have begun saying things like “Miho is full of life, isn’t she?” and “I’ve never seen Miho look so cheerful.” No doubt this is because, since attending a school for the blind and speaking and interacting with my fellow students, I have become aware that everyone at the school is totally different from my former self. Although everyone has a disability similar to mine, they are brimming with self-confidence, in good spirits, and far more independent that me. I have begun to feel a kind of yearning to become a person like that. In these circumstances, as I set myself new goals and work to achieve them, I feel that the number of things I can do by myself is increasing, one by one, but steadily and surely.
My current objective is to become independent enough to go out into the world. Therefore, since enrolling in school I have begun using a white cane for the first time. At first, I didn’t even know when to use a white cane. But now things are different. Although I feel awkward at times, I feel I’m becoming more proficient little by little. I want to continue to take on lots of new challenges. This is so one day I will be able to say with confidence that I like myself.
When I was in the elementary department at school, I loved to eat and wasn’t good at physical exercise. When I became a junior high school student, though, I took up track and field and joined the school track team. At first, each time I ran my time improved, and my spirits soared! But that came to an end after about three months. I carried on with team activities, agonizing over how to run faster. I kept at it, and my times started improving again. I began to feel a desire to compete in a major meet. Then, one day when we were lined up in physical education class, the teacher said, “I will now announce the name of a student selected for this year’s National Sports Festival for People with Disabilities. Ms. Mihiro Akimoto!” I thought, “What? It can’t be!” Had my dream come true? I was momentarily confused. But, it was real. “I made it!” In my delight, a smile spread over my face. That sports festival would make a big change in me.
From that time onward, there were frequent intensive training sessions. During training, I had many opportunities to meet people with disabilities other than visual impairments: for instance, hearing, intellectual, and orthopedic disabilities. I got to thinking. Are people who can’t hear limited to expressing their feelings only to people who understand sign language? I couldn’t live without being able to listen to my favorite J-POP music. I wondered, do people with physical disabilities need assistance with every aspect of life? It’s a pity they have no free time alone. There was also camp training. The girls at the camp shared a large room, and I was the only one with a visual impairment. I wondered how everyone lived their daily lives. It must be difficult to deal with so many hardships. Well, what do you know! It turned out that everyone looked after themselves with brisk efficiency. And there were many occasions when I received help from the other girls. The girls with hearing impairments conversed in text using smartphones in addition to sign language, cheerfully communicating with one another. A girl with physical disabilities organized her life task by task, actively requesting assistance from her caregiver. If anything, she seemed to enjoy the person-to-person connection. Much of this applies to people with visual impairments as well.
One time, when I was resting after training, a nearby boy asked, “What disability do you have?” I answered, “I have a visual impairment. I’m totally blind in both eyes.” He then said, “I wear a prosthetic leg. You can touch it if you want.” and let me touch it. It was large and hard and had been made to fit his body. I felt, “It must be difficult to move wearing such a large object. Isn’t it heavy? Still, it doesn’t seem to bother him. What a cheerful, wonderful person, striking up conversations with everyone.” Until then, I had often harshly criticized people, saying, “Don’t pity people with disabilities.” However, in the end, I realized that I only ever thought about my own disability and knew nothing of others. I felt ashamed of myself. This experience made me keenly aware of the meaning of the proverb “The frog in the well knows nothing of the great ocean.” From the camp experience, I learned once again about the importance of helping one another and that people can figure out ways of overcoming virtually any disability. Whether a disabled person can become a person others find appealing depends on how the individual deals with his or her disability. Thanks to the sports festival, I fortuitously came to know about “the great ocean.”
The day of the sports festival finally arrived. I was excited and filled with wonder by the sound of wheelchairs racing past me at high speed, thinking “Wow! They can move that fast in wheelchairs! Despite their disabilities, they hit times close to those of Olympic athletes.” The medal I won at the meet was not a mere track and field medal, but also a medal that showed me how wonderful the world is. Until then, I thought I knew a lot, but I was just a frog hopping around in a small pond. However, by participating in the National Sports Festival, I deepened my understanding and came to know the “great ocean,” if only a little. I want to continue to be actively involved in various things, have encounters with different people, and enjoy swimming in the great ocean that is life more and more.