Written by Kim Vrij
Living with a visual impairment is like living between two worlds.
The first world – the visual world – is where we want our eyes to be the main source of truth. I often hear people say “I’ve seen it with my own eyes” just to convince someone that something actually happened; there is also the more contemporary phrase: “Instagram or it didn’t happen.” If we didn’t see it, and mainly if others didn’t see it, it didn’t take place.
The second world is the world of the blind. Where hearing is one of the most important senses, I can hear the way someone feels, whether it’s angry, happy or sad, even when they don’t want to share these feelings. I can hear conversations of the couple sitting on the other side of the restaurant even when they think no one else can hear them.
I was born with a visual impairment. I can see about 20%, what that actually means seems difficult to understand, for myself, but also for people around me. “What is it that you can’t see?”, “Can you see what I look like?” or even “OMG now you can’t see how handsome I am!” are the usual responses to this topic. Maybe it’s easier to understand that I am 80% blind. Nonetheless, I do see what people look like and my job is more visual than one might expect. Some people are surprised that I have a job at all! I work in advertising, writing and managing communities on social platforms.
Having a lot of friends and starting in school at a public school were the best and worst things that ever happened to me. This seems to have shaped my early years and made me feel like I wasn’t different from anyone else, at least that’s what I told myself. It worked out perfectly, until I went to university and realized that I had been listening and (not looking) all these years.
Now I had to actually look at my books, screens and presentations. I didn’t see any of it, and, what’s even worse, it was difficult for me to travel there. In a city of a million bicycles, I rely on Uber. Even though I’d like to think I’d do the same if I would’ve had 100% vision, that’s a white lie, because when I told myself otherwise I felt like a light version of the person I could have been. I’d rather be a lazy brat in a taxi than visually handicapped and therefore immobile.
It took a lot of courage and caused some painful situations, but I asked for help. For the first time in my life, I accepted that I can’t be “normal” (Why would anyone want to be “normal” anyway?). I became friends with some inspiring visually impaired people (Who I am sure will listen to this article!) and was finally able to share what I couldn’t with anyone else. This shaped the “new” me, who accepted that I am living between two worlds, enjoying the best of both.
It took me a long time to get where I wanted to, regarding my career and accepting that I won’t be able to do everything I would like to. Who knows, it might even take me longer to make it to the next milestone, but since I decided I am not doing it to prove that I am like everyone else, things got a lot easier. I do everything my own way, and that is absolutely fine. In the world of seeing people I might be perceived as a prisoner behind my own eyes, but it doesn’t stop me from achieving my goals.
After all, in the world of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.