by Dan “Sully” Sullivan
The late great comedian, Rodney Dangerfield, used a patented punchline by remarking, “I get no respect.” Sometimes I feel like the Rodney Dangerfield of the blind and visually impaired. Throughout the years, I’ve come to know that often the general public views vision loss, as an all or nothing situation. Therefore, individuals like me, with macular degeneration, boggle this stereotype. For whatever reason, it seems so hard for folks to understand that while my central vision is diminished, my peripheral still remains.
Here is a good example of my circumstances. I once got on a bus and sat in the front seat. The bus driver immediately turned to me and said, “Sir, could you move back a seat. I’m picking up a blind guy on the next block and he needs to sit up front.” I obliged.
While working at a university, I attended a meeting, during which a comment I made, ruffled the feathers of a professor. He stood up and shouted at me, “Are you blind?” I then responded, “Actually, with central vision rated at less than 20/400, I am legally blind!” An awkward silence then enveloped the room.
When beginning my career through a Schedule A disability appointment with the federal government, I learned that the VA Medical Center had staff housing. Upon inquiring as to whether I could obtain housing, I was told that only one unit remained and that it was being saved as part of a benefits package to recruit another surgeon. However, an agreement was made that I could house there temporarily until this surgeon was hired. As I arrived and began moving in, communications got mixed up in this close-knit community. Word got around that a blind surgeon had been hired and was moving in, which really upset many of the veterans. I had to calm everyone down by proclaiming that I did not own a scalpel.
While working for the federal government, a co-worker once stopped me in the hallway and said, “I heard you have really bad eyes. I thought you were normal!” I am still wondering if that is a good thing or a bad thing.
After starting a new job with a nonprofit organization, I got approached by the Personnel Director about not responding to her emails. I then explained the trouble I was having utilizing their computer without adapted software, and how I had previously explained to her my vision impairment. With that she blurted, “I didn’t know you were that blind.” A day later, I got called into the vice president’s office and told by this same personnel director that a decision had been made that I was not a good fit for this organization and would be let go just after a week on the job. As a former EEO representative while in the federal government, I knew my rights and filed an EEO complaint. After several months of review, I got awarded a settlement, while the personnel director and VP both got fired. Sometimes there is justice.
Now that I am retired and working as a visual artist, my folk art has gotten national acclaim, yet all to often the attention seems to focus on the fact that I am visually impaired, rather than artistically talented. I really cringe when someone says, “He’s really good for a disabled guy.” Again, like the late Rodney, I get no respect.
Many of us who are visually impaired often fall into what I call the great in between. We see a little of everything and not much of anything. Because I have good peripheral vision, I do not use a white cane or guide dog for mobility. Ask me to read any print or describe something nearby, I am at a loss. You could mug me and I would not be able to give the cops much of a description. However, do not try.
I neither flaunt my vision loss or try to conceal it. That is just the way I operate. However, I am oftentimes accused of not looking someone in the eye and thus being distrustful. To those who think this way, I certainly wish I could give them the evil eye or just turning a blind eye. Unfortunately, I am not sure which eye to use. Nonetheless, life goes on, while I get no respect!