What I wish you knew about my (invisible) visual impairment… I am visually impaired, but not in the sense that I require something like a cane or a guide dog. I can drive, and I can play softball, and I can (with some difficulty) read the tiny print of my biology textbooks. In this sense I am fortunate, when people see me, no one will judge me or make assumptions about my disability—they may make assumptions or judgement about my being a woman in STEM, but that’s a different story. In another sense, because I have no physical identifiers, my disability is invisible and therefore unbelieved. I understand, it must be difficult to comprehend how I can drive my car to campus everyday but struggle with walking outside when snow is falling. It even took me a while (almost 19 years, to be exact) to recognize and accept the fact that I deserve to try to resolve these complications from my disability. My visual processing disorders cause me difficulty in reading, because my eyes jump around on the page. I am easily frightened by people walking around me, because I have terrible peripheral vision. My depth perception is almost non-existent, making things like microscopy work in my biology labs difficult, if not totally impossible. My eyes perceive colours in a different way, meaning when the lightbulbs in the projectors in my lecture halls start to fade, the yellow colour it leaves behind causes severe anxiety, to the extent that I am willing to skip my favourite classes to avoid the anxious feeling. My closest friends understand these things, and help me by touching my shoulder or coughing before coming from behind me, and by doing the microscope work in labs while I do the data analysis, and by sending me notes when the anxiety is too bad to attend classes. Something that no one understands, though, is the imposter syndrome. It feels wrong to complain about depth perception when some people are totally blind. It feels wrong to complain about three classes causing anxiety attacks when some peoples’ anxiety is so bad that they cannot attend school at all. It feels wrong to complain about doing microscope work, when women in some places are not allowed to pursue an education at all, especially in the sciences. When someone asks me why I am just now starting to take the steps to get accommodation for my disability, it is hard to explain that I have always been this way, and that the reason I am only taking these steps now is because I have just now, at 22, admitted to myself that these things are necessary. Every day I try to remind myself that just because someone has it worse, does not mean that I deserve to have it this bad. Every time someone says “but you don’t look disabled” or “really? Then how many fingers am I holding up?” or “I think that you can take the tests in the same way as the rest of the class, or take a 0”, I have to fight to remind myself that my experiences are valid, and that my disability does affect me, and that I deserve compassion for this.
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The Future is Accessible
Society for Students with a Disability
3800 Finnerty Road
Student Union Building, Room B111