By Annika Konrad
I went to the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) recently to surrender my driver’s license and apply for a state ID. I can’t say this is a day I was looking forward to. This is partly because no one looks forward to going to the DMV, but also partly because I did feel somewhat unhappy about surrendering my driver’s license. The thing is—because of my visual impairment, I haven’t driven in six or seven years and I don’t plan on doing so—but there’s something about having and holding onto that driver’s license that gave me a sense of normalcy and control.
When my driver’s license expired, it was time to apply for a state ID. I did my research online, filled out the form in advance, and rode with my boyfriend Andy to the DMV where we were pleasantly surprised to find a short queue. “This will be easy,” I thought to myself with my completed and signed application in hand. Nothing can go wrong. After waiting for my number to be called, I walked up to the desk and the employee took my papers. She looked them over and quickly looked up.
“You’re surrendering your driver’s license?” she asked.
“Yes,” I replied.
“Why?” she said.
Here we go, I thought. I hate these moments—the moments when I have to find a clean and casual way to tell a stranger that I am losing my vision. And this is exactly the situation I didn’t want to end up in. I didn’t want to have to explain to a DMV employee why I was there—I gave her my form and she knew what I needed, so why does she need an explanation?
“Vision loss,” I blurted out.
“What?” she said.
I made a second attempt. “I have a degenerative retinal disease,” I said, second-guessing my use of scientific language.
“Like you mean you can’t see faces and cars and stuff?”
“Uhhh, yeah,” I said.
“What’s your vision, like 20/60 or something?” she asked as she continued to enter the information.
“Uh, no,” I said. “It’s actually more like 20/100.”
“Oh, I’m so sorry,” she said as she handed me my replacement ID. “You’re too young.”
In that moment, I thought to myself, I knew it. I knew this would happen. Why would a young person like me surrender their driver’s license? I don’t look blind. I don’t seem blind. So all the questions need to be asked. All I wanted was to complete a simple transaction and all of a sudden someone feels sorry for me. I later realized that part of her reason for asking these questions was to make sure that I was making the right decision to surrender my license, but in my mind, I had already made the decision and I didn’t need to provide justification to anyone.
Andy didn’t say anything to me about our tense interaction until a few days later when I remarked about the rude lady at the DMV. He suggested that maybe I was rude to her. I agreed that I was a bit rude, but I explained that it is hard to remain polite when you know that a person sees your existence as something to be sorry for.
I understand that people don’t know what to say in the face of disability. I understand that people feel sorry for those who face challenges. And I understand that people are just trying to be nice, but it is moments like these when I wish saying the words, “I am losing my vision” or “blindness” did not signify a horrible, terrifying experience for which people need to apologize. I’m not sorry because simply put, this is my life, and I can’t be sorry.
Annika Konrad lives in Madison, Wisconsin.