By Dan Sullivan
For those of you with vision loss, it’s time to come out of the closet. Then again, maybe not! Depending on the circumstances of your particular situation, this decision can be a social, savvy, and strategic one.
It’s true. Losing your vision can create an isolating experience that feels like a closet around you. As intimate and individual environments, these closets can differentiate immensely. Thus, the timing for coming out and disclosing one’s visual status can differ as well. And when doing so, you face that challenge of no longer being considered part of the sighted world.
Amazingly, contentious debates exist as to when and how much to disclose about one’s visual acuity. Total blindness makes the situation obvious. However, legal blindness often means the retention of partial acuity and a functional appearance of no major limitation. Nonetheless, representing yourself as anything other than visually void is sometimes criticized as denial. Yet, having peripheral or a portion of central vision can translate into still being sighted. As such, some things are seen and others are not. In essence, you’re not fully sighted or fully blind. This great in-between then creates an identity crisis, especially when not posing the white cane or guide dog stereotype.
Due to macular degeneration, the leading cause of vision loss, I’m an in-betweener. Retaining peripheral vision, my symbolic closet keeps me uneasy about disclosures. This scenario is an issue of privacy rather than deception. While not masquerading or trying to deceive anyone, my door has always been open, but stepping out comes with hesitation.
Branded legally blind at age ten, I was terrified like most youth about impressions with peers. Among teachers and classmates, my struggles to read books or see the blackboards seemed readily apparent. On the playground, I wanted to be included in all the fun. Worrying about becoming the target of bullies garnered serious concern. Stepping boldly out of my closet as a kid would not have been an advantageous move.
Upon entering the workforce, this closet conundrum became a more ponderous issue. Not having total vision loss, I could see well enough to apply to many jobs and do well at most endeavors. In this era, sharing all the details of my situation would not have given me a competitive edge and almost certainly the opposite impact. Once ADA surfaced, I gained more confidence, yet remained cautious about full disclosure. Though my physical eyes were somewhat cloudy, my eye’s mind was not. I readily sensed that being viewed as sighted meant greater opportunities. Whether right or wrong, mine was a strategy of survival rather than secrecy.
Now retired with a current central acuity of 20/400, my closet remains occupied with the door swinging open. Though not attempting to fool anyone, my situation has yet to reach that point of jumping out, crossing over, and no longer physically being sighted. So in the meantime, I’ll just continue as a misfit in-betweener.
Dan Sullivan lives in Minocqua, Wisconsin.