So I know I promised another giveaway, but that'll have to wait another week. Because today I'm posting about something else. Somethign really important to me that I want to finally share with all of you.
This is a post I’ve avoided writing for a long time. I thought it was best left to other people – better people, smarter people than me. And yet it’s a post I’m perfectly qualified to make. A post that I see no one else making. And as much as it makes me uncomfortable, I’ve decided to write it. So here we go.
Some of you may know that I am legally blind. To clarify legally blind does not mean that I see total blackness. In fact, about 9/10ths of the people classified as legally blind have some varying amount of vision. On my end, my visual acuity is about 20/400. If you know what that actually means, you’re a smarter person than me. For those of you who don’t know what that means, I will try to explain how I see to you, at least a little.
Take a look at the world around you. Now imagine everything being really blurry. Imagine some of the colors blending together a bit. Imagine that some colors (purple and brown, green and blue, pink and orange) look so alike that you have trouble telling them apart. Imagine you have terrible depth perception. Imagine that you have tunnel vision and you can’t see too far to the side or up or down without moving your eyes in those directions. That’s how I see during the day.
Now, you’re probably thinking “That’s awful!” but don’t. Don’t say that. Don’t think it. Because it’s not. When you’re born that way, when you don’t know better, it doesn’t seem so bad. And I was born this way (cue Lady Gaga). I’m not saying it doesn’t affect me, because it does, but it’s no tragedy. It’s not even that difficult to overcome when you’ve been overcoming it all your life.
I can’t read average sized books without a magnifier. My computer has magnification software. I use a cane. I can’t see at night at all. Yes, sometimes it sucks, but this is just my world. I’m used to it.
So why am I writing this post? Why am I framing it as a confession?
Because, in a lot of ways, it is. Three years ago it wasn’t. Three years ago I signed up on AW with the handle Blind Writer. Three years ago (or less actually) I blogged about a night where, despite my vision impairment and my friends lack of a sense of direction, we walked to a concert in the dark in a city I’d never been in before. Three years ago I was . . . well, not “proud” to be blind, but open about it.
That changed two years ago when an article for a college newspaper that was intended to be about me and the sale of THE DUFF ended up being something along the lines of “Oh, look, we have a blind girl on campus! Isn’t she amazing BECAUSE SHE’S BLIND? Oh, yeah, and she wrote a book.”
I was infuriated. Beyond infuriated.
Let me be clear about something. I do not want pity, nor do I want to be admired for the fact that my eyes don’t work properly and yet I – gasp! – live a normal life. Thousands of legally blind people live normal lives. Many are more talented and more creative and more intelligent than me. Their disability shouldn’t be what makes them impressive or admirable. It shouldn’t even be a factor.
Do you get called impressive just for living by yourself? For going places on your own? I don’t think so. So why should I be?
It was after that article in the college newspaper that I stopped talking about being blind. I hid my cane in pictures. I refused to answer questions about my vision in interviews. (I had a local newspaper reduce a full article about me to just a tiny write up because they were so disappointed I wouldn’t talk about my vision. Apparently getting published right out of high school is small stuff compared to not getting lost on my college campus or something.) I started memorizing passages of my books to read at signings so I wouldn’t have to have a friend read for me and draw attention to the disability.
I pretended I wasn’t blind, basically.
I didn’t do this out of shame. I’m not ashamed of being blind. I did it because I didn’t want it to be part of my identity. I am a person. I am writer. I am a girl. I am a Southerner. I am a music lover. Way, way, way down that list you might see “I am blind.” Of course it is a part of me, but it isn’t me.
But our society loves “tragedy.” In my experience, when I’ve been open about my visual impairment, I suddenly lose my identity to it. I am no longer “Kody” or “a writer” but instead “a blind person.” That moves to the top of the list instantly, even though it is one of the least important parts of my life.
So why am I talking about it now?
Well, there are two reasons. First, because dear God someone has to. Someone needs to stand up and say how ridiculous it is that our society treats disabled people as “disabled” rather than “people.”
And the second reason I’m doing this - the most pressing reason – is that secrets never stay secret forever. People will find out about my visual impairment. People will talk about it, even if I don’t. And I’d rather take control of the situation and lay out the facts rather that let people thrive on assumption.
So, one thing I want to address before I finish this post is a question I got on this blog a few years ago – a question I didn’t answer because, at the time, I was so offended. The question was something like:
“But if you’re blind, how can you write books?”
Well here’s you’re answer – I just do. The two things are so unconnected, so separate, that the question is equal to “But if you are lactose intolerant, how can you watch TV?”
My writing has nothing to do with my disability. And I want to be recognized for my writing, not my disability. When I die I want people to say “Kody Keplinger was a great writer” not “Kody Keplinger was blind and she still managed to write books!”
I want my work to stand on its own, which is why this post is so terrifying to write. Despite everything I say here, I may still be condemning myself to a life of being known as a blind author. It’s not a life I look forward to, and yet this post had to be written. I had to come forward on behalf of myself and of other blind artists out there.
I’m going to wrap this up because it’s an insanely long post, but there are a few last points I want to make.
• I will take questions (if you have them) in the comments of this blog post.
• After this, however, I will not be answering questions about my visual impairment in interviews, on twitter, or anywhere else. I want to keep that part of my personal life separate from my public, professional life.
• All this being said, I encourage you to look up information on blindness and the reality it inhabits, as opposed to the “reality” the media creates. Look up the National Federation of the Blind if you’re interested.
And that’s it. God, that was hard to write. We’ll see if I actually post it. If I do, I want to thank you guys for reading this post. Just remember, this shouldn’t make you see me differently. I’m the same Kody. The same person. This is just one, small part of my life.