What It’s Like to Be Legally Blind Around the World

For a recent article for GOOD’s Project Literacy section, I got the chance to speak with people around the world who are working to help educate visually impaired kids.  As the mother of a child who is visually impaired, I don’t think I’ve ever felt as grateful to live in the United States as I did after speaking with two incredible women in Senegal.  The cultural expectation there is that if you have a child who is legally blind, that child will not leave the house.  Ever.  It’s shameful, that you’ve produced such a child, and as a courtesy to others you don’t let them look on your offspring.  Eventually, the child will go on to beg in the street.

This was aid so matter-of-factly by the two women I interviewed who work with visually impaired kids in Senegal that I had to ask them to repeat it.  “The kids grow up to do what?” I asked.  And then when one of them said it again and the other confirmed it, I needed a moment to collect myself.  How lucky I am to be spending my days reminding my daughter’s teachers that she needs to use her iPad (which incidentally, is paid for by the city of New York) instead of concealing her from the world.

After I processed this information, I felt like an asshole asking about what kinds of technology the kids, who are now attending school only after their parents have been convinced that they can do more than panhandle, are using in school.  But, hey, journalism.

“They sit in the front of the class,” one of the women told me.  They also use extra dark pencils.  Sometimes they get glasses to help improve their vision.  I’ve never been to Africa (unless you count a few touristy parts of northern Africa) but I got the sense that these children are not only going to school in a different country, they’re going to school in a different time.  How lucky I am, and how lucky my daughter is, to live in a place where we are aware enough to know that she can grow up to do nearly anything.  Except become a fighter pilot or a sharpshooter.  How ungrateful I am to ever feel one ounce of pity for her or her situation.  And how unfair the world is, that my daughter and a six year old half way around the world with the same disability can lead such radically different lives.

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