Navigating the nuances of invisible disabilities

The thought of once again being doubted, othered and isolated because of something you were born with can be a troubling one. Photo: Justin Johnson

Pen, check. Laptop, check. Confidence? I take a deep breath, pop in some Ed Sheeran, and head for the elevator with the little buttons I pray I’ll be able to navigate without looking like an idiot. Then there’s another elevator with different buttons, before finally making it to the right floor. Now the only problem is, I need to locate the classroom. I put my face up to each room number until I finally find the right one.  

For blind and visually impaired students, getting to class on the first day of a new semester can be a challenge, but that battle is nothing compared to the emotional storm coming once the syllabus comes out. I can handle the awkward introduction where everyone goes around the room and says their name, year, and major. Suddenly though, right when my confidence starts to improve, the debilitating anxiety returns as the professor begins reading the syllabus. Are they going to call on people to read? I hope not.

First impressions are everything on the first day of any class. No one will judge you for failing to have the required texts with you, but if you cause a disruption or stray from the norm, people will notice and it will stick to you worse than the gum under an Ansin chair. Interrupting the course of peers to shamefully say that you can’t read a block of text because it is too small, will stay with everyone in that classroom for the duration of the term. You will be known not as the kid that sits by the window, but as the blind kid that sits by the window. The thought of once again being doubted, othered, and isolated because of something you were born with can be troubling.

Personally, I approach the awkward encounter with the mentality of “screw it, I’m blind,” but not everyone in these shoes has that level of self-confidence, and even I find my body gripped with trepidation as the moment of faith approaches. The seconds immediately prior to and following the admission seem to last for decades with tidal waves of sweat washing over my body.    

Unlike most quandaries at Emerson, administrators cannot fix this by stepping up and fulfilling their job descriptions, or making a new office to cater student needs. The office of Student Accessibility Services does a phenomenal job of working with students who require accommodations in a private, discreet manner.   

At the end of the day, this is an issue affecting a portion of the community with invisible “disabilities” that can’t fit under Harry Potter’s cloak for very long. So please, when you find yourself in this position during a class—and you will at some point—don’t see it as a disruption, just try to understand and be grateful that you had no trouble pushing the elevator button to get here.

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