You Don’t Look Blind….

Let me tell you a story…a little tale from my day, an illustration about why representation of disability matters so things like this stop happening, so people like me can break free from assumption and stereotype, and how kids can cut to the nub.

Rebecca AtkinsonToday I took my two kids to a museum, along with my guide dog. I’ve got tunnel vision – that means I can see fine in the middle, read normal print, create all the photos and visual marvelousness for ToyLikeMe, but I cannot see my feet when I walk, nor people as they approach my sides. I’m like a blinkered pony basically! So I have a guide doggy with a twitching nose and a swishy tail to guide me seamlessly around obstacles.

Today this happened….

A museum attendant in her late 60s says to me, “Lovely dog, are you training her?” “No,” I reply with a smile, “She works for me.’ “Oh,” says the lady… “I thought you were the trainer. You don’t look blind.”

Outside the sun is shining and my seven year old son, who has overheard this exchange, turns and says to me, “I think that lady is out of date. She thinks all blind people close their eyes and wear dark glasses. Why can’t a blind person look like you?

“It’s called ignorance,” I say gently, “When somebody doesn’t really know much about something.”
Toy Like Me Genie“They must have taught her wrong at school,” he says. “Back then they treated blind people badly and said they all had to look one way. She’s stuck in the dark ages.”
And then he ran away, jumped onto the swings and kicked the clouds.

This isn’t the first time someone has said to me ‘You don’t look blind’. It won’t be the last. I’ve also been asked, “Are you on benefits?”, and “Do you have a job?”

So what does blind look like? Why do we expect ‘blind people’ to look a certain way? The answer is ‘stereotyping’. The media and toys and books have stereotyped blind people for hundreds of years. They still do. They create a one dimensional image, usually of someone looking miserable, poor, lost and unable to see anything at all. So when folk come across someone looking happy, alive and content in their blind skin, they can’t square the two and so comments like “You don’t look blind,” pop out of their mouths. What they mean is, “You don’t look like I expect a blind person to look cos aren’t you meant to look kinda lost and miserable?”

It’s time to teach children, the next generation, that blind and vision impaired folk, just like the rest of the human race, come in a million different guises, so they don’t look so surprised when they come across anything other than a stereotype! Let’s tell the kids of today! Oh yes, princesses can be blind, and Genies too! You can get Blind Rainbow dashes, and partially sighted Potatoes, didn’t you know?

Toy Like Me 2
The toy world has more power to create positive cultural change than it will ever know. It’s so simple it hurts that no-one has really said this before. If only they would create products like the ones in this photo I’ve made to show the world the multidimensional marvellous permeation of blindness! When will the toy box arrive in the modern world?

Rebecca Atkinson is a freelance journalist, creative consultant and member of MGF. In April 2015 she founded #ToyLikeMe to call on the global toy industry to positively represent 150 million disabled children worldwide. - @toylikeme