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Admitting to myself Im losing my vision has been hard. Admitting it to other people has been harder – The Globe and Mail

Admitting to myself Im losing my vision has been hard. Admitting it to other people has been harder – The Globe and Mail


Study of an eye by Johann Kaspar Lavater c.1794

PUBLIC DOMAIN

Graham Isador is a writer and photographer in Toronto.

I have a progressive eye disease called keratoconus. Since I was a teenager, my eyesight has slowly been deteriorating. As Ive lost my vision, Ive lost other things too. These things were small at first. Letters on a chalkboard, menus at fast-food restaurants, an undefeated streak in Mario Kart. But as the disease worsened, the losses got harder to ignore. By my late teens, I couldnt pass the vision test for my drivers license. The glare from bright lights caused a sharp pain in my temple. Spending too much time on screens made me light-headed. That last symptom has been a particular problem, because like a lot of young people, basically everything I do to make money requires me to spend hours glued to my computer or phone.

Keratoconus causes the shape of your cornea to distort. My eyesight cant be corrected with glasses. Laser eye surgery isnt an option either. There are hard-style contacts I could wear but because keratoconus causes chronically dry eyes this can be painful, like having a bit of sand caught perpetually behind your eyelid. The cost of the lenses can add up to thousands of dollars a piece, with the prescription changing each time the disease progresses. Like dentistry, vision loss isnt covered by Canadas universal health care. Which means for the time being my best option is just kind of dealing with my eyesight as best I can.

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For a long time, I didnt tell anyone about my vision loss. Because I could still function, I didnt think I had any right to complain. I also didnt want to take up space from folks with more impactful impairments. I thought it would be akin to stolen valour, like the losers who wear military uniforms and pretend to be veterans. But as the disease has progressed there are some things that Im now incapable of doing because of how I see. Admitting that to myself has been hard. Surprisingly, admitting it to others has been even harder.

People dont know Im losing my sight unless I tell them about it. Because of this, problems owing to my vision misspelling words in e-mails, the inability to recognize people from a distance, not being able to read subtitles, not being able to follow sports on television, even the way my face looks during Zoom calls are all attributed to a snooty personality or general carelessness rather than a disability. My buddy Tom, who over the years has apologized and explained my situation to dozens of mutual friends and acquaintances, describes it like this: People dont think Im going blind. They think Im an ass.

Because of this, Ive started talking about my vision loss more. I let new co-workers know. I occasionally chat about it on social media. When there used to be dinner parties, Id talk about it there too. But because there are no stereotypical indicators of the disease I dont use a cane, wear sunglasses indoors, or have a support animal people tend to forget that its a problem at all. This means having to advocate for myself and remind people of accessibility accommodations every couple of weeks or so.

Pushing to get equal treatment can feel both exhausting and embarrassing. I feel like a bother, like I should be able to suck it up and figure things out on my own. But if I dont speak up about my eyesight, then nothing changes. It was only because of my own situation that I realized just how inaccessible a lot of things are in everyday life. There is tons of real work that goes into remedying that. Despite sight loss affecting more than 1.5 million Canadians, awareness around the issue is still relatively small. Youve got to speak up if you want to be heard. Not that doing so is easy.

Sometimes when I tell people about my vision loss, they dont believe me. They think Im making it up. That notion is always baffling. It isnt like I get clout for poor eyesight. Its not like a sexy thing. Imagine being on a date and trying to seduce someone with your progressive eye disease. Darling, I dont mean to brag but I dont see good. Wouldnt work. But because people have such a narrow perspective on what constitutes a disability, its easier for them to dismiss peoples experiences entirely. And that dismissal happens all of the time.

Dealing with those comments can be a challenge. Recently I had a conversation with colleague and disability advocate Blind Gamer Steve Saylor about dealing with other peoples reactions to your disability. Steve has popular YouTube and Switch channels where he plays games and comments on accessibility. As the channels popularity has grown, hes had to deal with people claiming he isnt really blind because he isnt completely sightless. Steve who is much more patient than I am views the comments as a teachable moment.

If a YouTube Video blows up or I get rated on Twitch, people think Im lying about my sight because they dont understand the concept of a blind gamer he told me recently. Video games are a visual medium, so, to them, blind people shouldnt be able to play. I have to explain and educate people on what it means. To be honest, most of the time it doesnt work people love to troll but occasionally you can actually get through to people and they actually learn something, which is really rewarding. He hopes that his content can bring awareness to the spectrum of blindness and each persons unique experiences with their disability. His channel is a great example of something I struggle to articulate: Just because I may need to do some things differently because of my vision or need a bit of help doing them doesnt mean I cant do those things at all. Vision loss doesnt look the same in all people. The idea of hidden disability can be a challenging concept to understand, but by continuing to push forward conversations and normalize access, hopefully in the future we wont have to advocate for ourselves so hard. Because lately, keeping up that kind of advocacy has made me really tired. Im sick of having to fight for myself to get something that should be a given.

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Admitting to myself Im losing my vision has been hard. Admitting it to other people has been harder - The Globe and Mail

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