Emily, posing for an outdoor professional headshot, wears a purple blazer, black-and-white floral scarf and blue-framed eyeglasses, and smiles joyfully for the camera. (Photo credit: Chelsea Whitman)

I’m excited to publish my first book of poetry this year. As I complete the circuit of local news talking about my poems, I keep coming up against the same question: “Do you think of your blindness as a superpower?”

My answer is always, “No, I don’t think of my blindness as a superpower.”

Instead of taking me at my word — or even asking, “Why not?” — each host invariably insists, “But it makes you special, offers you nuance, helps you overcome challenges.”

These routine objections force me to contradict, to show that blindness is an ordinary experience. Precious air time is lost because disability makes people forget the first rule of hosting live interviews: “Yes, and.”

“Yes, and” means that you honor what your partner is saying and try to go with it. If they say they see a blue poodle, you say, “Oh yea, she’s big for her size.” If they say, “My disability is not a curse from above,” you say, “Right! Why would anyone curse you?”

When we negotiate about what blindness is, we get at the heart of our exclusion problem today.

Making blindness a superpower encourages the blind person to put on the cape and step up to the pedestal. And then, the blind are easily marked: they are set apart. Blind people become exceptional not for who they are and what they do with their circumstances. They are made exceptional for carrying a diagnosis.

The superpower of blindness lifts me up and away from others, telling them that they’ll never be able to empathize with me. Standing on a pedestal may seem like a great honor, but it’s a lonely height: it’s a retreat I did not choose.

When I resist the superpower and talk about how all of us live with our circumstances, I am making blindness normal, everyday, mundane — like feeling hangry or forgetting your car keys. And normal blindness defeats that classic feel-good story of that cheerful blind person who overcomes the odds and never has a bad day.

Reporters will say, “Yes, and” to the sunny blind superhero, which means they control the story. But I want to tell a story where blindness is not the main character, where the prevailing question is not “How do you manage?” but “Why do you write?”

Emily K. Michael is a blind poet, musician, and writing instructor from Jacksonville, Florida. She works as an associate poetry editor for Wordgathering: A Journal of Disability Poetry and Literature and curates the Blind Academy blog. Her first book, Neoteny: Poems, is available from Finishing Line Press.

To learn more, follow Emily on Facebook and Twitter, visit her website or watch her TEDx Talk, “The confluence of disability and imagination.”

 

(Photo credit for featured image: Chelsea Whitman)

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