Your eyes follow me as I walk past you in the hall. I watch you wonder. I know what you are thinking. I smile. Your eyes dart away as fast as they can.
You sit down in class and try to find out what is going on with me. I know you’re there. I know you want to understand why I work the way I do. I wish you knew why and didn’t have to keep watching.
Your eyes are glued to me as I try to read. I know you can’t tell what I am doing, and I try not to let it get to me, but I still feel the judgment. Sitting in my APEL classroom reading The Longest Noodle feels dumb to me, too.
Trust me. I understand. I get that you don’t know what’s going on.
So I want to tell you.
I’m Tatum. I’m a junior. I’m a writer. I’m a Christian. I’m many things. But, I am also visually impaired.
I walk the halls with what most people call a “blind stick.” (It’s also called a white cane if you were wondering.) I have an aide in three classes with me for now. I am learning to read Braille, so right now I am reading little kids’ books.
My vision has been bad all my life, but it really crashed at the end of last school year.
Here’s the deal. I am still the same person I was when I had better vision, but people don’t always see the same me.
When people see me with an aide, when they see me reading Bumpy Rolls Away, when they see me walking with my cane, many people automatically assume a lot.
Some people assume that I am 100 percent blind and grab my hand and tell me where the trees are. I’m not blind. A lot of people who use white canes are not legally blind, and the majority of people who are considered legally blind still can see some light and colors.
Others assume that I can’t hear. They start talking REALLY LOUD. Trust me, I can hear you.
Even more people assume that I am mentally challenged. They start talking r-e-a-l-l-y s-l-o-w.
I beg of you, please try to understand for my sake, for others, and for your own, that all special-ed kids don’t automatically share the same issues. There are a lot of different things that we face, and not all of them are mental.
I can’t speak for all of the special ed people that you meet, but I know that there are a good amount of them including me that want to tell you exactly what I am about to say: Please, just ask!
I would love to tell you all about my vision. I have watched so many people avoid making eye contact with me because they don’t understand and are uncomfortable facing me. That hurts.
So here’s the deal, next time you see someone who is a little different, please don’t look away as fast as possible. At least smile, or even better, ask about what’s going on. Ask me anything you want.
If you really want to be amazing, ask me how you can help. Don’t underestimate how much it means to me to have someone ask something and not just stare. It makes all the difference.
What I am saying applies to many others too. Get to know other people even if they have something “wrong” with them. Everyone has “issues,” some of them are just more visible than others.
So here’s my challenge to you. Pick someone who you normally wouldn’t talk to because they are “different,” and just ask!