When describing myself as legally blind, I’ve received some shocked looks. I’ve also been accused of “faking” my blindness while learning to use a white cane in college. I’ve also dealt with implications that I was using what someone considered a “slight” disability to work the system and those around me. I can tell you firsthand that these types of accusations can be extremely detrimental to the person with the disability and the numerous communities of people with disabilities.
False Accusations Cause Self-Doubt
The above statement was especially true for me while I learned to use a white cane. I purchased a straight cane when I was eighteen years old, but never received any formal training for its use. When I began college at a local community college, I met a wonderful support services counselor who walked me around campus demonstrating how I could use my cane effectively. So, I then began using my cane around campus some. I was surprise by how much I could pay attention to without having to worry whether I was about to miss a step or crack in the pavement, but I was also very self-conscious. I had never relied on a cane before, so why should I have to now? That was the thought that repeated in my mind, and most of us know how powerful those thoughts can be at times. Feeling self-conscious already, I would choose not to always use my cane, especially once I familiarized myself with my usual campus buildings. At some point during my first or second semester, I was told that someone had come to my counselor and accused me of “faking” my blindness, and my counselor spoke to the accuser in an attempt to bring awareness to my particular type of disability. Despite the reassuring words of my counselor and the new friends I had made, I felt like a fraud. I believed that maybe I could be faking the severity of my blindness. Of course, today I realize how silly that thought sounds, but I was still learning who I was and finding my limits at this point in my life.
Ever since feeling that incredible sense of self-doubt, I still find that using a white cane provokes some serious awkwardness. The feeling is very similar to imposter syndrome, which I described within a different context in another post here. I went to Universal Studios in Orlando, Florida, six or seven years ago and used my white cane. I was astounded with what I could see around me without worrying if my next step would send me falling forward or roll my ankle. I truly do feel a sense of independence when using my white cane, but I still struggle so much with using it in places that are familiar to me or where I may run into people I know. Having to explain my blindness to random acquaintances from my past frustrates me because of my own self-doubt. I worry that I’ll be accused of faking my blindness again. Nevertheless, I’ll keep building my confidence with a cane as I travel alone in the future.
I’ve said all this to demonstrate the power that one single comment can have on a person who already deals with self-doubt. That comment was nearly eight years ago, and it still affects my sense of self and my confidence in using a tool that could truly benefit me in my everyday life.
So, before you make assumptions about a person’s use of a tool such as a white cane, a wheelchair, accommodations in school, etc. be mindful of their struggle. For some of us, asking for help or using the tools we need does not come easy. Ask thoughtful, polite questions. Most of us are ore more than willing to answer questions asked out of genuine curiosity. I know I can undoubtedly tell the difference between a genuine question and one asked as an accusation.
False Accusations Damage Communities and Relationships
I belong to a community of people who share my disability and many of my struggles. These communities exist all throughout the world, online and in-person, and they benefit members by giving us a place to speak without judgment about our fears and frustrations and to ask advice from those dealing with similar issues.
The previously mentioned self-doubt and accompanying imposter syndrome can make us feel like we don’t belong in these communities. Feeling like an outsider is all too easy in these types of communities, especially those on social media, because people so often post their successes and hide their failures and frustrations. This feeling is further compounded because despite dealing with such similar circumstances at times, we have so many differences just as any group of people. We have different abilities, different interests, different circumstances, and different levels of visual acuity along with any other present disabilities. Self-doubt so often convinces us that we must compare ourselves to others even though no two humans share the same life experiences.
Self-doubt also makes it very hard for a person with a disability to build the confidence to gain independence and to also spread awareness about that disability. Awareness is what helps to lessen some of these false accusations, so the cycle will continue in this way without intervention.
So, What’s the Solution?
We begin by working on ourselves. Work by identifying the thoughts driven by self-doubt. Things like, “you’re not like them,” “you don’t belong in their group,” “you don’t deserve to succeed,” and similar thoughts. Then fight to replace those negative thoughts with things like, “you’re different from them, but we’re all meant to be different from one another,” “you belong in any group that will benefit your well-being and lift you up,” “you deserve to succeed and you already have in many areas,” and other positive self-appreciative thoughts. We each must learn to look for the good in ourselves, and then save those good thoughts for moments when self-doubt creeps in and tries to tell us who we are. Sometimes it’s helpful to write these positive thoughts and qualities down and save them somewhere you can easily see them: sticky notes, a journal, a bulletin board, or even the notes app on your phone. Also, remember that it’s okay to reach out to a friend when you’re feeling self-doubt. Self-doubt so often makes us feel like a burden or an unworthy friend, and this thought is also inaccurate.
Next, we reach out and help others who are struggling. Once we’ve learned to find the positive qualities in ourselves, it becomes easy to find positive qualities in our friends and loved ones, and sometimes even a stranger. Remind those around you that you’re there. Share a genuine compliment when you like something whether that’s an outfit, the way they handled a situation, a job well done, or whatever makes an impact on your day. There’s nothing like a genuine compliment that seemingly comes from nowhere. And remember, when someone comes to you with an emotion or a problem, make sure to listen first. Hear all of what they say. I know I struggle with wanting to offer advice or suggestions when sometimes all someone wants is to have an ear to listen or a friend to help shoulder their burden.
Finally, we stop the cycle and promote awareness and encourage curious, genuine questions and react to those questions with kind, thoughtful answers. The other ways in which you promote awareness are completely up to you. Some moderate and participate in online communities; some share using blogs or YouTube channels; some join up with non-profits and are active in their communities in that way, but whatever you choose must fit you and your personality. Finding where you fit often involves discovering what you have a natural tendency toward or what you’re passionate about. Do you love writing? Are you an awesome public speaker? Do you prefer service in the background?
In conclusion, I hope my story of self-doubt and struggles with feeling like a fake can help you with your struggles. The mission of this website is to do just that. If I can help one single person, then I will have succeeded. Until then, stay curious.