If you are sighted and want to imagine you are blind, how would you go about it? Perhaps you could close your eyes for a few minutes and have a short walk with a stick to guide you? No. This would be misleading. Those of us with sight rely on images and visual reference points for most of what we do. We would have to play a highly ambitious mental game in order to remove these from our mental processing. Those who are sighted navigate the world in ways that are quite different to those who are not.
Take for example the comment a sighted person might make if she is struggling to find a job; that there is ‘nothing on the horizon’. A blind person will have heard the phrase time and again, but does not have the visual image to match the metaphor. Metaphors vary between people of different abilities. We thus struggle to make sense of each other’s experience of the world.
The notion of ‘disabled’ emerges when the organisation of daily life limits the participation of the minority in favour of the majority; whether it is a step instead of level entry, a lit alert rather than a sound or vibration, a gear shift rather than an automatic. We design ways to navigate our world that can be accessible or exclusive. If we are not careful, we can end up living in parallel worlds from each other.
Being purely pragmatic, none of us knows the path we shall follow to the end of our lives. If we want that path to be smooth irrespective of the nature of changing capacities, we would do well to create an environment that empowers various modes of being. But perhaps more inspiring, we may wish to share our lives with those who navigate and experience the world differently, for the sheer wonder of it.
For an excellent ‘insight’ into ideas around disability, try Professor John Hull’s recent book.