Professor Kudlick: The Price of 'Disability Denial'

Wednesday, May 24, 2017
Photo of Catherine Kudlick smiling wearing sunglasses in wooded area

THE NEW YORK TIMES -- Catherine Kudlick is a professor of History and the director of the Paul K. Longmore Institute on Disability at San Francisco State University. She wrote this essay for The New York Times’ Disability series:

“I always knew my day at the podium would come. In fact, on one of our walks I’d asked Bill for advice about teaching larger classes. I told him about the details of my lifelong vision impairment and of my terror of public speaking, and asked about how I’d deal with calling on students when I couldn’t see them. In smaller classes, I learned quickly where people sat, and the give-and-take of conversation told me who was engaged. But applying this to more than 30 people seemed overwhelming.

“I have nystagmus, a condition in which involuntary, jumpy movement of my eye muscles makes it difficult to focus, a chore that constantly challenges my brain as it frantically tries to keep up. As a child, my thick bifocal glasses and lack of confidence made me the brunt of cruel names and pranks, like being surrounded by kids who threw things on the ground and forced me to look for them. Later there were awkward, sometimes hostile encounters with potential landlords, dates and employers who I tried to brush off as a few gross kids who never grew up. ...

“Though I am not fully blind, my vision impairment, and the challenges it presents, has made me particularly attuned to how others perceive blind people. Our words equate blindness with being out of control and clueless — phrases like ‘love is blind,’ ‘blind rage,’ ‘blind to the possibilities,’ to ‘blindly carry on.’ Such ideas slip quietly into our souls. They find their way onto playgrounds and into news stories, and before long they’re floating inside and outside of doctor’s offices, in sports competitions, film studios, policy debates. And in job interviews.”