Professor Catherine Kudlick: In My Mother's Eyes, and Mine

Wednesday, May 09, 2018
Photo of Catherine Kudlick smiling in a 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 is at work on a memoir about her experiences at the Colorado Center for the Blind. Kudlick wrote this opinion piece for The New York Times’ series on disability.

“But while most people fear blindness because they perceive it as being lost in the dark, I associated it with being thrust into the spotlight. It was easy to pretend that I had decent vision until the taunting began in elementary school,” Kudlick writes. “My cataracts left me wearing thick bifocal glasses and with a condition called nystagmus, rapid muscle movements that make my wandering eyes carry on a rich life of their own. The more I try to hold them still, the more they move. When I was a kid, a doctor explained that my eyes were ‘always looking for something better to see.’

“For me, it wasn’t always so poetic. One of the many operations I had as a young adult required the surgeon to carve out a larger hole in both pupils, with the painful consequence that my eyes are permanently dilated, and thus extremely sensitive to light. I have trouble walking outside at night or in crowded, chaotic places such as airports or hotels. When I’m tired or anxious, my visual world essentially disappears. I can use only one eye at a time, which means I lack depth perception, and I’m easily confused by shadows, brick walkways, curbs, steps and changes in floor texture.”