Introducing the amazing Melanie, who is quite an inspiration. I feel very excited about having her publish on this blog. I hope that you enjoy her shared experience. Everyone truly has a story to tell!
Hello. My name is Melanie and I am 26 years old. I am in my second year of studying to become a primary school teacher and I work at IDEAS as an Intake Officer one day a week. I live at home with my mum, step-dad and dog Lilly and look forward to getting a place of my own once I graduate and and have a full time teaching job. I have had a vision impairment since birth. I have congenital cataracts. They were removed when I was 6 weeks old but have permanently damaged my vision. There are no special glasses or laser treatments available that can restore my sight. I have been wearing strong bi-focal glasses since I was two months old.
Did you notice how I started off writing about who I am? There are many elements that make up me. My family and friends, the things I like and the values that are important to me. Sure my disability is a part of me too but it doesn't define who I am. Often something others do without even realising.
I think the only really significant thing that I cannot do is drive a car. That doesn't bother me too much because I have grown up relying on public transport. It is my norm. As far as everything else goes, well, I will always find a way. I have done some pretty out there things including abseiling, canoeing, ice skating, roller blading and bike riding. Hang on a minute… how does a blind person go roller blading, you ask? Well, the same way sighted people do! Putting one foot in front of the other, toppling over and clinging on to someone so tightly that you cut off their circulation!
When I have my vision aids and technology, I am completely capable at fully participating in life. If I need assistance, I ask for it and don't feel ashamed. I used to become quite frustrated with people who would constantly offer to help or do things for me. I couldn't work out why people seemed to feel the need to intervene when I didn't need or ask them to. I've realised that people do have good intentions. Sometimes too good. But the problem is the majority of people don't understand about disability. They don't see it as normal. Quite the opposite in fact. They feel pity and discomfort. When I walk down the streets using my cane, I sometimes hear small children asking their parents what my cane is. 99% of those parents tell their children to be quiet or to stop being so rude. I think I am more comfortable about talking about my disability than most others around me. I want little children to come up to me and ask questions. If they don't, then how are they going to understand that I am a normal, capable person just as they are. Instead they are getting the message that something is terribly wrong. This isn't terribly wrong for me. I don't even think about it all that much. I have had this my entire life so I don't know any different.
A lot needs to change in society. I am really passionate about inclusion. That is, no segregation, no special schools, no institutions, no restrictions. I want to see a society where disability is the norm. It's just as accepted as having brown eyes or red hair. In a perfect world all buildings and forms of transport would be accessible. All written material would be provided in alternative formats such as Braille and audio. Schools would be adequately funded to support children with disability, and include them in mainstream classes. Teachers would be trained to adapt the curriculum to cater to these students. Workplaces wouldn't think twice about hiring a person with disability. The parents of little children would encourage them to go up to people like myself and talk to us rather than shy away. I could go on and on… of course, we are progressing but at such a slow rate. I hope I get to experience a society like this in my time. People often ask me if my vision can be "fixed". They talk about laser, bionic eyes etc. and try and encourage me by saying that technology continues to improve so surely there will be a cure in my lifetime. I don't think about that stuff. As far as I am concerned, nothing needs to be fixed. I'm fine just the way I am.