This guest blog was contributed by Willow Horner.
Since coming to university, I have often been confronted with how much my experience as a student with a visual impairment differs from that of my fully sighted peers. I am an English Literature student who owns no books, and who doesn’t feel the same innate sense of home from bookshops who can’t (or won’t) accommodate readers like me. A large amount of people in my field have placed physical books on a pedestal of superiority above e-books, the formats of which are compatible with text-to-speech software, and are easier to adapt to large print, thus making them far more accessible. The ‘printed books vs e-books’ debate is inherently ableist, though inadvertently in most cases: to argue that the feel of a physical book makes them the only acceptable way to access a text minimises not only the percentage of the readership with disabilities, but also the ability of a writer to produce a book whose worth transcends its format. As members of a university, we rely on books and texts of all varieties, and as such we need to leave behind the idea that there is one superior way to access the knowledge they provide.
As has been the case for my whole life, my disability affects me in ways that are not always visible; the anxiety caused by not being able to properly see the world around me is something I have been trying to combat for many years. I worry about missing visual cues in conversation, causing people to get the wrong impression of me. I worry about my phone, my usual saviour in bus or train stations (as I can’t read the boards), dying, leaving me stranded somewhere – I also worry about being that reliant on technology. I worry that people think I use my disability as an excuse both in university and general life; the 20 years I have spent developing coping mechanisms often makes me appear more on top of things than I am. In general, I worry a lot. The growing awareness of how disability effects people in invisible ways does provide some comfort. But, like many differently abled people, I struggle to overcome my worries about asking people to accommodate my needs for fear of appearing overdramatic or self-absorbed. As I have got older and surrounded myself with supportive people, I have found it easier to assert myself, and I hope this will become more natural as I continue to combat my own worries. However, if the fully sighted population decided to reflect on their awareness of the people around them as much as those who can’t see them, the worrying might decrease for everyone.