I am visually disabled. My left eye didn’t make it after a surgery last year to correct retinal detachment. It can only sense faint movements and some light. Fortunately, a similar operation five years ago saved my right eye, so it is my one remaining precious hope for a normal eyesight for the rest of my life.
The opthalmologist was anxious when he told me about the heartbreaking news of my visual impairment that he offered to give me a medical certification that I am a person with disability (PWD) so I can get an ID that entitles me to some benefits provided under a law.
I went home struggling from the imbalanced eyesight that day. I had countless cries. I wanted to scream my head off from a mountaintop. That was how painful it was to learn that I am partially blind, that someone like me in the writing profession who needs two perfect eyes to make it to the last word on the last page is incapacitated.
My PWD ID is helpful for discounted rates when eating out, buying meds and basic food commodities. It is also my passport to the first coach of the metro rail train that I share with senior citizens, pregnant women and people with small children, past the daily long lines of commuters.
There are moments when the seniors cast a judging eye on us who look stronger and younger and should not share in the special coach. One elderly woman asked a man holding on to a handrail if he too is a senior citizen. When he said he is a PWD, the woman asked further,”What is your disability?” But another passenger told her off, saying her query is impolite. The man insisted that he may not be in crutches, but he is a PWD. The list for PWD ID holders includes those with heart ailments, mental health conditions and persons living with HIV.
I have encountered persons similar to the elderly woman who demand explanations to disability, or women who complain that their eyelashes don’t look good, but apologize when I say I have forgotten about my eyelashes because I’m partially blind.
We all have imperfections and disabilities even if we don’t have badges to prove it. Most of them we don’t see while standing in front of the mirror. I hate to say that some of us have a disability to connect better to and respect a fellow human being. Our imperfections surface when we are always moving fast and rushing and forget to be kind.
While I don’t expect to be treated differently because of my imperfection, I am glad that policies and discussions about disability are more compassionate now, such that “handicapped” has changed to “differently-abled” to lessen the stigma and discrimination.
So I trudge along learning that there are other people who are in worse conditions and have undergone far worse than I had. Just like Hellen Keller who cried because she had no shoes until she met a man who had no feet, I grope my way in the dark and accept it a little more each day, because somewhere, someone is stuck in her wheelchair or cannot communicate because no one understands his sign language.
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Diana G. Mendoza is a journalist based in Manila