SUSAN ROBINSON : How I fail at being disabled

I'd like to introduce you to my mom.

I'm guessing that's not what you expected, and it's not what I expected either, and thank goodness I realized that an Asian man was not my mom before I hugged him, because that would have been so awkward.

Recognizing people isn't one of my strengths due to a genetic visual impairment that has no correction or cure. As a result, I am legally blind, though I prefer "partially sighted" because it's more optimistic.

And I'm entitled to the label "disabled."

I hate the word disabled when it's used to describe people. It detonates a mindset of less than that utterly disregards capacity, ability, potential, instead prioritizing brokenness and lack.

The perspective can be overt. What can't he do for himself that I'm going to have to do for him? She'll probably need some accommodation that no other employee at this business needs. Sometimes, the hidden bias is so sweetly conveyed. "Wow, Susan, look at everything you've done in your career and your life. How did you do all of that and be visually impaired?"

I fail at being disabled.

So in the spirit of incentivizing the rampant failure of people all over the world and enticing the so-called normal to just give it a rest already, here are five tips to fail at being disabled.

Tip one: know your superpowers. The best team I ever led in my career was based on superpowers, and we even gave ourselves fancy-pantsy titles like "the Pillar of Masterly Acumen." "The Biscuit Butterer."

Because we relied on our strengths, our best strengths, we achieved tremendous outcomes. The trait that prevents me from recognizing my mom allows me to smoothly adapt, to quickly absorb and accurately process an exhausting volume of cues, tease out what's important, determine multiple processes or potentials for any situation that I'm in, and then select the one that makes the most sense, all in a matter of seconds. I see what other people do not. Some people think that's a superpower, but my real superpowers are ricocheting off of glass walls --

and letting my friends walk around with kale in their teeth.

It's true. Don't have lunch with me, or dinner.

Tip two: be supremely skilled, supremely skilled at getting it wrong. It is important to be as equally confident in your superpowers as you are in you FUBARs. That's "effed up beyond all recognition" for you millennials.

Here's a good example. It is not a great idea to say, "Don't worry, everything in here is too small for me to see" when you accidentally walk into the men's room --

at one of the world's largest sporting arenas --

or anywhere. I really wish that one wasn't true. I'm serious. It is better to just walk out and let them think you're drunk.

Tip three: know that everyone is disabled in some way, like when you have a cold and you can't smell and you realize that the milk that you splashed in your coffee was sour only after you've tasted it. Very recently, a woman walked up to me frantic. She could not find the bakery she was looking for. As I motioned in the direction I thought she should go, saying, "There are no stores on this side of the street so your best bet is to cross --"

"Oh my goodness," she interrupted. "There it is. All I needed was another set of eyes."

 

I just let her have it. I would have said that, you know, being logical and paying attention and staying calm would have done the trick, but who am I?

Tip four: point out the disability in others. This one is best reserved -- very important note -- this one is best reserved for people you know well, because random strangers typically don't appreciate teachable moments. A few years ago, my parents and I went to see the Rockettes, Radio City's high-kicking dancers. I leaned over to my dad.

"The two Rockettes on the left aren't kicking in a straight line."

"Yes, they are."

"No, they're not."

"Yes, they are, and how do you know? You can't see."

But I know what a straight line looks like. I had snapped a picture during our back and forth and presented him the evidence that proved I was right. He looked at the picture. I leaned in further.

"Who's disabled now?"

Tip five: pursue audacious goals. Flip expectation upside down and shove limitation off a cliff to meet its demise. There is a college football linebacker who blitzes, tackles, recovers fumbles while having one hand. There is a teacher who successfully transfers knowledge and inspires countless students while living with Down syndrome. And for me, on my long list, to cycle from Kathmandu, Nepal, to Darjeeling, India on the backseat of a bicycle built for two. It will be an exciting 620-mile adventure, and I'm sure I will have the blurry photos to show for it.

Oh, before we go on, I forgot to introduce you to my mom. I need to do that. And here she is, as she would appear to me if I were looking through a crowd of people looking for her. Or is that an Asian man?

Thank you.