Academic journal article Sign Language Studies

Blind Rage: An Open Letter to Helen Keller

Academic journal article Sign Language Studies

Blind Rage: An Open Letter to Helen Keller

Article excerpt

DEAR HELEN KELLER:1

I'm writing to you because I'm having a bad day. I could spare you the details, but the whole point of writing to a dead person is that you don't have to worry about boring your reader. And if this is to have the therapeutic effect I'm hoping for, I need to get it all out, exorcise everything. So indulge me. I'll make it worth your while.

It all began with snow. Slush to be exact, a heavy wet snow about ankle deep by the time I left for work. I have nothing against snow in the abstract. All things being equal, I'm happy to live in a climate that has the occasional snowfall. Snow in the abstract is pretty. It makes the world fresh and silent. But snow in reality makes it harder to get around. Especially when you're blind. As far as I know, you didn't use a white cane, but I do. Let me tell you, a white cane in snow is something of an adventure. You cannot feel the texture of the surface underfoot. You lose landmarks. You can begin to feel disoriented. On top of this, I discover my waterproof boots are not what you'd call watertight. Every third step I feel water seeping through the seams. When I get to the bus stop, my feet are soaked. Then the bus is extra crowded because of the snow, which is probably why the driver forgets to announce my stop. Once she remembers me, I have to backtrack four blocks to start my regular route to my office. So by the time I get here, I'm damp and nervy. But weather is weather, and it's not the first time a bus driver has forgotten to announce my stop.

Then I find a message on the machine from the student I was supposed to be meeting. He can't make it. His car won't start. Needless to say, the thought of taking the bus never occurs to him. This is car culture. The only people who take the bus are people who cannot afford a car or cannot drive. Suggest the bus to anyone else, and they get insulted.

But I'm here-early, damp, and nervy-but I'm here. And it's not as if there's nothing to do. So I turn on my computer to check my e-mail and discover its synthesized voice is on the fritz. I fiddle with it for a while. Then I make phone calls. I say, "There's something wrong with the voice output."

The guy says, "Your computer talks to you?"

I want to say, "I'm blind, buddy. Not schizophrenic," but I don't. He's entitled, I suppose. He says he has to "consult with a colleague." This means he covers the receiver with his hand and yells at another computer guy across the room. Then he tells me, "That's a hardware problem. That software is on your hard drive. That software is not on the network."

I knew this already. I'm blind, not stupid. And I'm usually not this cranky. It's just that my feet are wet. I sigh. Did I call the wrong office? No, this is the right office, just the wrong guy. I want the hardware guy, and the hardware guy is out today. Because of the snow. Also, there's a backlog. He takes my name but says it may be a while. I don't ask what "a while" means.

Then I get a call from one of my readers, and she tells me that she's leaving, moving out of town to get married. I say, "That's wonderful," but inside I'm thinking, "Now what am I going to do?" Not that she's my only reader, of course. I have other readers, and I can hire a new one. And it's not that I'm fussy either. I can listen to any reader, any kind of voice-I can tolerate the computer's voice after all. But I really like her voice. I like the way she phrases things. It somehow coincides with my own voice-or the voice in my head-when I'm reading. I'll find another reader, but I'll never find a better fit.

Of course I don't say this. I say, "I'm so happy for you." In fact, I am happy for her, just sad for myself. I consider mailing her stuff, but it will take that much more time. And I doubt the postal service's "Free Matter for the Blind" is going to apply here.

While I'm debating the postal question, another one of my readers shows up. …

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