How long can a husband who is going blind keep that fact from his wife? Can a Sighted Spouse Deceive Their Blind Partner Based on Vision Alone? Is it possible to commit adultery with a woman who is also your legal wife? What happens when the two meet and the truth is revealed? The book “Lady Folbroke’s Delicious Deception” by Christine Merrill addresses these questions and so much more.
Okay, you got the gist of this romance novel. Now, let me tell you why I absolutely loved reading it. And I am going to try really, really hard without giving away any spoilers because I want you to read and enjoy it too. So, here goes. The overall reason I loved the book was because of the blind antagonist, Adrian. I have read a lot of books over the years and rarely do I find a blind main character, especially one that is like a regular human being. Let me explain what I am talking about. Many times, people who are blind are portrayed in stereotypical ways. We are the super crip accomplishing huge feats that even sighted folks can’t do. Or we are like little angels that don’t sin or do anything bad. Or we are like Casper the Friendly Ghost hovering in the background like window dressing but have no real purpose or importance. Or we are asexual and either we don’t have/want sex or are not seen as sexually attractive. Are you getting my meaning now? I sure hope so because I am out of examples.
Struggles with Going Blind
So back to Adrian, the wayward husband. He abandons his wife and moves to the city. Why does he do this? Because he is going blind and can’t face the music. This is very realistic and true. Our society puts so much shame on becoming disabled. Many of us who go blind as adults have a real tough time dealing with it and then society, friends and family might not react well to the news. There is fear, shame and anger when you are going blind. This story was way back in the day and it wasn’t like he had a support group, therapist or someone to call who understood what he was dealing with. So, he ran away.
Then the next thing he did, which a lot of us in the blind community do, is Fake it ‘til you make it. Adrian acted like a drunken fool and spent time around unseemly people as a way to deal with his situation. He pretended he could see when he couldn’t. He avoided his true social connections, family and of course his wife because they would see right through his charade. He acted this way because he was depressed and saw no future.
Process Blindness in a Positive Way
But in other ways he was processing his blindness in a positive way. He had started to use a stick (official white canes would not be developed until much later) to travel and get around. He got directions and remembered how to get to places he had been to before his vision decreased. He was also learning how to use his other senses. Merrill gave several good examples of this with his smell and hearing. Even his sense of touch was explored with touching clothing and body parts. This is a romance novel after all! You got to have some sexy love scenes and they were displayed in vivid description.
He was also figuring out his food plate which is a huge deal for us blind folks. Certain foods I don’t eat in public, like spaghetti with tomato sauce. Just a bit too messy! He wrote letters with a special writing guide. I have one similar and used quite often in my early days of vision loss.
I appreciated Merrill’s focus on Adrian’s resistance to connecting to the blind school yet wanting to help blind people. I totally understood this concept. During that time, the school for the blind only focused on vocational training whereas Adrian was an educated man. He had also been in the military and was a lord. This school wouldn’t have worked for someone on his level. yet, when he came across a blind woman who was begging on the street he offered to help her beyond just giving money.
Wife Decieves Blind Husband
Adrian is my blind hero and why I love this book. But his wife, Emily was interesting too. Once she discovers he can’t see and doesn’t recognize her she plans to deceive him. On the surface this seems cruel. But remember he left her in the dust for 3 years and has been committing adultery. So, girlfriend is doing a little payback! Deep down she loves him and wants to help him regardless of his vision problem. Lots of times when a person becomes disabled the marriage can fail because adjusting is difficult. Many times, the disability reveals problems and issues that were already there and hadn’t been delt with in the marriage. Such as the case in this story.
This novel of love and romance is a real yet sweet one. It was published in 2011 so I am sure it is available everywhere. I found it at my local library as an audiobook and listened to it on my Hoopla app. For my blind and visually impaired friends, it is available through the National Library Service for the Blind and Print Disabled. If you are looking for a story with complicated characters that are not one dimensional with some drama going on along with hot steamy romance, this book is for you.
Before COVID came along and turn things upside down I physically attended two book clubs sponsored by my county library. One was bimonthly where we met at local restaurants. We would discuss some of the latest reads over appetizing cuisine and drinks. Occasionally, While being served, even the wait staff and management would chime in on our lively chatter. It was a great time to talk books, eat delicious food and socialize for about an hour.
My other book club met at the library in the activity room. AS we gathered once a month, we would have our discussion while munching on snacks of chips and salsa, slices of cake and various salads. We would laugh and share about our lives, work and family sometimes more than we talked about the book.
But that all came to a grinding halt and the library closed. No more book club meetings. No more discussions at local eateries. No more talking about life, work and family. Everything just stopped.
Using Zoom for Book Club
If you remember lots of people started working from home and kids were doing virtual learning. Everyone was trying to learn how to use Zoom. Slowly people started to use the videoconference platform for activities like family gatherings, medical appointments and exercise classes. Book club meetings were added to the list too. I was using Zoom before the pandemic. It started when I joined the Bookshare book discussion in the fall of 2019 and I participate to this day. Since this group is virtual members are from all over the place which is pretty cool. We are all blind or visually impaired because Bookshare provides digital books in text to speech. Each month we get together for a live chat to share our thoughts on reads we like, love or can’t stand.
Library Book Clubs Go Virtual
So, when my two library book clubs decided to go virtual I was good to go. It was not a huge transition for me because I was already a member of a virtual book club. I just added two more to the list and kept it moving! Now, you might be thinking, three book clubs are a lot. That is a bunch of reading. That is a lot to keep up with. Well, I am an avid reader and although today is National Read a Book Day, I read constantly all the time. I read while cooking and cleaning. I read before bed. I read while in the shower. I read while commuting. I read while exercising.
Plus, I am a very organized person and keep a calendar of all my meetings and a book list so I don’t miss out. Being an introvert has been useful too. I still get the socialization and interaction I want without it being too much for my life and personality.
Actually, juggling three virtual book clubs has been easier than I thought for exactly all these reasons. If I had to do this in person, well that might be another conversation all together. So, I guess in a weird sort of way, the pandemic has helped keep me active and social. Attending virtual book clubs have been enjoyable for me. Yet, since I love reading I know when we finally get out of this pandemic, and we will, I will go back to the library and meet in person. It will be an adjustment but it will be a joy.
Today in the disability community, we recognize the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). In honor of this landmark civil rights legislation, I read an audiobook “Being Heumann: An Unrepented Memoir of a Disability Rights Activist” by Judie Heumann. She is a disability advocate and her actions played a vital role in the passing of this law. You might have heard of her more recently as she was featured in the 2021 Oscar nominated documentary Crip Camp that aired on Netflix. However, Judie is known much more than her role in a film. Penguin Random House summarized her story best, “One of the most influential disability rights activists in US history tells her personal story of fighting for the right to receive an education, have a job and just be human. A story of fighting to belong in a world that wasn’t built for all of us and of one woman’s activism—from the streets of Brooklyn and San Francisco to inside the halls of Washington—Being Heumann recounts Judy Heumann’s lifelong battle to achieve respect, acceptance and inclusion in society.”
Being Heumann Overview
Judie starts her story at infancy where she describes being paralyzed from polio at eighteen months and how her struggles for equality began early. She was labeled as a “fire hazard “because of her wheelchair as she fought to attend grade school. Her battles with the school system continued when she won a lawsuit against the New York City school system for denying her a teacher’s license because of her paralysis, where her actions set an example that ultimately improved rights for disabled people.
She continued to be a role model of activism and self-determination when she rolled her wheelchair through the doors of the US Department of Health, Education, and Welfare in San Francisco as a prominent leader of the Section 504 Sit-In. It was the longest takeover of a governmental building in US history. Judie and a community of over 150 disabled activists and allies were able to successfully pressure the Carter administration to implement protections for disabled people’s rights, igniting a national movement and leading to the creation of the ADA.
Different Backgrounds but Many parallels
I left encouraged after reading this book about Judie’s life. Although I didn’t become disabled as a child, am not Jewish or from the north and our disabilities are different, I did see parallels. I have worked several years at an independent living center. I have dealt with the struggles for inclusion and acceptance. I have felt shame or confusion when someone calls out my disability or ask intrusive questions. I have had struggles with accessing the basic things I need to live and work.
Fine Line of inclusion and Exclusion
I understood her point about walking that fine line of inclusion and exclusion. Judie shared an example of this when at church her mother didn’t want the pastor to carry her up the stairs to participate in the activities with the other children. Her mother thought it was too much and it would be a burden even though the pastor was okay with it. I could relate with this situation so strongly. It is part of the stress of my disabled life and not wanting to be a burden. It is about picking and choosing your battles. It is about not wanting to wear out your welcome. If I ask to many times, people will get tired and annoyed so I pull back and either don’t ask much or don’t ask at all, neglecting my needs in the process. It is also being in that vulnerable and precarious position of depending on people to be nice. If a person is nice about it then I feel okay to ask and move forward; if I sense some resistance then I pull back and don’t ask.
Focus on the Barrier Not the Disabled
One of the things I have learned about being a disability advocate and Judie also brings up in her book is the mindset we must have for the world to change. When she was pushing for Section 504 she and other activists had to help people understand it is not because you can’t walk that you can’t get into the building rather the building is not accessible. Changing the mindset and putting it on the barrier and not on the disabled person is the way of creating the change. For example, I wrote in a post about applying for jobs online and inaccessible sites. The answer is not for me to regain my sight or get a sighted person to help but to fix or create accessible websites that work with my screen reader.
Feelings of Being Ignored
Judie said when people ignore you, it is an intentional display of power. They act like you don’t exist and do it because they can. They believe that nothing will happen to them Ignoring people silences them. It avoids resolution or compromise. It opens feelings of unworthiness because it makes you feel that you deserve this treatment in the first place. In the end you are forced to choose whether to make a fuss or accept the silent treatment. If you stand up for yourself then you are viewed as aggressive because you break the norms of being nice and polite, which can make you feel worse.
OMG! When Judie said this, I was thunderstruck! What she said was so true and powerful. So many times, I have felt a loss of power as a Black disabled woman when I have been ignored by someone who didn’t want to deal with me. There would be times when I just didn’t have the energy or the resources to fight back. There have been times when I would regroup and try another approach but in the end being ignored really sucked! I would have to figure out other ways to reclaim my power and self-confidence.
It’s About Human Rights
Judie notes that people need to understand that Section 504 and the ADA was about civil and human rights for the disabled. Many people understand the fight for racial equality, or gender equality but when it comes to disability people don’t connect the dots. Many times, I have had to say substitute one of the other minority groups and replace with the word disability. Then people began to understand the struggle for equality. Judie said the basic logic in society is that people with disabilities won’t benefit as much from X, or Y or Z as much as people without disabilities. Therefore, X or Y or Z is not essential. They should accept the idea of going without. The same goes for transportation and employment. But what kind of logic is that really? The underlined assumption is that people with disabilities have less potential to learn and contribute. That we are less capable and not equal. Judie says the problem with this logic is that disability is part of the human condition. As we live longer more people will become disabled. What we should do is accept it, plan for it and build our society around it. Disability is coming whether we want it to or not. I totally agree and tell my temporary abled body friends this all the time.
I will end this blog on this profound point Judie made. We underappreciate our human rights in America. You won’t realize their importance until they are gone. These are such powerful words. Therefore, we must be constantly vigilant because our rights are precious. We can lose them. They can be taken away at any time.
This past week I read a motivating and encouraging book. It challenged and inspired me to take my career to the next level. The book is titled Your Next Level Life: 7 Rules of Power, Confidence, and Opportunity for Black Women in America by Karen Arrington. She is the founder of the Miss Black USA Pageant, creator of the Next Level Women’s Summit, winner of a 2020 NAACP Image Award, a global philanthropist and mentor to thousands of young Black women.
It addresses the question what is the next level life for you? While keeping in mind it is different things for different people. Arrington looks at how Black women can feel stuck or trapped by other people’s expectations of what can be achieved. She wants the reader to stop playing small and start redefining what success really means. As I read this short but powerful book, I was deeply moved by Arrington’s passionate words because she reinforced a lot of the thoughts and ideas I had as well. Yet I felt a little overwhelmed by all that I was challenged to do. I have accomplished a lot in my life and career. Still reading the book I realized I have more to do and wondered how to do it as a Black woman with a visual disability. I struggled a bit to see myself fully in this book. Very few business and career books address the intersectionality of race, gender and disability. This is something that many of my disabled working friends talk about often. However, I decided to take the gems in this book and apply them where needed.
The Seven Rules
Arrington gives seven rules for leveling up your life. They are presented as chapters with thought-provoking questions, tips and ideas to handle each one. Her seven rules are:
1. Identify Your Superpowers
2. Find Your Next Level Friends
3. Expand Your Horizons
4. Magnetize Money
5. Position Yourself Like a Star
6. Keep It Real
7. Give Back From Day One
Sometimes My Superpowers Need a Rest
AS I read these seven rules, I thought about the ones I needed to focus on the most. Which areas of my life needed the most improvement? I figured this was the best approach to the book. This way I could center myself on making small incremental changes. When it came to the first rule I was already there. I have a good self-awareness and know my strengths and weaknesses. Sometimes the challenge for me is whether I want to stretch myself. Or whether I want to give myself a break because that superpower needs a rest. Sometimes you can be known for being good at a thing until you get tired and need a break. I think it is good to shift things around a bit to get some balance.
Challenged to Level Up Connections
Now, the second rule I really need to work on. Finding those level friends has been a challenge for me and it has not been for lack of trying. This year I began to work on this one more than previous years. I had joined two writers’ forums in hopes of building a community for my freelance work, but it went flat. Reading this chapter showed me I need to get back on the horse again. I also see that I need to reevaluate my current connections to see if they are in alignment with my life and goals. As Dr. Phil would say, “How’s that working for you?” I like what she said about how you are the sum of the five people you hang with. I had to really take a pause and think about that statement. My close connections are not bad, but they are not helping me to move forward and that needs to change. Fortunately, I am not around negative people, but it is more that the people I am around are not moving in the same direction as me.
rule four on Magnetize Money was spot on. She said that wealth is your birthright. As women we don’t get equal pay for equal work, even more so for Black women and even more so for disabled women. This is a hard one and I have mixed feelings about what she said. Yes, there are more opportunities to create income and wealth but people with disabilities still did with huge barriers to employment. I have been taking courses, as she suggested, to help advance my career. Today, I am working on improving my website you are reading this blog on right now. I am also working on my Microsoft skills because I just installed Office 365, and I plan on learning how to spruce up my LinkedIn profile for maximum appeal. Still at times I feel no matter how much education, training and work experience I acquire, opportunities still elude me.
Other Rules Reinforced My Own Thoughts
The rest of the book’s nuggets of wisdom were encouraging and again reinforced my own thoughts and ideas. I reflected on her words about how I should be confident and unapologetic about who I am. That I should always keep it real because what I do is who I become. And, of course giving back. I totally agree with that rule. I have been a firm believer in contributing to society and community. I have been a volunteer for many years and continue to do so with my writing. So, if you are looking for a great read to help level up your career. One that will encourage you to take it to the next stage. One that will inspire and motivate you without being judgmental, then this is the book for you.
After I went blind some 20 years ago, I needed tools to adjust to my new life. I knew that as a blind person I wasn’t going to be very successful without some kind of accommodation or modification to the way I was living and moving in the world. May is National Inventors Month and I am very appreciative of the things that were created to not only help me regain independence but have a fuller and richer life. For example, I love my white cane for traveling. My metal guides for signing documents and writing checks. My talking and braille watches and clocks for time management. However, the three inventions that changed my life the most are talking books, screen readers and braille. I use these tools daily and wouldn’t know how to function without them.
Invention of the Talking Book
Thomas Edison originally wanted his Phonograph to be a talking book device for the blind. So, in 1877, he applied for a patent. One of the ten potential uses he listed was “phonograph books, which will speak to blind people without effort on their part.” Interestingly, this item was second in his list of ten; “reproduction of music” was fourth. It would take over 50 years before the Phonograph could be used for talking books. This was due to technology and economic challenges. In 1931, the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) and Library of Congress Books for the Adult Blind Project established the “Talking Books Program” (Books for the Blind), which was intended to provide reading material for veterans injured during World War I and other visually impaired adults. Later, Learning Ally and the American Printing House for the Blind also produced talking books. The first test recordings, in 1932 included a chapter from Helen Keller’s Midstream and Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven”. The organization received congressional approval for exemption from copyright and free postal distribution of talking books.
Since those early days of vinyl records, talking books have evolved. First with cassette tapes in the 1960s and 1970s. Then compact disks in the 1980s and 1990s. Today it is digital downloads from a computer. The options of reading materials have also expanded with a wide range of fiction, non-fiction, magazines, foreign languages and other selections to choose from. Additionally, the NLS National Library for the Blind and Print Disabled has become the dominant source for free reading materials. Today, audio books have gathered universal mass appeal with both sighted and blind people enjoying them. This is so true because I participate in two book discussion groups with sighted peers. Some of them enjoy reading books in audio verses print. I remember when I first joined the talking book library it kept my love of reading going. The ability to access books in audio format has kept the world accessible to me. I have been able to learn, grow and be entertained because I can read books in this format.
Invention of the Screen reader
In 1986 Jim Thatcher, IBM Researcher and Accessibility Pioneer, created the first screen reader at IBM. It was called the IBM Screen Reader for DOS. At first it wasn’t trademarked because it was primarily for low vision staff members. Since it was created for DOS, which is a text-based Desktop Operating System he later created a Screen Reader 2. This one would be used for graphical interface PCs such as Windows 95 and IBM OS/2.
IBM wasn’t the only company developing screen readers. Freedom scientific produced JAWS, currently the world’s most popular screen reader. It was developed first for DOS and then Windows. I have been using JAWS since 1998 or so and it has revolutionized my life. First, it has allowed me to keep working. Second, it has allowed me to access personal information to maintain my quality of life. I can handle my finances, do internet searches, send emails, and even write this blog post.
in 2009, Apple announced a new feature called VoiceOver making their products more accessible to people with visual impairments using the touch interface of the iPhone beginning with the iPhone 3GS. VoiceOver is the screen reader built into Apple operating systems including macOS, iOS/iPadOS, and WatchOS. Initially I was not on board with the iPhone. It took some time because of its flat surface yet eventually I bit the apple. Now I use my iPhone daily and listen to the AppleVIS podcast to keep up with the latest trends.
Invention of Braille
Braille is a code created for reading and writing. This code is a series of raised dots on paper. The braille code is made up of letters, numbers and symbols. It is not another language. The alphabet is based on a cell that is composed of 6 or 8 dots, arranged in two columns of 3 or 4 dots each. Each braille letter of the alphabet or other symbol, such as a comma, is formed by using one or more of the dots that are contained in the cell. Braille is usually found in a large book format on doubled sided paper to maximize space and can be read for math, science and music.
Born in 1809, Louis Braille was a Frenchman who lost his vision from an accident as a small child. When it was apparent that he could not be educated by just listening, his family enrolled him in the Royal Institution for Blind Youth in Paris. While there, as a teenager Braille began the process to create a reading and writing system by touch. He continued to perfect the system and as an adult became an instructor at the Institution. Unfortunately, Braille’s method was not accepted by the sighted instructors and he died in 1852 never seeing his creation used by the blind. Eventually, the code was accepted and today this system is used all over the world.
I use braille mostly to read labels created with my braille Dymo label machine. These labels are great for all kinds of things like my spices, file folders in my home office, music CDs, and even lipstick tubes. I also read braille on calendars, greeting cards and bathroom signs. Got to know which door is the lady’s room, you know!
Without these inventions I am not sure what my life would be or look like. I actually shutter at the thought. I am grateful for the people who designed and created these devices to help me have a better life as a blind person.
The first time I heard about Ever Lee Hairston was several years ago when I read the book The Hairstons: An American Family in Black and White by Henry Wiencek. In this depiction of two large families; the author wrote about an incident at a family reunion. Ever Lee called out the white Hairstons for how they mistreated her family who were sharecroppers on the land for many years. I remember thinking how bold this blind Black woman was to do this in this large crowded room full of people. However, she was spot on to say something because the white side of the family had profited for so long while her family lived in poverty. Second time her name popped up was while listening to a favorite podcast, called The Nod. She was being interviewed about her live. Then the third time was another podcast by Freedom Scientific sharing her life once again but this time including her published book. After running into this lady three times, I told myself this was no coincidence and that I needed to read her book to get the skinny on her life.
I found it in audio at the National Library Service for the Blind and Print Disabled and finished it last week. The book is titled Blind Ambition: One Woman’s Journey to Greatness Despite Her Blindness. I was interested in her life story because I don’t come across many blind Black women who have documented their life. The only other time was when I read about Haban Girma. As I read her story, I pulled out four core areas Ever lee was ambitious about: her education, career, marriage/family and the National Federation of the Blind.
Ambitious about Education
Ever Lee grew up in the segregated south on the Coolemee plantation in Mocksville, North Carolina. She is the third of seven children. Her days were filled with school and picking cotton. She realized from an early age that sharecropping was not the life she wanted to live. It was hard physical work. She was fearful of snakes and her family had little income. She had a desire to become a nurse because one of her sisters was constantly ill. She knew her parents had no money for college so being the ambitious person she was, Ever Lee came up with a plan. She heard about work opportunities up north and during the summer she worked as a live-in maid to save money for school. During this entire time Ever Lee struggled with her vision. She knew something was wrong but was not sure exactly what as she didn’t go to an eye doctor and never told anyone because she was ashamed. All through college, living with her aunt and uncle, and working as a live-in maid Ever Lee kept her vision problem a secret. This caused her to struggle through school because she couldn’t always see the chalkboard, her printed books or exams. When it was time to take the nursing exam, she failed the eye test portion. She was deeply disappointed but pressed on and got her teaching degree instead.
Ambitious About Career
Ever Lee was ambitious about her ability to be employed. She shared an incident where she applied for a position and got the interview. She dressed professionally, showed up on time with resume in hand but when she arrived it went downhill. The employer told her they had never hired a blind person before and she left disappointed. I also had a similar experience which happened shortly after I lost my vision. I went in for an interview and the first thing said to me was, “Oh, I didn’t know a blind person would apply for this job.” When that was said I knew, Like Ever Lee, I wasn’t going to get the job. That one statement spoke volumes about what that employer thought about the blind even though I was qualified for the job.
But like me Ever Lee pressed on and found a more opened-minded employer who not only gave her a job but helped her advance her career. She worked several years as a teacher and then later as a counselor at the Department of Health and Human Services. I worked for DHHS too when I was in high school and my first year of college. I was not blind at the time but I did have a blind co-worker, another one with cerebral palsy and a supervisor who used a wheelchair. Like Ever Lee this experience was rewarding, self-affirming and built my self-confidence. It also helped me when I went blind because I was able to pull from the experience to help me make it through.
Ambitious about Marriage and Family
Initially Ever Lee was hesitant about pursuing dating and romantic relationships because she was fearful her blindness would be exposed. She didn’t date in high school or college. She had been keeping it a secret the majority of her life. But she did ultimately let go and fall in love with a guy and marry him. The relationship didn’t last because he was gaslighting and cheating on her. She realized this and took her son and left. She figured out what to do, got her career together, purchased a home and eventually met another man she married. When that marriage ended from abandonment, she still kept going. I have to appreciate Ever Lee sharing these intimate details of her life. failed relationships are hard to deal with and being public about it takes courage. Also, I admire the fact she shows them as just relationships where blindness is not the center. Many times, I have had to address the question/concern about my disability in a relationship as if it is the most important thing when so many other factors make up a successful match.
Ambitious About National Federation of the Blind
After years of struggle and disappointment, Ever Lee finally got a proper diagnosis. She was told by an eye specialist that she had a genetic eye disease called retinitis pigmentosa (RP). She was also told that it would probably get worse over time. Ever Lee’s vision did get worse and for a long time she relied on others to help. Or she “faked it to you make it.” While Ever Lee worked at DHHS she learned about more services for the blind. She got a call from the National Federation of the Blind inviting her to attend their convention. Her aha moment came when she was offered an agenda in braille/large print. By this time, she could no longer read print and she didn’t know braille. This is when Ever Lee knew she needed more blind skills. So, she took 6 months off from work for vision rehabilitation training. She had already been using a white cane but needed more education on how to live an independent life as a blind person. I could relate too. I also took off from work for about a year to go through a similar program for the same exact reasons. Attending the convention and emersion in her training was the beginning of Ever Lee’s full involvement in NFB. After that she became an active member, advocate, mentor and later joined the national board of directors. After losing my vision I also got deeply involved in the disability community. First, I became an advocate, then later public educator. Today, I am a writer and blogger on the topic of blindness.
For many years I have been curious about the life of the disabled slave. My first exploration was learning about Blind Tom, the Georgia slave who was never emancipated. But that was not good enough and I wanted to learn more. Through digging a little deeper, I found a book at one of my favorite libraries, Bookshare. The book is titled, African American Slavery and Disability: Bodies, Property, and Power in the Antebellum South, 1800–1860 by Dea H. Boster. The summary says that, disability is often mentioned in discussions of slave health, mistreatment and abuse, but constructs of how “able’ and “disabled” bodies influenced the institution of slavery has gone largely overlooked. This volume uncovers a history of disability in African American slavery from the primary record, analyzing how concepts of race, disability, and power converged in the United States in the first half of the nineteenth century.
The book was different than others I have read on slavery because it seemed more academic in tone but I thoroughly loved the historical context and the numerous real examples of disabled slaves. The book is broken down into three parts: Bodies, Property and Power.
Part I Bodies
This book shows slavery as a disability in and of itself. I never saw slavery in that light before but as I read the book the more, I saw what the author was saying. When you think of the word disability it means lack of control of a particular bodily function and the slavery of African Americans reflected that. One side said that slavery was best suited for African Americans because of their mental and physical state but then the institution of slavery debilitated them as well. Normal was viewed as controlled, healthy, moral, male and strong whereas disabled was viewed as the total opposite. Disability was considered a mark of dishonor except from war wounds.
Disabled slaves were used as the poster children to help eradicate slavery because many of the slaves became disabled from cruelty not from birth. Abolitionist used the testimonies of disabled slaves as part of their programs against slavery. Slaves would share about floggings, attacks by blood hounds and other bodily harms that caused them to become disabled. They would display their bodies during presentations or testimonies.
Another point under the part about bodies is that disabled slaves didn’t look at themselves as others did. Disability could come from mental, physical and sexual abuse. It could also come from unsafe work conditions, meager food and clothing, repetitive stress and punishments for infractions. They didn’t see themselves as week or useless. Much like today people with disabilities don’t see themselves the way society does. We view ourselves in a positive light and feel we have much to contribute. Disabled slaves would exhibit endurance and transcendence which was displayed in animal folktales. These stories displayed a weaker or powerless animal using their mental wit to overcome the more physically stronger one, like in Br’er Rabbit.
Soundness of a Disabled Slave
masters evaluated the soundness of a slave by three things: ability to perform manual labor, face value as a commodity and individual health. A slave’s overall health was low on the list and disease didn’t factor in on soundness, but things like epilepsy could because of its unpredictability. Poor diet, lack of suitable clothing and shelter caused disability. Rheumatism and blindness were mention often as debilitating conditions. Whippings were a form of punishment and didn’t render the slave physically disabled but it did have psychological affects whereas a branding was to totally humiliate the slave. Proper medical attention was hard because of lack of knowledge by owners, lack of compassion, or lack of medical doctors to provide care. As a result, slaves relied on each other or a conjurer or root worker for natural healing remedies. This was a part of the slave’s identity and resistance.
Part II Property
Disabled slaves were sometimes labeled useless because of their inability to perform at peak levels. Their monetary value was decreased, or not able to be fully controlled or disciplined by their masters. Disabled slaves performed duties such as cooking and other house duties, nursing, child care, gardening and watching livestock. Owners wanted to get the most out of their slaves as humanely possible but slaves could negotiate as to how much of that labor, they could actually perform. You might think that duties of disabled slaves were light and less strenuous than an abled bodied slave but that is not true. For instance, the work of a cook was one of the most laborious because they had to rise early and stay late, prepare lots of meals, grind meal and gather firewood. Watching small children was also hard work for a disabled or elderly slave. Children ranged from small infants to 5 years old and a slave could be responsible for many children at one time.
Some disabled slaves were hired out and also learned specialized skills or trades because it made it easier on the body. If a disabled slave worked as a tailor or shoemaker, they could find some relief and still be found useful. The contributions that disabled slaves made on the plantation were important but owners viewed them as useless. This was evident in their printed records, journals, insurance policies and other documents. Unfortunately, this perspective still holds true today. People with disabilities add value and contribute greatly but mainstream society doesn’t always see, acknowledge or reward it. We are seen as less than and devalued solely based on our disability and therefore treated as such.
It was documented that some owners showed benevolence to their old and disabled slaves by allowing them to stay with their families as they aged and debilitated. But according to the author these examples are rare. Disabled slaves received abuse and punishment just like abled bodied slaves. The most common was not completing an assigned task or duty. The idea of reasonable accommodation in the workplace was not a concept in the arena of American slavery. Owners didn’t always take into account that a disabled slave would perform at a slower rate or that the task might be more difficult or complicated to do. So, if a task was not done, regardless of disability punishment would be delivered. Depending on the degree of punishment some slaves died as a result. One would consider this murder although owners did not. Besides punishment disabled slaves suffered neglect. Many would get reduced food rations, no new clothes or poor shelter. Some slaves were even abandoned to fend for themselves getting no assistance from family or the slave community.
Disabled slaves were also used as part of medical experimentation. According to the author the most well-known procedures that were done were on slave women. It was believed back then and even today that African-Americans feel less pain making them better candidates for medical experimentation. Doctors would perform surgery without anesthesia, test remedies and use disabled slaves in medical hospitals and schools for educational purposes. These were ways that an owner could recoup the cost of a disabled slave since the slave couldn’t perform hard manual labor.
Documenting Disability for Estate Planning and Sale
Since disabled slaves were property it was important for owners to document their disability for estate planning and sale. Owners had to walk a fine line with being honest about a slaves mental and physical condition but not sharing too much or the slave might not be saleable. They were documented in slave records with their particular kind of disability or if they were aged. Records would show slaves labeled as “gets fits”, “blind in one eye”, “hand injured”, “old Betty” or Old John”. They also gave them names of endearment such as “uncle” and “auntie” to indicate that the particular slave was aged. At the time of sale slaves were thoroughly examined to help determine retail value. Tests for hearing, eyesight and physical movement were performed. Slaves were required to disrobe to inspect their bodies for burns, scars and injuries. Scars from whippings were scrutinize more severely as a sign of a difficult or unruly slave. Bad teeth were a sign of poor health. Slaves were asked questions about their overall health and disability along with the examination. Owners would give a guarantee or warranty of health during the sale but, of course, there was no true absolute guarantee that a slave was totally healthy or sound.
To prepare a disabled or older slave for sale many owners would go through great lengths of disguise. Grey and white hair would either be plucked out or colored black to create youthful appearance. Scars, urns and injuries were greased over. Slaves were strongly encouraged and/or threaten to answer questions quickly, cheerfully and with a smile on their face. Some slaves were given large portions of food prior to sale and/or better clothing to wear. Slaves were aware of the transaction taking place in their sale and sometimes would hide or embellish their disability if it would help prevent their purchase, punishment or separation from family. One thing I found interesting about this whole thing is that disabled slaves saw the lower value placed on them as a benefit because if ever it came time to purchasing their freedom, they knew the price would be more obtainable than an able-bodied slave.
Part III Power
Many times disabled slaves would use their disability to negotiate or manipulate their bondage. They were not totally powerless. By over exaggerating their condition the slave could get out of hard or uncomfortable work duties while still being in good favor with their owner. Many owners relied on medical doctors to help treat their disabled slaves. They did not rely or trust their slaves with the diagnosis of their medical condition. This feeling was mutual as slaves would sometimes hide their physical ailments and seek treatment among themselves. . . Regardless doctors treating disabled slaves on a plantation was quite a lucrative business. Doctors could make multiple visits and administer various remedies, surgeries or treatments.
Some owners decided to forgo medical attention for their disabled slaves and allowed the condition to linger for months and even years. It was directly connected to the financial value of the slave. The relationship between the owner, doctor and slave was a complicated one. Owners wanted their slaves cured and back to work. Doctors wanted financial compensation, good reputation and remedies that worked. Slaves wanted relief from pain and suffering. Yet many times these outcomes didn’t always happen in the way that was satisfying for everyone.
Another aspect of disabled slaves’ power on the plantation was faking or malingering their disability. A slave could embellish their pain or discomfort, tipping the scale to their advantage. Female slaves were more likely to fain their medical condition because it was directly connected to their reproductive ability. As a result, owners and doctors took their pleas of pain more seriously. Female slaves might complain of menstrual pain. She might fain repeated miscarriages to gain sympathy, lighter work load or more food rations. Additionally, a female slave’s ability to reproduce was directly connected to the soundness of the plantation and its owner. If a female slave was treated well by her owners then there would be no reason for multiple miscarriages or abortions. In some extreme cases a slave would intentionally injure or mutilate themselves to become disabled to get out of work, prevent a sale or removal from family. All of this was an important method of resistance however small.
This Was an Emotional Read
This was an incredible book and it took me a minute to read through it. I got quite emotional as I read the various examples of disabled slaves. My feelings ranged from distressed to anger to amazement. Slavery is a difficult topic already but reading about disabled slaves was even more trying. But I have no regrets because I took this journey willingly and am glad for it. I am grateful for their examples of strength, endurance and resistance.
Although a vaccine for COVID-19 is on the way this pandemic is not over by a long shot. There are still a lot of unanswered questions that we have to deal with. As for me I am trying to learn as much as I can about the vaccine. I am still wearing my facemask. I am still practicing social distancing and sheltering in place. This all leads me to something very interesting I have learned about myself over the past year. This new but old discovery is that I am an introvert. I sort of kind of knew this about myself for awhile yet when this pandemic struck and we had to shut down I found myself really being okay with it. Don’t get me wrong, I do have my days when I get a little squirrely but for the most part, I am fine with being quarantined at home.
I spoke to a fellow blogger, Steph McCoy over at Bold, Blind Beauty, about it. As I shared my thoughts and feelings, she commiserated with me and recommended a book for me to read that would help me figure some things out. Of course, I am a book lover and at home, so I got time to read, right? This was right up my alley. So, I downloaded the audio version of The Introvert Advantage: Making the Most of Your Inner Strengths by Marti Olsen Laney and got to learning more about myself.
Summary and Goals of the Book
Before I share with you some of the key points, I gathered from the book, let me give you a quick summary from Bookshare. “At least one out of four people prefers to avoid the limelight, tends to listen more than they speak, feels alone in large groups, and requires lots of private time to restore their energy. They’re introverts, and here is the book to help them boost their confidence while learning strategies for successfully living in an extrovert world. After dispelling common myths about introverts-they’re not necessarily shy, aloof, or antisocial–The Introvert Advantage explains the real issues. Introverts are hardwired from birth to focus inward, so outside stimulation-chitchat, phone calls, parties, office meetings-can easily become too much. The Introvert Advantage dispels introverts’ belief that something is wrong with them and instead helps them recognize their inner strengths-their analytical skills, ability to think outside the box, and strong powers of concentration. It helps readers understand introversion and shows them how to determine where they fall on the introvert/extrovert continuum. It provides tools to improve relationships with partners, kids, colleagues, and friends, offering dozens of tips. Finally, it shows how to not just survive, but thrive-how to take advantage of the introvert’s special qualities to create a life that’s just right for the introvert temperament, to discover new ways to expand their energy reserves, and even how, when necessary, to confidently become a temporary extrovert.” After reading that detailed summary, I knew this book was for me and was a great suggestion from my friend. Now that I have finished the book, I am ready to share the little gems I learned with you about being an introvert and how it is helping me survive COVID-19.
As I was reading there were three goals the author wanted to achieve:
1. Determine if you are an introvert or not
2. How to understand if you are
3. How to nurture your valuable introversion
I Am an Introvert
After reading through the first couple of chapters I realized pretty quickly that I am an introvert. Some of the characteristics are that we have ongoing dialogue with ourselves; and we think too much. Introverts walk around with lots of thoughts and feelings in their head. Yep, that me, especially at 3 a.m. in the morning. That is when I get my best writing and blogging ideas. Who knew?
I also realized that it probably started from my childhood. Funny how so many things in life come from when you are a kid. As I thought back to those days I remember before my siblings came along, I spent a lot of time alone and by myself. Playing solitary games and reading books. Two memories stand out specifically. The first memory was selecting toys from the Sears Christmas Wish Book that I could play mostly by myself. Some kind of way I already knew as an only child that I needed to do that. Second memory is winning the summer reading contest in the 6th or 7th grade and feeling bittersweet about it. I was glad that I won but sad that I had time to read all those books. I realized that I needed to spruce up my life with some other activities besides reading.
Socializing as an Introvert
I have even seen it in my friendships and romantic relationships. I enjoy hanging out with friends but only for a while then my energy starts to go down. Before the pandemic if I was at a get together, I would set a time for about an hour or two because that was about my limit. Not that I didn’t like the people I was with I would just get tired and want to go home. Now with the men in my life, I tend to date guys who are very outgoing and charismatic. I figure it’s that old saying that opposites attract. But sometimes it would get stressful and complicated because the guy I was dating was ready to roll but I was winding down. I would want a quiet night at home but he would want to hit the town.
I also noticed it with crowds especially after I went blind. I don’t care for large crowds anymore because of the sensory overload and sometimes I feel a little bit anxious. No large auditoriums. No mega stadiums. No large crowded and busy malls. Small groups work best for me. This has come in very handy during the pandemic because there is less chance of spreading the virus if I stay in a little group.
Even better if I stay home and that is what I have done the bulk of the time.
Working as an Introvert
A couple of years ago I made a career change and started working from home. I am a freelance writer and blogger–a quiet and isolating type of work life. I am self-motivated, set my own schedule and don’t need supervision. Unbeknownst to me this job shift complemented my introversion. Then the pandemic came and we all had to stay home. So, I am reading online about people having to work remotely while I was already doing that. It was a lot of change for people and I felt empathy but I personally was not struggling with it. I began to question why and now I know why. Being an introvert has not only helped me with my overall career but also my blogging during this pandemic. I have written multiple blog posts about how people can successfully work from home. Many of those posts were ideas that came from my personal experience along with research and keeping up with trends.
Final Take Aways and Last Thoughts
The final take-aways are pacing myself and taking on extrovert skills. The last couple of chapters of the book were encouraging and reaffirming as they delt with self-esteem and self-confidence. It is okay to be an introvert. That there is nothing wrong with me and the way I move in the world. I really felt good about that because I have felt that my behavior was not always supported. The author took time to explain pacing and energy levels, how they work and how to restore them. I use to think that taking long naps and cuddling up in my bed to read all the time was a bad thing. But after reading this book I see that it is a part of being an introvert. That it is a part of restoring my energy levels and especially since I have a sleeping disorder. This is called nurture your nature.
But there are times when you will have to take on the skills of an extrovert. I have done that many times in my life. I have friends that would even argue me down with the writing of this post to say that I am not an introvert because I am so friendly, talkative and outgoing. Yes, those things are true but I do them because the situation warrants it. If I am at a gathering or event, I will get out of myself and engage with people there. I will not be a wall flower. I will put my best foot forward, smile and be a Chatty Pattie. I now realize that takes a lot of energy and that is why I stay for a short time and leave. When I get home, I go straight to the bed or sofa to rest.
This book has been a confirmation for me. I can identify who and what I am. I am able to take better care of myself. As they say knowing is half the battle. Now that I know that I am an introvert I can use this to help me survive COVID-19.