Letter to the Editor
by Rakeb Max ’22
I’m Rakeb Max and I’m from Minnesota. Currently, I am an economics major with zero intentions of going on to Wall Street. Instead, my fascinations lie in domestic economic policy, specifically socioeconomic disparities in urban communities. I hope to eventually obtain a Master’s degree in public policy and work in the public sector to contribute to policy reformation for the betterment of indigent populations.
It is likely you have seen a blind female on campus, using her long white cane for navigational purposes. It is also likely that upon seeing such an oddity, curiosity permeated your thoughts and uncertainty fueled your hesitance to approach me. There is no shame in having that response. It is only natural to fear unfamiliarity, as we as humans take comfort in what we consider to be a normality.
While at times I can be overcome with frustration, I am very comfortable with having to break the barrier that often exists in my interactions with other people. I am comfortable with myself and I want others to be comfortable with me and my blindness as well. There are a lot of questions people have, ranging from how I use my technology, to my dating life. With this article, I will be answering some common questions that I’ve received, and hopefully this will serve as a helpful resource.
1. Were you born blind?
I was born with congenital glaucoma, a condition in which a child is born with a deformity of the eye’s drainage mechanism, which in turn creates intraocular pressure that damages the optic nerve. The speed at which complete vision loss takes place varies person to person, and in my case, it took approximately four years. When I was born, I had 50 percent of my vision, which was all concentrated in my left eye. Eventually I had undergone enucleation, due to the dysfunction of my right eye, and received my first prosthetic. I was completely blind by age 4 after 16 failed surgeries.
2. Do you remember what it’s like to have vision?
Yes. Typically, visual memory fades within two years, but I have recollections of colors and other visual concepts. However, I do not remember the faces of my family members or other individuals in my life at that time. I don’t think it’s sad though. You can’t miss what you don’t recollect.
3. Do you know what you look like?
No. Well, sort of. It’s a little complicated. I know that I have a dark skin tone, black curly hair, and blue eyes, but when it comes to minute details and features, I don’t.
4. How do you get ready in the morning?
Usually when I go shopping with a friend or my mom, I memorize the colors of the clothes I buy. There is also a color identification app on my phone that I will use on occasion. When it comes to my hair, I usually get it braided at a salon, since my hair regardless of my vision level is complicated enough. When it isn’t braided, I keep it in a bun and wear headbands to keep it neat. As for makeup, I don’t where it every day, but I actually just started doing it on my own. I use the pointer finger on my left hand as a guide for the product I’m applying, which I hold in my right hand. Mascara is still complicated for me, but I apply it as best I can, then use my wipes to clean off whatever may have applied incorrectly. Generally, brushes hinder my ability to apply makeup effectively, so I use my fingers when I can so that I have some tactile feedback to work with. Once I finish, I make sure to have someone with vision verify that it looks ok, then I’m off with my day.
5. How do you use your technology?
My phone and computer both have screen reading software. On the iPhone it’s called voice over, which is a feature that all Apple products have and can be turned on in your settings. When it comes to computers the blind and visually impaired have several options, such as Job Access With Speech (JAWS), NonVisual Desktop Access (NVDA), and Windows-Eyes. I am proficient with JAWS and NVDA but I personally prefer JAWS for reasons that are too complex to discuss here. I can respond to texts and emails because of my memorization of the keyboard.
6. How do you use social media?
When you’re blind, you learn how to point your camera in the general direction of the person or thing you want to capture in a photo or video. There is also a voice-over feature that let’s me know what my camera is pointing at when I’m trying to take a selfie. Based on the voice-over feedback, I position my phone accordingly and take the picture. I usually have someone check my photos before I upload.
7. How do you experience romantic and sexual attraction?
For the most part, I’m not too picky about what I find attractive. Generally, if you’re enjoyable to talk to and we have a connection, I’ll find you attractive. Of course, like everybody else, I do have preferences. However, I’m not going to list them here, so as not to offend. If you genuinely want to know, you can ask me in private. I can determine someone’s build by “accidentally” brushing past them, paying extra attention to how they walk, or if at some point I take their arm to be guided somewhere.
8. What is the most frustrating thing about being blind?
People who don’t laugh at blind jokes are the worst. If you won’t make and laugh at blind jokes, we can’t be friends. Few things are more satisfying than saying something like “I burned my fingers when I tried reading a waffle iron,” or “no, I definitely don’t see what you mean,” and watching people’s discomfort. On a more serious note, I would have to say the most frustrating thing about being blind is having to change people’s preconceived notions on a daily basis. It can get mentally taxing at times, but at the end of the day I’m happy that I have the ability to positively influence people’s false perceptions about the blind.
I hope this article was helpful in clearing up any confusion and answering questions you had. Like I said before, I am an open book when it comes to my blindness, so please do not hesitate to walk up to me, say hi, and ask whatever you like. You can also contact me on Instagram (rakeb_2the_max,) or Snapchat (rakeb_2themax.)