Independence or Interdependence: Which Do You Choose?
“Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much.”~Helen Keller
As we celebrate Independence Day in the United States, it is an opportunity to consider how each of us feels about the whole concept of independence. I must admit, I am not for it. I have worked in the blindness/low vision field for most of my career, and a central theme of services and training is “independence”. In fact, the mission of the wonderful Lighthouse I had the honor of leading for over 10 years had a mission of providing people with the skills to reach their maximum independence.
Well, I have recently decided that I’d much rather reach my maximum level of interdependence. Multiple sources generally define interdependence as the state of being dependent on one another or mutual reliance on another. When will we realize and admit that none of us can be fully reliant and completely independent beings? Yes, we can likely create a world for ourselves in which we have limited need of others for assistance, but I would ask if this is a positive, effective, efficient, or even happy way to live. I need others… and others need me.
“Interdependence is and ought to be as much the ideal of man as self-sufficiency.”~Mahatma Gandhi
Many people who are blind/low vision feel we must be independent to show we can do it, that we are equal to our sighted peers, and that we don’t need others’ help. This has been ingrained into us. I fell into this independence trap, as I was absolutely determined to be fiercely independent and to prove myself for many years. But, I am ready to say that there is a big difference between independence and interdependence.
People Need People
There is nothing at all wrong with knowing that we need help and asking for that help. Asking for help does not make a person helpless. I think asking for the right kind of help in the right situations makes a person more powerful.
“In the progress of personality, first comes a declaration of independence, then a recognition of interdependence.”~Henry Van Dyke
I am a very capable and competent and even confident blind person. Although I and many who are regularly around me often forget that I can’t see… blindness still has a significant impact on my life. There are things I can’t do. Yes! I just said that there are things I can’t do. But, guess what? Even if I had perfect sight there are a lot of things I would not be able to do. And, there are many things each of us can’t do—and it may or may not have to do with a disability.
Now, to take the next step… let’s add more reality to that. There are things I can do, but that I know will take me more energy, and time, and require the use of assistive technology, etc. that sometimes I choose to ask others to help me with. There is nothing about this that makes me dependent.
There might be some significant judgment here on me… but I want those who might feel disempowered by the “independence” message to be empowered by the “interdependence” message. Here’s me just being my authentic self… an interdependent blind woman.
I am very willing to accept a sighted guide or sighted assistance in an unfamiliar and/or crowded space, as this enables me to move more confidently and engage in conversation at the same time. If I had to use a white cane or dog guide to move through an unfamiliar space or crowded space, I would have to be completely focused on myself and moving safely. Sighted guide equalizes the experience for me. I use a white cane all of the time and can navigate very independently and safely, and I guarantee you that I have the cane in hand and use it even if using a sighted guide.
If I am looking for something, such as a public restroom, a business on the street, a table in a restaurant, or a person in a crowded room, the most efficient way to accomplish this is to ask for help.
Print is everywhere, and often getting access to that print, rather digital or hard copy takes significant effort. I am a good (not amazing) assistive technology user, but if someone who can see is around and there is a piece of paper I am absolutely going to have them read it rather than me getting out all of the tech options to find one that actually picks up the print message.
And, I often have to get help with inaccessible digital content, such as websites that are full of graphics. I could spend hours figuring out how to get access or navigate it, but why would I do that when I could ask my husband to help. Believe me, he is just as challenged with doing laundry as I am with inaccessible websites. He is not allowed to do laundry because he is not good at it. But, he is really good at editing videos or skipping through a website with the mouse to find me a flight or hotel.
Summing It Up
Finally, although I’d like to think I could do all aspects of any job, the reality is I could not. I have over 25 years of work experience, primarily in administration and leadership, master’s degrees in social work, visual disabilities education, and business administration (yes, that is 3 master’s and no Ph.D), and I’ve done a lot of volunteer and community work, but there are many things I can’t do.
I am really smart and competent, and I learn quickly. I once even did a grocery bagging competition with a very experienced store manager… and I won. We were both blindfolded and had the exact products. I had never bagged groceries professionally… just the random helping bag my groceries when making purchases. I used blindness techniques to find and monitor where everything was.
I’ve served food and drinks at a dining in the dark with no issues whatsoever. I’ve put together furniture and electronics. I can work magic with an excel spreadsheet and generate really creative programs and curriculum. But, let me be clear… there are many things I can’t do. Most of these are because I have no education, training or skills in them, but yes there are many things I can’t do because I am blind.
Yes, I said it. Yes, I know blind people working in almost every single field, and at all levels, and doing a fine job, but there are still jobs that people who are blind currently do not have the accommodations necessary to do. Maybe one day we’ll have full inclusion… but there is still a lot of work to do by many. In fact, we are sort of dependent on all of you to help us create a more accessible and usable world that will allow us to be fully included. Those who know, work with, and depend on people with disabilities know how capable we can be, while those who are not acquainted with people who are blind/low vision are missing out. .
“I have an interesting perspective on depending on others. I think it gives people a chance to serve. And I’m not so much big on independence, as I am on interdependence. I’m not talking about co-dependency, I’m talking about giving people the opportunity to practicing love with its sleeves rolled up.”~Joni Erikson Tada
I have made many new friends and helped many see the true capabilities of people who are blind by asking for assistance and carving out what I could do well on projects… thus highlighting interdependence and the power of mutual reliance.
How can you be less dependent or more independent in areas where you should and could be more self-reliant, competent and empowered? But, also consider how you could empower yourself and others through embracing interdependence when it would be positive, effective and efficient for you and those around you. How do you choose– Independence or interdependence? I choose to provide others the opportunity to practice love and to give me the opportunity to reciprocate.
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Connecting With Sylvia:
Sylvia Stinson-Perez has spent her career in the blindness field, and is the Chief Programs Officer for the American Foundation for the Blind. Sylvia believes the authentic shared experience of living with vision loss can lead to the development of bold confidence in living with blindness. She loves helping others find their beauty and courage on this journey.
Sylvia has Master’s degrees in Social Work, Visual Disabilities Rehabilitation, and Business Administration. Sylvia is blind as a result of Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP), however, she believes that everyone should have the opportunity to achieve their potential.
Sylvia is a wife, a mother, a friend, an advocate, and a professional dedicated to making a positive difference. She enjoys reading, cooking, travel, crocheting, writing and public speaking, and time with loved ones.
- Header image: Photo of a women’s eight car rowing crew practicing in the early morning in calm waters.
- An incomplete jigsaw puzzle with white puzzle pieces, has the last gray puzzle piece with the word “independent” is laying atop.
- Interdepence concept: A photo of balanced stones on the seashore form an arch.
- The author’s bio photo is a glam photo of Sylvia in a pink dress with spaghetti straps. Her hair is in a fancy updo with a pink flower on the left of her bun.