How Labels Limit Us

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Guest blog by Teddie-Joy Remhild.

As I celebrate my 81st birthday, having lived 45 of those years as a blind woman, I am struck by the degree that limiting labels and perceptions have impacted my life. There is a prevalent assumption in our society that one glance or brief encounter can provide us almost all the information we need to know about each other. These glances and brief encounters make our lives less complicated and after all, we are all very busy people and don’t have the time to learn authentic and comprehensive information about each other. Having accumulated 8 decades of evolving generational experiences, I can attest to the discrimination and biases assumed by others about me which have imposed limits on my options and choices in life. During my younger years as a sighted person, before the age of 35, there was widely accepted gender discrimination. Labels such as “chick,” “babe,” “broad,” and “sexpot” were common vernacular, used by both males and females in our society. My generation of young women was almost never referred to as women but always as girls, no matter the age. 

The interesting thing about those labels, which certainly were discriminatory, is that we who were so labeled did not object or even recognize the commonly accepted biases.

After the age of 35, I began life as a single blind parent of 3 young children and also began to learn of the discrimination which existed against blind people with some unique limiting perceptions about blind women in particular. For instance, as a client of the State Department of Rehabilitation seeking job training in order to support my 3 children, I was restricted to “blind female jobs.” At that time there were two choices available for blind females. They were medical transcriber and food vendor manager. The latter was a program in California which trained blind individuals to work as cafeteria or vending stand managers through a designated program for blind people. Neither of those choices really suited me, but living on welfare was less desirable.

Therefore, I made an unenthusiastic but responsible choice to work as a medical transcriber, which I did for 9 years. The additional limitation of that job was my eventual realization that I was not expected to desire advancement or promotions. In those days one was expected, as a blind employee, just to be satisfied to have a job, never mind individual potential.

All of these years and experiences have served to educate me as to the need to seek knowledge and information regarding my civil rights and to connect with the organizations and representatives who could assist me in overcoming all these limiting barriers.

Some of the limiting labels during this period of my life journey were “handicapped,” “invalid,” “blinks” and being a member of “the blind.” None of these labels recognized the fact that I was primarily a person who happened to be legally blind.

Now in the latter portion of my life, I am aware of not only gender discrimination and disability discrimination but, in addition, I am continually confronted with age discrimination. Some common labels which accompany the life evolution into the later years of life are “hag,” “crone,” “old bag,” and “bag lady.” There are also misperceptions that at a certain age, one becomes physically and mentally incompetent and, of course, faced with unavoidable dementia, senior moments and becoming a burden on both family and society. These labels and beliefs certainly lead to discrimination and disrespect of a population from whom we have evolved. The interesting long-term result of these beliefs and labels is that we create a self-fulfilling prophecy about ourselves as we also eventually age.

Having survived all of these limiting labels, misperceptions and barriers with a remarkable memory, good health, and many respectable accomplishments, I happily proclaim the insanity of all of these false images. We are all unique individuals, living with our own unique truth. This truth deserves respect, regardless of gender, disability or age.

Reprinted with permission from "The ACB E-Forum," August 2014 Volume LIII No. 2.

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