Disability, or different ability?

I am severely myopic. To the point where I will on all likelihood one day be legally blind without glasses. Even now, I worry about somehow breaking my glasses in an unfamiliar place, because I very likely wouldn’t be able even to get myself home without someone’s help. My eyesight, I will tell anyone, is really and truly terrible.

But, I also realized something about my myopia the other day. I went swimming to beat the massive heat wave that Toronto experienced last week, and naturally, I don’t wear my glasses in the pool. I can function well enough to not run into the person-shaped things in the pool, and I can somewhat recognize individual people as long as I make a note of the colour of their bathing suit before taking off my glasses. I have coping strategies, is what I’m trying to say.

But I realized something while I was on this swimming adventure. You see, this week I painted my nails so that they are currently super sparkly. And sparkles are one the things that look much better and prettier without my glasses. The light glinting off my nails was so apparent and prominent that it caught my attention repeatedly, and I found myself closely examining my nails.

Pretty amazing, right?

Now, in order to get something in focus without my glasses, at this point they need to be held to my face even closer than the end of my nose. So close that I can’t focus on it with both eyes and have to close one. It’s a nearness at which people with “normal” vision actually aren’t capable of focusing. And I was able to see the make-up of my nail polish at a level of detail I hadn’t previously appreciated. I could see that Sally Hansen’s Extreme Wear “Rockstar Pink” is in fact made up of sparkles in four colours: pink, red, blue, and gold. And I could make out each individual fleck perfectly clearly, and even see the previously invisible spaces between them, where my nail showed through.

And I suddenly realized that, while it’s true that my myopia disables me from going about many day-to-day tasks without an assistive device, at the same time it allows me to see things in detailed focus in a way that people without a vision “disability” can’t. Or at least, they can’t without an assistive device.

Now, I don’t think that this perspective can necessarily be applied to all forms of disability (I’m not sure what chronic pain provides in the way of extra abilities, for instance) and I’m far from the first person to recognize a disability as really being a different, non-normative ability, but it was a revelation for me to notice this about myself.

Do you have a societally defined disability that gives you abilities that able-bodied people (or, rather, normally abled people) don’t have?

3 comments

  1. It’s a stretch, but a good chunk of my anxiety is because I have superhuman hearing? (I have a number of sound-related phobias.) This also only sorta remotely counts if you see mental illness going under the disability umbrella.

    1. I definitely consider mental illness to fall under the category of disability – anxiety in particular can be absolutely disabling. And yeah, I think that being able to hear things that others can’t, but having the other side of the coin be that you have to deal with anxiety from hearing those things is really similar to my thing with my vision.

      Thank you for sharing!

  2. I have the same sort of issue with my vision. I sustained an injury to my right eye a few years back and recently have had some vision distortion in that eye. If I close it and focus only with my left, I can see things that others can’t or tend not to focus on. Very interesting read. Thanks for posting!

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