This is an entry in the 75th Disability Blog Carnival, and is the first time I’ve done this.

Milestones mark the distances along roads, and date back to the Roman Empire. They tell you how far you’ve come and often how far you’ve got to go. The more metaphorical life milestones don’t often tell us much about the distances between themselves, they’re like the Roman milestones that simply gave the name of the reigning emperor and often hold more significance to us than anyone else.

I was thinking of some milestones before I started writing this, and events that stuck out in my mind were things like walking through Martin Place in Sydney after being told my Optic Nerve was basically dying off, and there’s nothing that can be done. I was with my mother, and I wandered a few meters away as we were making our way to the train station.

This is where it really hit me for the first time, walking past the MLC centre. Naturally enough I saw the whole idea of losing my sight as a sighted person, with the dependence I had on my vision and a lack of understanding of what it really meant. At the age of 20, when life seems like it will go on forever, there was that overwhelming feeling of hopelessness. The tears welled up, and I wanted to scream. But I couldn’t do that there. In the middle of the city. In front of my mother, who had already been through so much with all of her children. I forced it back down.

More recently, having an assessment and totally failing to recognise anything on the eye chart, even from a meter away. Being unable to count fingers on a hand in front of my face. While 14 years had passed between Martin Place and that darkened room in Fairy Meadow, some of that feeling remains. While the fear I felt at 20 has been replaced with skills and confidence, the sense of loss remains.

Losing a significant amount of vision at the point I did, as my brain was reaching the end of its development, I feel that I’ll always be a sighted person who can’t see. Don’t get me wrong, it’s better to have loved and lost. I’ve got concepts in my brain that people who have never seen never have, but the whole blind skills thing still feels like it’s laid over the top, rather than integrated. Maybe this will change as I get older. Maybe I’m being impatient.

But this is all being horribly negative. Some of positives include my first long cane. Some time not to long after Martin Place, I’d gotten in contact with Guide Dogs NSW/ACT, and was assessed as being eligible for a cane. Or should that be needing? I was walking around basically staring at the ground in front of my feet so that I wouldn’t fall over things, and while it worked on that level, it meant I walked into things instead (and I got a very sore neck, since we’re not built to walk around like that).

A friend and I got taken from Armidale to Coffs Harbour and I spent a week learning to use a cane. This was a skill I picked up surprisingly well, and it’s certainly one of those milestones you call life-changing. This is the only time I’ve spent more than half an hour in Coffs Harbour, and is the first new place I’d been after crossing that 6/60 acuity mark. I still think of the city as a series of disjointed paths, parks, beaches, streets and shopping centres, and the whole thing reminds me that I was starting to believe that this whole blind thing wasn’t actually the end of the world.

Similarly, learning Braille was a similar milestone, though not so much for the learning as the things around learning. I still don’t use Braille anywhere near enough to be proficient, but I can get by. While I learned Grade 1 Braille (the basics) at home with some audio and Braille books and my local worker from the then Royal Blind Society, I had to go to Sydney for two weeks and go to the RBS offices at Enfield, which involved learning a reasonably complex route from a friend’s house in Brookvale. But the bigger thing was this was the first time I spent any amount of time with more than one other blind person. This was also the first time I realised that as a resident of a regional city I was missing out on a lot of blind related things, certainly meeting other people was a big thing, but also the Braille classes and the like were only available in Sydney, and left me at something of a disadvantage. While I’ll blame some of this on the state of NSW, which generally forgets that there’s a lot more to it than Sydney, it’s still an ongoing problem for Vision Australia and others.

These are just a few milestones that spring to my mind around my disability. Of course, there’s lots more that everyone experiences: starting jobs, going out with my now wife and getting married. Pregnancy is proving to be its own series of milestones, and I’m certainly looking forward to the next one when the baby finally comes.

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