Anna Zivarts was born with a visual impairment called nystagmus. Doctors told Anna’s mother that Anna would never lead a ‘normal’ life. However, Anna’s mother took the doctor’s prognosis as a challenge for her daughter.
Anna spent many hours in therapy as her mother wished for her daughter to overcome her disability. “My mother took that as a challenge and, as the doctors prescribed in that era, spent countless hours doing vision therapy with me – trying to get me to look at and track brightly colored objects,” says Anna.
Anna was homeschooled up until junior high because her mother did not want her daughter to be in special education. Today, Anna gives credit to her mother as she excelled academically, graduating from Stanford.
“But this emphasis on “overcoming” had its costs.”
Anna states that as she grew older the emphasis put on her to overcome her disability had some negative effects. She says, “I still fight back tears when I have to tell someone I can’t see something – like the cashier at a fast food restaurant who I ask to read the wall menu for me.”
Anna had trouble with coming to terms with when to disclose to her friends/co-workers that she had a visual impairment.
“Keeping (my vision) a secret backfired when people who eventually got to know me well realized that I wasn’t actually stuck up, I just couldn’t recognize them when they’d wave at me across the street. But when in the course of a more casual friendship or work relationship was I supposed to mention I can’t see?”
Anna says that she did not want people to see her as anything less than capable. However, Anna’s perspective shifted when she found out her son also had a vision impairment, like herself.
“Then as my feelings began to sort themselves and I realized I was not crying because he was disabled. I was crying because of the emotional pain and shame I associated with my own disability.”
“I believe that “disability” is a construction of faulty design, design that isn’t creative enough to fit the needs of those of us labeled as disabled. A built environment too driven by the free market to be inclusive,” says Anna. She continues by saying that this was the framework of disability that she wanted her son to believe in.
“I don’t want to fix him. I don’t want him to be “normal.” I want him to able to declare with pride that he can’t see something when he can’t see it. His difference will help shape and define him. It is his gift to the world, just as it has been for me.”
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