So what do you think of them?

On Monday , as I sat at morning prayers in a Christian charity for blind people, someone recounted what she’d read about their work in Malawi. There is a man with the unlikely name of Wonderful. He is blind; he used to be married till his wife left him. … and there was this flood! When the project worker found him, Wonderful was cowering in a corner of his hut, thoroughly scared. All his belongings were being gradually submerged, and he was crying out to God for help.

Remember that this was no fundraising appeal, backed up with videos, slides or even photographs. The people who heard it were not the rich who put their hands in their pockets and withdraw money or cheque book. They were not churchmen, who hear a sad story and are moved to donate generously. Instead, they gave not money, but thanks to God that he’d heard the desperate cries of one of their number. Like many of us in England, they probably couldn’t get into the skin of Wonderful, but the blind ones among them knew what it was like to be helpless, to call to God, and many would tell you of how he answered their cries.

There was another story too, of a woman in Iran, whose parents had thrown her into a well because they’d given birth to a blind girl. I know some Nigerians whose parents had subjected them to similar abuse. Guess what? They’re still alive! And sometimes, their parents don’t even know.

A while back, I made the idle threat to write a book titled “Glimpses from the adventures of a blind man.” I haven’t done that yet, … maybe I will. Don’t worry, it won’t be full of sad stories. In fact, it may have instances when we get our own back. Like the day, pre-mobile phones, when I needed to get to a small village called Silverdale. I rang a local taxi driver in advance and pleaded with him to pick me up. He said he couldn’t, because he wasn’t sure if the train would arrive on time. I promised him that I’d ring just before boarding the train. He still said no, despite my plea that I’d never been to the station, I wasn’t sure anyone would be there to meet me, or whether I’d know where the public phone was. Well, I got there and came back, and the next day, from the comfort of my living room, I rang him again to say I was now at the station, and could he pick me up? Sadly, the 1471 last number service had just been introduced, so after waiting a while, he rang me back to ask why he couldn’t find me. The string of four letter words that followed can’t be repeated here, but my hearty laugh can! Ha Ha Ha!!!

Now, I’m really sorry. Please don’t think I’m as vengeful as that. If I met that man again, I’d apologise, I really would. See, blind people can get just as frustrated as others. They’re not always as innocent or helpless as they look. Please don’t go thinking when you next see a disabled person, … “this one could play a trick on me, so I’d better not introduce myself.”

It is true that some bline people now isolate themselves in their own world. But on the whole, blind people need to be a part of ours. They need to be helped, just like you, to be loved, given the opportunities, … to be a part of their own society, just like you. I know of many blind people, (and people with other disabilities too) who would be happily married if their spouses’ parents had taken the time to meet them. Many would be employed if their employers gave them an interview and found out that they could work, that governments make getting the equipment much cheaper, and that they had something between their ears. And I know a few who wouldn’t have had a second disability, if their parents had just loved them, rather than reject them as babies and thrown them away, or tried to kill them.

Hey! I’m not so sad! I know of some non-disabled people who have been wonderful. One even tried to teach me maths, … poor guy! Another, on my very first day in Lancaster, took me to a bank. When I had to sign for my account, the bank didn’t have a signature guide. He thought for a minute, got a rectangular piece of cardboard and cut a hole that was big enough for my signature. I kept that ‘signature guide’ for almost a year. I don’t use a signature guide anymore, but I remember the story of thoughtfulness, every time I give a talk on disability awareness. And best of all, there was the time I was walking through Lagos, on an unmarked road. This lovely girl rushed up to me, because I was getting too close to the cars. She actually thought I was feeling suicidal. We were great friends, for the five minutes it took for her to get me to my destination. If I see her again, I must thank her.

So should I write that book? “Glimpses from the adventures of a blind man”. Mind you, they’d only be glimpses. I can’t let you in … remember some disabled people like to keep their secrets. Can’t have you knowing the full extent of my vengeful nature … can I?

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