Today I celebrate international Left-Handers’ Day as a proud member of that community. My dad is left-handed so I didn’t notice I was a minority until I broke my wrist in third grade gym class. From the minute the doctor came in to apply the full-arm cast until after he sawed the cast off I heard: “You’re sure lucky it’s your LEFT hand.” It only took a few of these comments before I clarified that the hand I used for just about everything was not the optimal one to have immobilized for six weeks.
Then I started to realize why some things other children did with ease caused me so much grief. The fact that I use my right hand for many things, like cutting and batting, made it even harder for my teachers (those who noticed) to help me cope with it. Even now I discover (or have teasingly revealed to me) more of my left-handed quirks. Guests are often puzzled because my trash can is under the left side of my kitchen sink, no one else can use my potato peeler because of the dull cutting edge, and I put greeting cards in the envelopes “upside down,” causing righties to chuckle when they struggle to pull the card out.
Being a lefty is something I think about every day. At best it’s a novelty, and at worst it’s an annoyance or inconvenience. Not a big deal. This perspective has helped me in communicating with my colorblind sons.
Every single colorblind person I have ever talked to about his or her disability takes the whole situation in stride. Indeed, it’s difficult to even get a colorblind person to sit down and discuss how life can be a little difficult. Once I realized what a disadvantage they are at in thousands of situations–particularly the students–I was surprised that they weren’t as incensed about the inattention to their plight as I was. I often heard, “It’s not a big deal. I’ve learned to live with it.”
After I heard that a few times I realized it’s the same thing I say about left-handedness. You learn to live with it. Why discuss it?
Ironically, one of the best reasons we can discuss it is so the non-colorblind world knows that the colorblind don’t like being a party game. Some don’t like people to even know they have the condition. When you find out your preschooler is colorblind, or if it comes up when you are having dinner that a friend has the disability, don’t start quizzing him about what the colors in the room look like. Don’t ask him how he tells if a stoplight is red or green. Don’t ask him if he is sad he can never be a fighter pilot.
Our oldest son was officially diagnosed as a colorblind preschooler shortly after he got his first pair of glasses. When he got the glasses we had a special dinner, called grandparents and let them gush over the new accessory, and generally made a big deal out of it. When I tried to start up the celebration routine again over the colorblindness diagnosis, he would have none of it. “I’m not blind!” he kept saying, fists clenched, challenging us to bring him a color he couldn’t identify. And we were absolutely not to call Grandma.
You learn to live with it, yes, but hopefully we are just beginning to discuss it. Not as a curiosity, but as a means to help make the world a less inconvenient place for the colorblind.