Welcome to the second installment of a series that I’m calling: “More than Meets the Eye.” Each week of the summer (and possibly into the fall and winter months, depending on the number of responses I receive), I am honored to share with you interviews from members of the disability community.
The goal of this project is to raise awareness about the diversity of the disability community. The words and ideas expressed in the interviews belong to the participants, not me. This project is welcome and affirming to all members of the disability community. By sharing our stories, we can develop empathy and understanding for one another as we all travel throughout the journey of life.
I first came into contact with Jessica’s work on YouTube. Jessica is a vlogger, and I deeply appreciate her work regarding the intersection of disability and race.
Jessica says, “I make YouTube videos. I saw a severe lack of blind college students when I was about to start college, so I decided to make my channel so that I could share my voice and story. Just sitting in front of a camera, and talking about issues that I’m really passionate about is really cathartic for me. It is just really nice to have my own little space on the internet.”
If you would like to view Jessica’s YouTube channel, you can find her Linked here. You can also find more information about Jessica on her YouTube Channel.
Interview with Jessica Karim
What is your name?
How old are you? (No need to share your exact age, but perhaps you could say if you identify as a teenager, a young adult, a senior citizen, etc.)
I’m 20, so I’m not a teenager, but I’m not an adult either, my 7-year-old sister likes to jokingly say that I’m a teendult.
Could you share a little bit about your disability? In what ways to you identify as a member of the disability community?
My disability is total blindness, and I’ve had it since birth. It’s an entirely physical disability, and, since it’s always been a part of my life, I guess you could say that I’ve always been a part of the disability community.
What do you think people see when they look at you?
That’s honestly a really hard question for me to answer. My eyes are very clouded over, so, when people meet me, they can immediately tell that I’m blind. I’m also Guyanese, so I have relatively dark skin. I attend a predominately white college, and I often struggle with coming to terms with how people see me.
I never know if they’re not engaging with me because of my eyes, or the color of my skin. It could also be both, or it could be something else entirely. That’s one of the hardest things about being blind in my opinion, that we are never able to view people’s reactions based on facial expressions.
What do you wish people would see when they look at you? What parts of your identity are most important about yourself?
I’ve always just wanted to make a t-shirt that says something like this: I’m Jessica. I love dogs, iced coffee, the tv show 9-1-1, Harry Potter, sleeping in, and I’m blind.
I think that one of the hardest parts about blindness, for me anyway, especially when it’s so apparent, is that most of the time, that’s all people see when they first meet me. There is so much more to me than blindness, and I want people to recognize that without me having to spell it out for them.
What common misconceptions do people often have about you or your disability? What do you wish people understood about your disability?
This is where race and tone come in a lot. I identify as brown, but the majority of blind people who meet me automatically assume I’m white, just based on the way I speak. I often wonder if I get stared at when I’m on campus, since I just don’t look like most of the people who go to my school.
In terms of disability misconceptions. Most people assume that I can’t take stairs. They think that friends who are with me are my helpers or care givers. When I tell them my grades, they are usually shocked, which just goes to show how little blind people are thought of in our society.
On a lighter side, they are always fascinated that I can type without looking. They love hearing my phone describe emoji’s. They think it’s amazing that everything I use can talk so fast and that I can still understand it.
I just want people to know that blindness is not the tragedy that people make it out to be. I’m just like you, even though I need to modify things sometimes to make them work for me.
What makes you happy? What are your passions or your joys in life? Can you share a little bit about your big picture?
I love a good book. I mostly read psychological thrillers and young adult contemporaries. Something about stepping into someone else’s world for a bit has just always helped me relax and forget about my own problems.
I swim as often as I can. I was on swim team all through out high school, and just being able to crank out laps has always helped me calm down, relax, and destress.
I write a lot, both for fun and more seriously. I do a lot of writing about my journey as a disabled person. I love being to share my thoughts and experiences with people, but I also find it to just be a very reflective tool for myself. Sometimes, it’s just nice to express my thoughts in a way that’s not verbal.
I write creatively for my favorite TV show. It’s really fun to be able to step into the character’s minds and write out different scenarios for them. I never did it before, but the first time I tried, the words just came so naturally. It is a great way for me to get creative and write something that isn’t as serious.
Friendship is so important to me. My 2 best friends are both blind and Guyanese and they are 2 of the most important people in my life. We can talk about anything and everything, or even just sit in silence. They fundamentally understand me, in both a blindness and a race perspective, and that’s something that most people can never be able to do. I think that all disabled people should have a tribe of disabled friends. There is something so impowering about talking to people who just understand exactly where you’re coming from.
I love watching Disney shows with my sister, cuddling my dogs, and spending time with family.
All of these things ground me and really allow me to feel safe, loved, and give me enjoyment.
How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted you as a member of the disability community? What do you wish the rest of the world understood about your personal experience of today’s post COVD-19 world?
This pandemic has really made me reevaluate what we take for granted. I never gave thought to how much we depend on doing small things until I couldn’t do them. Walking from building to building on campus, grabbing a bite with a friend, taking a car ride. I never knew how much I needed those small breaks until I didn’t get them.
As a disabled person, I haven’t been impacted too badly. I’ve had to transition to college online, which has been interesting, but mostly accessible. I am grateful that this is 2020 and that we have so much accessible technology available to us.
I wish more people understood how hard it is going to be for us as blind people once this is over. We can’t just figure out how to socially distance. We can’t see signs or markers or people. It will most likely take us much longer to adjust than it will for our sighted counterparts.
Please be sure to check back next week for another interview in our summer disability awareness series, More than Meets the Eye.
More Disability Awareness Posts
Blind People Write Books! Interview with award-winning author J.E. Pinto (More than Meets the Eye #2)
Blind with a Vision: Carolyn McGee (More than Meets the Eye #1)
My name is Rebecca and I blog about faith, books, and disability awareness. Please subscribe by typing your email into the box labeled subscribe so that you never miss a post! I am also the of the Through My Good Eye: A Memoir in Verse and The United Methodist Church and Disability.