In this third segment of our interview with Winthrop resident John Morgan, we explore new themes relating to blindness and disability.
LP: Talk about your work as a disability and blindness activist?
JM: If I find something that could help another blind person or a handicap person, I address it immediately. If I have safety concerns, I pass them on to the Transportation Safety Advisory Committee. This past year I’ve led the Winthrop low vision support group. I get people to speak from agencies like the Perkins School for the Blind, The Massachusetts Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired, the Massachusetts Office on Disability and the Registry of Motor Vehicles.
LP: A member of the public who recently lost his hearing read your interview and wanted to ask if you consider blindness or deafness more socially isolating?
JM: I would say deafness, because you wouldn’t be able to hear the person you were talking to. Although I cannot see the person, I can hear them. I find that I rely on my hearing completely for almost everything, like being able to safely walk around town or take a bus or a train. If I didn’t have as good a hearing as I do, I don’t think I would be able to get out as much.
LP: How can sighted people help blind people in day-to-day interactions?
JM: I’ve experienced this many times: I hear people walk by, I ask for help, and nobody responds. I find that curious. I found myself on my own wondering why someone wouldn’t respond.
LP: What are some things sighted people say to/about blind people that you consider offensive or insensitive?
JM: My number one least favorite thing to hear is that I cannot do something because I am blind. Being able to go food shopping, being able to cross a street, being able to be on the bus. They say, “You can’t do that. You shouldn’t be out.”
LP: Do you believe sighted people should be able to make jokes about blind people or about blindness?
JM: I don’t have a problem personally. I laugh at myself more than anybody else. In the beginning, I got very angry. Over time, I accepted it. I do know other blind people who get very angry.
LP: According to research by disability charity Scope, over two thirds of people feel uncomfortable talking to someone with a disability. Why do you think that is?
JM: They don’t know anybody with a disability. They have no experience and they don’t know what to do. I hear people saying, “I don’t know what to say to him, he’s blind.” You can ask me anything. Don’t be afraid of asking me a question.
LP: If someone who has read your interviews sees you in public, how can they strike up a conversation with you?
JM: Say hello and introduce themselves. Say, “I read your article in the paper. I find it interesting.” I’ll talk for as long as they’re willing to stand there and listen.
LP: Where could they find you?
JM: Around Revere Street. I like to walk Shore Drive with my friend and the other way toward Short Beach. I tend to walk down to the center, but not as much as I used to, because of the construction.
LP: What do you wish more people understood about blindness?
JM: Be more accepting of someone who’s different. If you don’t know what it’s like to be blind, close your eyes and try to get around and you’ll get some kind of feeling of what I’m going through.
LP: What do you wish more people understood about disability in general?
JM: That we’re all people. Just because someone has a disability doesn’t mean that they don’t laugh, they don’t cry, they don’t have good times, they don’t have bad times. We’re all the same in some ways.
LP: What advice would you give to someone who has recently become disabled?
JM: Be patient. Be comfortable asking for help. If someone’s willing to assist you in any way, accept it. Don’t isolate yourself. I isolated myself for many years and I feel that I lost a lot. I don’t want someone who newly has a handicap to feel they are alone. There is so much help out there for anyone with any kind of disability.