When people first learn that I'm legally blind, they have a variety of reactions, some of which I may go into detail about in future posts, but one that most sighted people probably don't think about is the one I think of as the "bionic eye subject change." The situation goes something like this:
Me: I'm legally blind.
Stranger: Oh. What does that mean?
Me: (Explains; medical terminology, legal definition of blindness, vague description of what I see...)
Stranger: Oh. Well, but medical technology is improving all the time, you know. You'll probably have a bionic eye in a few years.
Here's the thing. I'm perfectly willing to talk with people about medical technology and the possibility of bionic eyes, after I've known them for a little while. I don't like talking about it with people I don't know well, particularly when they've just learned about my vision and therefore don't know a whole host of things, from the causes of my sight loss to how I feel about it. Here are some points I wish people would consider before talking with me about bionic eyes.
1. Medical technology is expensive, especially new technology. Just because procedures restoring eyesight exist doesn't mean they will be economically within my reach any time soon.
2. The causes of sight loss are incredibly varied, and not all of them can be addressed by the technology currently in development. In fact, the brains of people who have been blind from a young age may not even be able to process visual data. Most people talking to me about this technology don't know whether it would even work for me, and they usually don't think to ask.
2 B. And I, as someone very interested in my own eyesight, generally do know these things, because I've heard all of this about a thousand times and have done my own research on it.
3. The introduction of this topic in this way assumes that I want my vision back. This is really hard for a lot of able-bodied people to understand, but most of the time I'm pretty content with my life the way it is. Personally, I have no idea whether I want a bionic eye or not. All I know right now is that the idea frightens me more than it excites me, and I'm not even sure why.
4. Before the introduction of bionic eyes into the conversation, we had been talking about my disabled present. After it, we're talking about my potentially non-disabled future. The implication in this topic switch is that one of these is more important, or at least more comfortable, than the other. What really frustrates me about the cure narrative—even more than the fact that I might not want to be cured—is that it assumes that cure should be the goal of my life. Even if I did strive to regain my vision, I'm really a lot more interested in living in the present, solving problems related to my sight in the present, and I'd really like it if the people in my life were, too. When someone stops talking about my vision now in order to talk about my improved vision in the future, that tells me that they are not here for me in the present, not able to be my ally now, when I might need them.
Other visually impaired people may have very different opinions on the topic of bionic eyes. For me, it comes down to what I want out of life and out of relationships. I want to seek justice and opportunity for myself and other disabled people now, regardless of how disabled we may or may not be in the future, and I want the people around me to support me in that. Bionic eyes just don't fit into it.