In reading the book Triumph of the Spirit, I felt angry until nearly the end of the book. Although I am a hearing person, I’m also blind and have cerebral palsy. I believe that me having these disabilities gives me insights into this story that non-disabled folks may not have. I also believe I have a unique perspective on this story because I typically steer clear of reading books about people with disabilities (PWDs). Because I feel like it’s enough for me to deal with having multiple disabilities on its own, that when I read books, articles ETC, I want to read tthings that allow me to escape from my lived reality. If I’m going to use my brain to think about things, I want to think about almost anything but disabilities. But given that reading Triumph of the Spirit was a requirement for the American Sign Language course I was taking, and given how I’d come to thoroughly enjoy this class, I was actually excited to read about this person’s perspective on being a Deaf person in a world that’s structured with hearing people in mind. But honestly, I felt surprised to learn that while Deaf folks and blind folks have different disabilities, we each share the common goals of wanting the world to treat us as equals. Blind folks and Deaf folks both want to be given the same opportunities that non-disabled folks receive by default. Blind and Deaf folks want to be seen as people who have dreams of having a family, being in leadership positions where they can demonstrate their skill level and ultimately help society understand that one’s disability doesn’t have to be a death sentence.
In Triumph of the Spirit, the author Angel M Ramos openly says something along the lines of “the problem is not that Deaf people cannot hear; the problem is that hearing people don’t listen.” And within the blind community, we have a similar saying about blindness. We say something like “blindness is not a tragedy; what is problematic, are the misconceptions non-disabled people have about blind people.” Another example of the similarities between blind and Deaf people that I discovered when reading Triumph of the Spirit, is that both of these minority groups have had to fight to be seen for who they are, literally from the very beginning of their existence. There are two nationwide organizations made up of blind people and those organizations share very similar goals about how blind people should be viewed by non-disabled people. But as Angel Ramos said holds true for some folks who are deaf, everyone’s journey is different. And what I took that to mean about deaf people, was that some folks who cannot hear grow up never having learned American Sign Language…while other Deaf folks have figured out how to integrate themselves into the hearing world. And still, yet other people who are unable to hear, choose not to be a part of the Deaf community at all. Well, so too, do we have similar ways of thinking within the blind community. Some people who are legally blind, don’t like to use the B-word “blind” to describe themselves. People who believe this way ssay “I’m not blind; I have some usable eyesight.” But then there are other folks like myself who used to think in that way…but due to our life experiences, have shifted our perspectives. And then, in-between these two extremes, there are numerous variations of how blind or visually impaired people prefer to move through the world, just as I learned was true for deaf and Deaf folks, in reading Triumph of the Spirit.
Another similarity between the blind and Deaf community, is that both nationwide blindness organizations understand that part of advocating for the rights of People with Disabilities, means that we as PWDs will piss people off from time-to-time. And some of us, myself included, embrace that part of speaking out. Confrontation can still be uncomfortable for me sometimes…but as long as I’m heard, it doesn’t bother me that some folks think I’m a loud-mouth. Because even in Triumph of the Spirit, Angel Ramos constantly shows the readers how Deaf people went through something quite similar to what I’ve just described happens in the blind community. And each time Angel Ramos or other Deaf folks stood up for their rights, they seemed to come back the next time even more fired up. Each time hearing people and in some cases, other Deaf people, tried to silence these folks, Deaf people and many of their hearing allies would come together, armed with more information that would ultimately lead them to victory.
So all of this being said, reading Triumph of the Spirit was quite refreshing for me. Because as I’ve said above, I was skeptical about this book going into it…because I thought to myself “oh brother, this book is probably going to be filled with someone who’s bitter about being disabled” and that isn’t ever my thing. But fortunately, I was pleasantly surprised to find Triumph of the Spirit a fun book to read. Yes I was angry throughout reading it; but also, I was rooting for the Deaf community and waiting for the moment where their mission of wanting to have a Deaf President Now would happen. I cried tears of joy as well as anger…but mostly, I feel inspired by this book. I have a bit more understanding of why it’s such a big deal to people in the Deaf community that they have a Deaf president at Gallaudet University, whether they are hearing or Deaf. I identify with the anger that Deaf people have felt and will continue to feel, until we achieve equal rights for everyone, no matter our disability. But for me, what makes Triumph of the Spirit a book that I’ll encourage everyone to read, is the fact that every human being shares similar dreams, desires and feelings as one another. And this is true, even if we’re unfamiliar with how people with disabilities live their lives.