I am a pretty typical single woman with friends, a good job and a busy life. I also happen to be born with primary congenital glaucoma, an autosomal mutation, meaning it’s not hereditary. I have a disability but I am not damaged.
Right now I can safely say my glaucoma, which left me blind in my right eye, doesn’t affect me at all. I spent years learning how to adapt, and now, with the exception of a personal choice to not drive even though I technically legally can and have in the past, I live a perfectly normal life.
Unlike the typical assumptions about disability, my blindness has not left me stupid, asocial, asexual, weird, or nonfunctional.
I am bad at team sports as a result of my vision problems, but I don’t play them so why should anyone care? My blindness never stopped me from making friends. It never stopped me from getting two master’s degrees and graduating valedictorian of my high school class with the governor general’s academic medal. It hasn’t stopped me from a successful career in journalism, scriptwriting, and then medical research. It hasn’t kept me from the Ivy League. It hasn’t stopped dozens of parents from trusting me with their kids as a popular part-time nanny in my community. It hasn’t stopped me from being an excellent cook, a warm, loyal, and patient person, or a good friend. It also didn’t seem to put a damper on my looks: I have blonde hair, blue eyes, a small nose, and a Marilyn Monroe hourglass figure, and get male attention all the time.
Then I became modern orthodox (baalat teshuva) and entered the shidduch world. I got dozens of matches. The guys seemed great: educated, interesting, ambitious. I accepted the vast majority of them.
Then, I waited, with bated breath, as one by one, all of them turned me down.
My shadchan was in shock. She met me in person and told me that I’m going to be an easy one to marry, because I’m so pretty and smart and accomplished and have a great personality. We pored over my profile and I edited it to the letter, removing anything that might even potentially be misconstrued. She sent me more matches. Again, all came back with rejections. I spoke to another woman, a friend who is familiar with the shidduch world. I showed her my profile and she immediately gasped: “it says you have a disability. Take. That. Off. Right. Now!!!
I didn’t realize there was much of a stigma against a disability, which I explained in the required section didn’t affect me at all in my daily life and does not prevent me from doing anything I want to do. People are petrified of disabilities, as if they are a disease that will give you cooties or something for just being around them.
I made it clear though that I live a full, unhindered, and productive life and that such things simply don’t apply to me at all.
Either they don’t look past the “Yes” answer to “do you have a disability?” and see how I elaborate, or they simply recoil from even the mere thought of marrying “damaged goods”.
I find that sad.
My disability taught me patience and compassion. It taught me resilience unlike anything else. It taught me to overcome any obstacles that come my way with grace and confidence. It taught me to never say I can’t, to shrug off all its limitations until they no longer exist, to see the impossible as something that is merely a hurdle to be overcome.
It taught me that different doesn’t mean less. It taught me that with hard work any goal can be achieved. It taught me that if I can dream something I can do it.
After undergoing ten surgeries to get my sight back in my left eye, it made me appreciate life and all it has to offer, and make the most of it. It made me a positive person.
It taught me to work hard in school to get the top grades, grades that got me into the Ivy League, just as I worked hard on adapting to overcome this disability.
So all the good things I describe above, ironically qualities that men actually like in a future spouse, are because of my disability, not in spite of it.
So when you are matched with someone who is totally functional in spite of a disability, I know your first instinct is to recoil. It is, after all, Darwin’s natural selection at work, your innate desire to produce healthy offspring and increase your fitness – a biological term that refers to how many of your offspring go on to reproduce offspring that reach sexual maturity. But please reconsider what you think of when you see the word “disability.”
Disability can mean resilient, caring. Empathetic, hardworking, ambitious, persevering, resourceful, and many other qualities, as many of the traits that we are required to have in order to overcome our disabilities and love normal and enriching lives also traits that make people successful at marriage and, ultimately, life.
So when you see that your match has a disability with no practical implications, think twice. Read their description. See the person beyond it.
It might be just the person you were looking for.