Opinion: The Person thats Me

THIS LIFE Becoming blind as an adult forced Chris Parkington to relearn old skills and find new strengths

Sometimes I wonder who I really am. I’ve been Donald and Della’s daughter, and Lindy’s older sister. I’ve been Wilf ’s wife, Daniel’s mother and Annette’s mother-in-law. I’ve been Mrs Parkington or “Miss” to countless schoolchildren of all ages. And now? Now I am a statistic.

I am not a common statistic, as I am both totally blind and in a wheelchair; but a statistic all the same. And because of this, many professionals believe they know exactly what I need. They haven’t asked me. They just know, because that is what the textbooks told them when they were training. In social services reports my disabilities are listed in black and white, for all to see. Not my abilities; just my disabilities.

When I attended a social services day centre for a couple of days a week for three years, all possible sources of risk were removed from my life. Woodwork, cookery, sewing – all were reduced to the skill level of a five-year-old. “Don’t use those scissors; they are sharp!” – it was as if I had never studied dissection and learned that a blunt instrument is dangerous, not a well-sharpened one.

No wonder that most blind clients soon came to believe that almost all household chores were beyond them.

So I ask again: who am I? As a person I am an artist, a craft er, a musician, a writer and a scientist. I design and make greetings cards which I sell for a local charity. I am an active volunteer for several local, regional and national organisations, including Stockton Blind People’s Voice, the North Tees Primary Care Trust health forum and Skills for Care.

Many things I have been involved in the past have helped me since I lost my sight in 1999. Having taught children to read made it easier to learn to read Braille. Having crafted meant that, once I regained the confidence to use my crafting tools and materials, I found my fingers could feel what my eyes had seen.

I learned how to use a computer and screen-reading software to write and read e-mails, and from these made many new friends across the world. They have taught me more about living with sight loss than any professional has.

Being blind hasn’t made me a better person. However, I have become far more aware of other people and their needs. I have listened to the way in which I have been spoken to, treated or told I should be grateful for what I have when I have tried to improve things for myself or others. Now I use my experiences to empower myself: to speak for those without a voice and for those too afraid of recriminations to tell the truth.

Working through Skills for Care I want to spread the word that everyone deserves a say in what happens to them, and where they wish their place to be in the world, whatever their abilities or disabilities. Who am I? I am me! 

Chris Parkington uses a wheelchair and is blind

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