S1: Episode 36 - Robert Dittman

Episode Information

[Intro Music]

Narrator:  Welcome to My Heart is Not Blind. Narrative histories about blindness and perception. A traveling exhibition and book published by Trinity University Press, supported by Kronkosky Charitable Foundation, edited and hosted by Michael Nye. Stories are often found, resting along the edges of surprise and revelation. Every person, every place is a map to somewhere else. Episode 36, Robert Dittman.

Robert:  I kid you not, if I could have my vision today, I would turn it down. I don’t need it. I do not need vision to be me. I have done more incredible things as a blind person than most sided people will ever do in their lifetime. There is nothing wrong with me being blind. I’m not broken. It doesn’t mean that I am less of a person just because I cannot see. I am a third year law student attending St. Mary’s University School of Law. I’ve got about a year to go and I will graduate. And no matter what I do, I refused to be placed in the box that sighted people try to put me in. My parents were of two minds. My father had no problem supporting me as a blind person, fine, you can do anything anybody else can do. Let’s make that happen.

My mother, while supportive, held onto the view that save the eyesight you have now, because it’s precious. My mother would always say, open your eyes. Look at this. Look at that, even when I physically could not do it anymore. And in her reality, it is not acceptable for a blind person to be blind, for her child to have a disability and affliction, a condition, if you will. When in my world, it was such a relief to transition from partially sighted to completely blind because I was no longer trying to be something that I physically could not be. When I was in primary school. And sometimes still even an adult, it’s often strange the way I’m treated. Children, of course, we all know can be cruel, but they can be very honest. Uh, I remember some phrases such as, don’t let him touch you. You’ll go blind.

If they had a particular girl that they wouldn’t like, they would say, well, you and the blind guy are going to get married and have, you know, freaky little children. When you hear these things as a child, it’s, it’s devastating. If you internalize it negatively, you’ll go mad. If you take it and channel it into positive, it’s almost hunger, uh, a fever that you must be as good if not better than the sighted. All humans have the ability to be compassionate, loving, but we also have the ability to be cruel and insensitive, heartless. And the choice is, which one are you gonna use? One of the most important gifts that we all have as, as human beings that we forget is humor. I think if we remember that, then we will break down all the barriers that, that the sighted or the blind put up, both internally and externally. It’s a funny world, and it doesn’t matter whether you can see it or whether you can’t. Uh, an example, there was a blind guy who walks into a bar and grabs his seeing eye dog leash and swings him around in a circle, and the bartender says, what in the world are you doing? And he goes, oh, just looking around <laugh>.

When I think of objects like a football, green grass, a cow, it’s not so much the visual reference that’s important. It’s more the emotion that these words invoke. But to a blind person, I can’t say, oh, it’s a, it’s a jersey cow. It’s a black and white cow because they, it doesn’t mean anything to them. And it’s not as important as, Hey, do you remember that cow? Man? It stunk and it had all kinds of flies around it, and it, it made that noise that, <cow mooing noise> you know, those are important concepts that a blind person would attach to the reference.

As a child, I did not use a dog. I used a cane. And the way I have described getting a dog is I turned in my moped for a Porsche. Snickers knows I’m blind. He will grab a toy and run in the corner and know I can’t find him. They know, but they are the most loving, loyal, kind, obedient, faithful dogs, brilliant partners that I could ever have. It’s indescribable the bond between myself and my dog. The one thing that I I really want people to understand is step outside of your dependence on vision. I mean, even little things. Go sit in a dark room for an hour and open your ears and listen. Go touch something. But also remember that they’re not experienced true blindness because they always psychologically can turn on that light, whereas a blind person can’t. But it’s at, at least a glimpse into the world that we live. And it’s not a terrible place. It’s not a horrible, miserable world that we exist in. It is a beautiful world and an exciting and adventurous world. And vibrant world, just as relevant as the sighted world. It’s different. It’s no less.

[Outro Music]

Host:  Robert graduated from law school, passed the bar examination, and now is a practicing attorney. He listens to Irish music. It’s a form of expression that can be sad, melancholy, joyful, all at the very same time. He became blind as a result of a premature birth in receiving too much oxygen. It’s a condition called retinopathy of prematurity. It’s the same condition that Stevie Wonder and Ray Charles had. I admire Robert his empathy and determination. His voice is enthusiastic and honest. He takes risk. Someone once told Robert that he had a cartoon personality. He was never serious. Robert said, I’ve had many great experiences, but also I’ve had many cruel heart shattering experiences, and as a child, it’s devastating. So I might as well be funny and use humor and laugh and joke. I choose humor. Both sighted and blind people have the ability to be compassionate and loving. He said they also have the ability to be cruel and heartless. When you get out of bed in the morning, what emotions are you going to use as your compass to interact with others?

Join us next week, two new episodes will be released. Please subscribe, rate, and review this podcast. You can also go to my website, michaelnye.org/podcast. for portraits and transcripts, thank you for listening.