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Beyond Harvard’s emphasis on inclusion and diversity, many of its students still have a long way to go to realize that people with disabilities are people beyond our disabilities.
In a conversation with a guy I met recently amidst the craziness of the first week of freshman year, one question continued to reemerge. “Have you been in a serious relationship?” he asked me. As he would later explain to me, his surprise had more to do with the fact that a person with a disability was in a relationship rather than the fact that I, as a person, had been able to experience what a large number of young people our age have already experienced.
These kinds of reactions are not new to me. As a blind person, I am all too accustomed to being seen as an inspiration, as someone to be helped, as “the blind girl” rather than “the girl who likes to play the piano and loves morning walks.”
For many of us, having a disability eclipses, at least for those who don’t know us, any aspect of our character that in a non-disabled person would naturally draw attention. Our task is to make these people want to look beyond by talking about disability and showing that it is nothing taboo and strange, or anything more than, in my case, a pair of eyes that don’t work.
In such a visual world where the very random conversations people talk about at Annenberg start with a smile or an exchange of glances, I sometimes have a hard time facing people, putting myself out there and trying to be seen. At a university where the dating culture is based more on a visual environment (smiling at the person you’re interested in from around the corner at a party), sometimes I can’t help but think that, for me, the situation is always going to be different. But it shouldn’t have to be.
In my town, exposure to the realities of people with disabilities was always pretty low. The fact that people saw my disability as an insurmountable barrier rather than seeing it for what it is — one more difference that in the grand scheme of things that does nothing more than bring a new perspective to life — seemed normal to me.
When I came to Harvard, however, I thought things would be different. When applying to college, I imagined Harvard as a group of open-minded people who are not only different but who also accept and find beauty in each other’s differences. But in the end, that’s not exactly what I’ve come across.
Beyond the image of inclusivity that the University advertises on its admissions website, I was never told that the unfamiliarity and fear of the unknown here would still be so present.
It manifests in the conversations I never got to have because I could not see people to talk to randomly and no one dared to approach me. It’s evident when someone dares to utter a question including the word “blind” and in its many euphemisms — sometimes with fear, sometimes with inspiration — that, most of the time, they think will be offensive but, in reality, almost never is. It reveals itself in the surprise that many have when they discover that I like to party, that I go to the movies and that I have a normal life, and embedded in the question “do you need help?” which is always appreciated, but which I sometimes wish came off as something more … human. Something closer, more real, and not just a one-sided transaction where I get help and the other person feels good for helping me. Because I, as a person, am much more than that.
I am Milagros — lover of coffee (but not the kind they serve in the dining hall) and community service, terrible player of Uno, and writer of songs you can definitely sing in the shower. And beyond that, yes, I am blind. I am not an inspiration, nor an example. I make more mistakes than I could count in a day, and their number is amplified when the weekend rolls around.
My disability does not prevent me from having a normal life, personal agency, and interests that have nothing to do with it. And if you ever ask me, no, I would not date a blind person. I would date a person — nice, with a good sense of humor, who has a pleasant voice — and who, perhaps, happens to be blind. And I would give anything for everyone to think that way.
Milagros Costabel ’25, a Crimson Editorial comper, lives in Weld Hall.
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