I Have a Visual Disability, And I Want You To Look Me In the Eye | NYT Opinion


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I Have a Visual Disability, And I Want You To Look Me In the Eye | NYT Opinion



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In the Opinion video above, James Robinson, a filmmaker from Maine, shows what it feels like to live with several disabling eye conditions that have defied an array of treatments and caused him countless humiliations. Using playful graphics and enlisting his family as subjects in a series of optical tests, he invites others to view the world through his eyes.

But his video is also an essay on seeing, in the deeper sense of the word — seeing and being seen, recognition and understanding, sensitivity and compassion, the stuff of meaningful human connection.

In a society that does a lousy job of accommodating the disabled, Mr. Robinson appeals for more acceptance of people who are commonly perceived as different or not normal.

“I don’t have a problem with the way that I see,” he says. “My only problem is with the way that I’m seen.”

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23 Comments

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  1. Hi I'm James, and I produced this film for Opinion Video. I wanted to show what it's like to live with 'whale eyes,' and how using a little imagination can make us more empathetic to people who see things differently.

    If you have any questions about the video and how I made it, post it below and I'll do my best to answer!

  2. I usually tell people that I'm going to look like Jean-Paul Sartre but I'll never have his intellect. I've lost one of my eyes' sight due to glaucoma (not the entire field but the most important part, the macula) and therefore I have a mild version of strabismus. It makes harder to evaluate near objects positions, but once you get used to it you can pour wine in a glass without staining the table cloth.

    Nice video, I can relate to the subject.

  3. I'm not sure how I feel about this video. It feels sort of superficial in how it deals with the psychology of other-ness. We all have an unusual reactions to unusual things. We are not sure how to talk to blind people, we tend to overdo our compassion towards disabled people sometimes treating them as children or as if they need our pity. We are surprised by their self-deprecating humor. When we meet somebody with vocal cord disfunction, we feel so bad when we don't understand the first time or even the second time. It makes all parties feel awkward. My point is, on some level, this is unavoidable and the pain inflicted is nobody's mistake. Of course we can and should educate ourselves on these issues so that we don't make other people feel uncomfortable or excluded. But let's keep in mind that it is a process that takes much effort, experience and maturity. And we will always keep running into the unexpected no matter what. We will be caught off-guard. The eyes issue is one that is especially complex, as we are hard-wired into getting our clues from other people's eyes. It is on a primal biological level that our inner computer is confused when we don't know how to read the eyes. We will feel (and sometimes show) uncertainty in these unexpected circumstances, that's just a sad fact. (BTW: many of us struggle establishing a healthy eye-contact with pretty much anybody.) This video seems to aim not only on sharing a legitimate experience of feelings of exclusion that all of us may be helped by reflecting upon but also somewhat tries to fix the problem by rebuking the so to speak "happy and selfish people on the ship". That in my view is not a wise approach based in a solid understanding of the issue.

  4. This was harder to watch than I expected. I had this and it was corrected with surgery. I still don't have depth perception, I still injure myself due to it, I still can't process where things are if they're moving.

    But people look me in the eye now. I can connect with people. And until I had the surgery, I wondered if I would ever experience that. I grew up crossing my eyes when I talked to people. If you can imagine crossing your eyes, that's still what it was like for me. My vision was too blurry to see them but they could see me, my eyes would be straight. If I needed to see I left myself open to the comments and questions.

    I honestly thought I would never experience love or romance because "eye contact" was such a thing.

    I would date someone with whale eyes in a heartbeat. Just look at the eye looking at you.

  5. I find this video weird more than anything. I have a friend who's eye used to not follow his other one (he got surgery so now his eyes are aligned) and nobody ever made him feel uncomfortable or just avoided talking about his eyes including me.
    Nobody I know would ever be weird around someone with a condition like this for no reason.

    I don't understand how a person like the guy in this video can end up feeling as if they're missing an arm and a leg with just having an eye problem. How did we get here? Why are people so afraid to straight up ask him or look at the eye that's looking back at them? This is such a relatively minor thing for someone to be feeling so insecure and awkward about it, makes you think how awfully people can handle these things. I do think this is exaggerated for dramatic effect, but still man, it's not like he's an alien, weird eyes on people are quite common bruh

    It's ridiculous in my opinion that I have to say this but, in case you don't know what to do when encountering someone different, just ask them about whatever that is and don't be scared to talk about it or observe it. They won't take it personally, if anything they expect people to notice it anyway so let's make it educational instead of awkward and potentially damaging, they'd probably like to tell you about it themselves if you give them a chance in order to fit in better.

  6. if you would look straight at person and he/she waved his/her hand on your .. well.. "lazy" eye, but you keep looking straight.. would you then be blind at that eye and only see the hand when you switch the eye?

  7. Thank you for producing the video. My left eye does that too when I am tired. When that happens, the person I am having conversation with naturally look over his/her right shoulder. It is pretty interesting to watch because I know why.

  8. 3D doesn't happen just because of the mix of the 2 images. Close 1 eye and you will still see everything in 3D. Nonsese. BUT You can understand his situation if you look to a pencil using only the left eye and then only the right eye. The point of view is completely different.

  9. Strangely enough, I don't know all the terms for what I have, but my eyes are very similar to James's, perhaps less pronounced. I know I had surgeries, but I know it wasn't a full correction.

    Everything shifting when I change eyes is just how I've always seen things. I'm definitely going to share this to help people understand.

    Honestly, I normally forget that this is even a part of who I am. When I suddenly remember, it can hurt. Normally, this happens when I meet someone for the first time, say something to them, and they turn around because they think I'm talking to someone else behind them. After a second or two, they realize I was talking to *them*. It's a painful reminder that it's the first thing I can experience when meeting someone. It doesn't happen every time, but it happens often enough that I'm not surprised yet I still don't know how to feel about that being a person's first reaction to me.

    In rare cases, people handle it very poorly. I remember being at an airport waiting in line for a restaurant. A man approached me, saying he didn't have money for food, and asked if I could give him money to buy something. I don't give money in situations like this, but I had some extra energy bars in my bag, so I thought I could give him food instead. As I started handing him the food, he said "WOAH! WHAT'S WRONG WITH YOUR EYES!" This was hard for me to handle, especially because I had wanted to help him. I decided it was best to just return the food to my bag, walk away, and wrestle with my feelings later.

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