A few days ago I was scrolling through my Twitter feed when I saw a promotion that instantly caught my attention. On Tuesday, September 18, 2018, the Baltimore Orioles & National Federation of the Blind are teaming up to raise awareness about vision loss. My favorite team? A cause I care deeply about? TELL ME MORE!
Baltimore Orioles & National Federation of the Blind Debut Braille Jerseys
In honor of the 40th anniversary of the National Federation of the Blind relocating their headquarters to Baltimore, the Orioles are hosting the organization on September 18 during their game against the Toronto Blue Jays. That night, Orioles players and coaches will become the first American professional sports team to wear jerseys with their names spelled using Braille. The first 15,000 fans in attendance will also receive cards featuring the Braille alphabet, handed out by volunteers from the National Federation of the Blind. Following the game, the jerseys worn by the players and coaches will be auctioned off online, with the proceeds benefiting the National Federation of the Blind.
On a personal note, this promotion could not have come at a more appropriate time. In August, I had a setback with my myopic macular degeneration. My right eye, which has historically been my “good” eye, experienced an active bleed. A few days after being treated, a second hemorrhage appeared in the same eye. Given it’s appearance and location in my vision, I anticipate that it is a benign bleed – but I won’t know for certain until my next appointment at the end of the month. These two episodes combined have left my right eye with a visual acuity of 20/225, surpassing the qualification of legal blindness. My left eye has been sufficient for work, but at the moment I unfortunately don’t meet the legal visual acuity to be able to drive (20/40 or better in at least one eye). I am trying to remain hopeful that a few more rounds of treatment will restore enough of my vision to resume driving, but there are no guarantees.
Fan Response to the Braille Jerseys
Given my situation mentioned above, I was obviously very moved to hear about this joint promotion between the Baltimore Orioles & National Federation of the Blind. Other individuals impacted by visual impairment expressed their appreciation as well. It was nice to have an opportunity to connect with other fans of the Orioles who experience similar day-to-day struggles as myself.
Unfortunately there were also plenty of fans who decided to use this as a chance to complain about the team or make insensitive comments about the promotion in an attempt to be humorous. I do my best to avoid getting into arguments with people online. That being said, I still want to address a number of the comments that were left, and lucky for me, I have this fabulous platform to do so!
“You know blind people can’t see the jerseys, right?”
There were a lot of iterations of this. And I think it comes from the very narrow view most people have of what blindness means. Yes, there are some people for whom their blindness is a complete absence of light and form. But they make up a small percentage of the total number of people who identify as legally blind. Blindness is a spectrum, and even if a legally blind person cannot see the jersey from a distance or as clearly as regularly sighted people, that doesn’t mean they don’t appreciate it. Wearing these Braille-lettered jerseys is as much about raising awareness as it is about making people feel represented.
“Who needs to be made aware of blind people?”
Generally the response when another individual would point out the awareness angle. To which I wanted to yell, “Clearly YOU DO, because, say it with me: blindness is a spectrum.” And it’s true that most people don’t seem to be aware of that. I know I certainly had misconceptions about what constituted blindness for the majority of my life. Aside from that, blindness and sight loss aren’t conditions that receive a lot of representation at this level. It’s something that people are generally aware of, sure. But say the words retinitis pigmentosa, Stargardt’s, Best’s disease, macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy, ocular albinism, or choroideremia, and few will have any idea what you’re talking about. These are just a couple of the genetic diseases which cause permanent sight loss, with no current treatment to restore vision or prevent further damage. The more we can raise the profiles of conditions like this and those diagnosed with them, the better the chances for research and understanding of the support and resources blind people need.
“I wish I was blind after watching this season.”
These were the comments where I really had to bite my tongue, y’all. Yes, the Orioles are historically terrible this year. That’s not a secret. But guess what – I STILL WANT TO WATCH THEM. I would love to have the guarantee that I’ll still be able to see them after the rebuild and they return to winning. When I wrote on my bucket list that I want to see the Orioles win a World Series, I don’t just mean I want it to happen in my lifetime. I want it to happen when I still have enough of my vision to fully enjoy it the way I have my entire life. I happily invite every single person who made some form of this joke to come with my to my next appointment and receive an injection in one of their eyes right along side me, since I am one of the lucky ones whose retina condition actually has a form of treatment to slow down my vision loss. Regardless of how any season goes, I consider each one that I can watch a blessing.
Phew, that felt good. Thanks for letting me get that out. And thank you again so much to the Baltimore Orioles & National Federation of the Blind for creating these jerseys, and the wonderful work that you do to enrich this community. Tickets for the September 18th game can be purchased on the Orioles website.
About the National Federation of the Blind
“The National Federation of the Blind is the only organization that believes in the full capacity of blind people, and has the power, influence, diversity, and determination to help transform our dreams into reality. We believe in blind people because we are blind people. Our democratically elected leaders and our diverse nationwide membership are made up of blind people, our families, and our friends. We are bound together by our belief that the blind are capable of achieving our dreams and living the lives we want, and by the love and respect we have for one another and for all blind Americans. We support one another, act with courage and determination when we encounter barriers or experience setbacks, and engage in collective action to improve our lives.” You can learn more about them at https://nfb.org/