The Bullying Face of Discrimination

When most of us think of the discrimination blind people face, we think of workplace discrimination. Things like not getting a job because the employers assume you cannot perform it or are unwilling to make the necessary adjustments so that you can perform the task.

We tend to not think of discrimination in the form of name-calling. We all assume that once people get out of their teens, they’re educated enough about blindness and other disabilities that they no longer make fun of people who have physical or mental limitations.

But remember what I said in my last post about blindness?

The main reason blind people wear sunglasses is not to protect themselves from light, it’s to protect themselves from bullies who might stare or make fun of their non-normal eyes.

My brothers and I do not wear sunglasses to cover our abnormal eyes. Although, I admit to being tempted to hide behind them and I’m sure they have days where they feel the same.

Like a few months ago when an irate customer called my brother ‘cyclops.’

While my eyelids droop due to my disease, there are days when it is barely noticeable but for my brothers, the ptsosis is severe.

I can only imagine what went through his head when this happened. All of the emotion. All of the pain of childhood bullies rushing back to him. All of the pain that comes with being different. All of the pain that comes with suffering from a chronic disorder.

My brother, this man who is brilliant at his job, who for years took his own time and money to start a local organization that fed the homeless, whose children adore him, who is relied upon by all of his friends as a trusted confidant, was reduced to the physical presentations of our disease and called ‘cyclops.’

Our disease not only causes blindness. Two years ago it nearly cost my brother his life. He suffered 3 blood clots, two of them in his lungs. He was in his early 30s. Our mitochondrial disease is ruthless, yet he survived what most doctors did not think he would.

And yet, he was called ‘cyclops.’

The customer who uttered the slur, and that what it is – a slur, didn’t just insult my brother’s physical appearance. He insulted my brother’s entire struggle against a very painful and unavoidable obstacle. He insulted all that my brother has overcome. He insulted his attempt to not give into shame and wear sunglasses to deflect such slurs.

Three decades of struggle and triumph were demeaned with one slur.

One would assume that, as discrimination in the workplace is illegal be it from a coworker or a customer, the ‘man’ would have been asked to leave the premises. He wasn’t. My brother was taken off of his account and he was dealt with by another (I assume physically perfect) employee.

In other words, my brother’s place of business endorsed this behavior. It might be passive endorsement, but it is endorsement nonetheless. Businesses should never allow the harassment of their employees. It is illegal. There is no clause that gives a pass to harassment involving physical disabilities or health issues.

The point of discrimination laws is not to give advantages to the disabled. They are there to protect us from harassment and to level the playing field. They are also there to educate the masses about the effects of hate-speech. They are there to show you that it’s not just a physical attribute you are demeaning, it is a whole person with a full life and a lifetime of struggles you’ve never faced and god-willing won’t ever need to.

Remember all of this the next time you’re having a bad day and feel the need to take it out someone. Remember the kind of effect it can have and pay attention to the weight of the words you speak.

…Of course, this guy didn’t know the real reason why my brother was so insulted at being called Cyclops. He’s a Wolverine fan. And all of you X-Men lovers out there know that there is no greater insult to Wolverine than to put him on par with that yuppie Cyclops. Am I right?…



  1. Much love to you and your brother. When we become unconscious and stop being present, we unwittingly cause a great deal of pain and suffering. I am sorry that you experienced this.

    • That’s why it is so important to think about the words we choose. We have all been guilty of saying things that are cruel, either intentionally or unintentionally. Goodness knows I’ve said my fair share of harsh things that I wish I could take back. All we can do is move forward and strive to pay closer attention to the things we say.

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