by Cheryl Fields
From the Editor: Cheryl Fields is the vice president of the National Federation of the Blind of Cleveland, Ohio. She offers here a revealing story of abuse that she has overcome and wishes to point the way for others suffering abuse. Here is what she says:
Living with and managing a life of independence while being victimized by an abusive partner is challenging. The ability to live in a world expecting and anticipating an opportunity to excel and thrive in society really was my goal when I lost my vision.
However, there was a huge barrier that held me back: an insidious crime in the land. It is traumatic, fuels terror, bruises the psyche, and often kills. Its name is domestic violence. I was introduced to intimate partner abuse when I was eighteen years old. But, not until ten years later, after two children and suddenly losing my vision, did I realize how much danger my children and I were in.
Domestic violence affects one out of four women in the general population. Domestic violence affects blind women at a much higher and alarming rate. Some statistics say approximately three out of four, others estimate one in three blind women. Let’s agree on the fact it happens more often, and most victims remain silent.
The NFB contributes significantly to how I thrive today. At the age of twenty-seven, I found myself suddenly and unexpectedly blind, with two very young children and an abusive partner. The physical abuse continued until I was thirty-two years old. Unaccountably I believed that when I lost my vision, he would stop. That never happened. It only escalated! I had an up-close-and-personal view of various types of abuse, and for years I remained silent.
While receiving rehabilitation services in the mid-80s, there were some rules my abusive husband demanded. I was not allowed to learn how to ride the bus independently, and I could not become too friendly with the blind people. I broke every rule! It was important to me to learn everything that I could while away from the house. Thank God for a very perceptive and creative orientation and mobility instructor. He figured out a way to teach me the skills I would need to become independent. During this time I was periodically unable to think any further than how to get my clothes on properly and keep up with my children.
The crime that was inflicted on me took on the form of financial, verbal, sexual, and physical abuse. I never told a soul. I was silent! After all, my husband had provided for us, loved his children, and denied me nothing other than respect and dignity. I was repeatedly reminded of my many flaws, including the most recent one—blindness. I was told that I was useless, incompetent, and an overall waste of a human being. My life was shattered, and I was broken. As stated previously, I had hoped that the blindness would result in the cessation of the physical abuse since I was blind. Still I remained silent. When I tried to fight back, nothing worked. One of his many threats included placing me into a nursing home, and his family supported this idea. My priority became conquering my blindness and becoming whole again. I never thought about employment or continuing my education. My days were filled with trying to become a super mom and loving wife.
But then, one day a school mate was shot and killed by her husband while her young son looked on. I attended that funeral service. Listening to the sobs of Sharon’s very young, heartbroken son, I knew that I had to get out. But I had no clue of how to execute my escape. A few weeks later my husband beat me in the parking lot at a local mall. The police were called, and he was asked to leave. The policeman told me that my husband would not return, and I would be safe. “Just sit right here and wait.” While sitting there crying and alone, my husband returned. He tried to convince me that I fell, that he did not beat me, and that the people who witnessed this were mistaken and should mind their own business. He said that I needed to come with him. I panicked! I ran through the mall into a department store and hid. No one tried to help me.
Later my aunt and uncle arrived to pick me up. I told them everything. Finally the silence was broken! I filed for divorce and received temporary custody of our children. For the next four years he hauled me in and out of court, accusing me of being an unfit mother. Although this was stressful and costly, I refused to give up or give in and retained custody. This experience taught me how to persevere under pressure and not to remain silent in the face of abuse. These victories prompted me to want to give back and encourage others. That is when I connected with the NFB.
Moving from victim to survivor is a big step, but I took a step further. I was amazed at the accomplishments of NFB members, the energy and effectiveness of advocacy, and the genuine sharing. And now I am thriving!
It is crucial for the NFB to speak up and speak out for the silent, blind victims of domestic violence. How can we ask those that live under the constant threat and fear of bodily injury, struggling emotionally and financially, to follow us on the road to independence? Finding a voice to speak up against bad employment practices, asking for reasonable accommodations for education, and the courage to leave home for guide dog training sounds like a dream for many blind victims of domestic violence.
The Ohio affiliate is committed to educating our Federation family about the effects of intimate partner abuse. I encourage each affiliate to make a conscience effort to examine domestic abuse. It is a key to real independence and strength. Notice the false faces, listen to the silent pleas of blind victims, and have the courage to let them know that it is not blindness that holds them back!
I leave you with the words of Dr. Maya Angelou, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.” And a resource to keep in mind: The National Domestic Violence Hotline number is 800-799-7233 or TTY 800-787-3224