Pinky Fang: experiencing both invisible and visible disability

Today as we celebrate the International Day of People with Disabilities, we hear from Wellington-based artist Pinky Fang. Pinky is visually impaired and has experienced both invisible and visible disability. She says all disabled people deserve respect.

A young woman stands in front of her colour street art with her dog

Pinky says: One of the first things people often say to me when I disclose my disability is ‘You don’t look blind!’ I’ve been told I should take it as a compliment, but I don’t.

I wasn’t born blind, but my eye condition has been worsening my entire life. Up until around age 26, I got these comments a lot. I had no visual signifiers that there was anything going on with my eyes. That is until I would walk into or trip over something other people would spot a mile off. 

People would still just assume I was drunk or very clumsy. 

Once I got a cane things changed. I became a visibly disabled person. The relief was palpable. When people couldn’t see my disability, I felt like I shouldered a lot of guilt and embarrassment for getting in peoples way, walking slowly, bumping into shoppers in a crowded mall. With my cane I could finally say, Hey look I can’t see you so it’s on you to get out my way, sorry about it!

After a few years I got my Guide Dog, who is a huge improvement on the cane in a lot of ways.

But now I would get asked constantly if I was training my Guide Dog for a blind person. When I would say no, she’s for me - they’d reply with ‘Oh but you don’t look blind!’ Aaand there it was again. 

I think part of the reason why people think this way about me is because I appear to be doing so much that they don’t think I should be able to do. I am a freelance artist, I hang out with my friends in bars, I DJ, I put on makeup and dress up, I go to movies & live gigs. These things are not always easy to do, but I do them because I enjoy them, and why shouldn’t I? 

Pinky works on one of her artworks using spray cans

Another large part of this is the unforgiving nature of the word ‘blind’. A lot of people don’t realise that blind doesn’t always mean you have absolutely no sight at all, in fact the vast majority of people registered with the Blind Foundation do have some useful vision. A fact reflected in the organisation’s recent decision to change their name to Blind Low Vision NZ. 

I now tell people I have ‘low vision’ or am ‘visually impaired’ which usually helps people understand why I can still see some things and can’t see others. But still, without either my cane or my guide dog - my disability remains invisible. 

Pinky sits on the couch with her guide dog Lyric

There are many issues that you have to contend with when you have an invisible disability, not least the lack of understanding that comes from the general public. So that’s why when people proclaim that I don’t look blind, I don’t take it as a compliment.

Being blind, or disabled in any way, is not something to be ashamed of. These kind of attitudes meant I hid my challenges for a long time, feeling like appearing able bodied was a charade I needed to keep up in order to be respected.

Thankfully I feel those views in society shifting, and I look forward to a future where people with all disabilities are respected, whether their challenges are visible or not. 

Pinky & her dog Lyric crouch in front of an artwork reading "Fang 2020"

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