Claiming my Place - Sue Mellsopp

By NZ Human Rights Commission

"I am a published writer, avid reader, classical music lover and concert-goer...the opinion of others on my life challenges are not important" 

Disability is a word I find difficult to align with, I much prefer ‘ability’. The dictionary defines ‘dis’ as apart, negative, a reversing force. I take pride in my abilities, despite being severely vision impaired and a guide dog handler. I do not believe I am ‘different’. Semantics, full of presupposition and textual implications can be a disempowering and limiting force.

My lack of sight does not depict or describe who I am. I was born severely short sighted and my eyes continued to deteriorate until I experienced retinal detachments in my early fifties. Poor sight is not a factor in my more recent life experiences. I am a published writer, avid reader, classical music lover and concert-goer.  Friends are a wonderful distraction. I have a Master of Philosophy degree with Distinction and worked for ten years in a profession where I was the only person with a vision impairment. Travel is a passion, I have had several long overseas jaunts travelling solo with my white cane and staying mostly in hostels and backpacker lodges.

Many times I have been bound by people’s confining narratives and outdated restricting beliefs in what they interpret as my in-abilities. I deny the circumscribed and old fashioned expectations they have of me, much to their obvious disillusionment. Adhering to a more pragmatic view that the opinion of others on my life challenges are not important is a mantra I now follow. The biggest compliment I receive is when people forget I have sight issues and just expect me to live a normal life.  

Working for several years in the ‘ability’ sector as both a volunteer and a paid employee made me realise that having any type of impairment does not represent who I am. Few now dare to treat me as less than equal, and those that attempt to are soon educated to acknowledge and realise poor sight does not dim one’s other life options and potential.

I have claimed my place within the ‘norms’ of society, and set my own challenging agenda. I continually invite other people with ‘abilities’ not to be dominated by the public perception of their dis-ability and to explore their dreams.  


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