Note: this essay is a revised version of a plenary talk delivered at the 2009 meeting of SDS in Tucson, Arizona. Special thanks to Bryan Bashin, Cliff Chase, Lisa Cohen, Anne Finger, Georgina Kleege, and Babette Schmitt (who also gets photo credits), as well as to the anonymous readers and staff of DSQ.

When I was a little girl my mother would place me and my sister in a rickety seat for two on the back of her black bicycle to shuttle us around to her errands in suburbia. This was in the early years of this hard-to-categorize not-city, not-country experiment, when whole communities sprouted from the lush northern California landscape almost overnight. Nobody wore helmets in the early 1960s, so my younger sister's long blond hair, almost white, and my shorter golden head must have been quite the spectacfle, especially when Mom balanced three giant bags of groceries on the front basket. Nobody rode bikes either, so lots of cars screeched close and honked, often yelling "nasty words," and sometimes even throwing cans and papers and other stuff out the windows at us.

I hated it. I often came home dirty, hot, and terrified. Why couldn't we ride in fast, clean cars like all our friends, I wanted to know. "Why do you always want to be like other people?" Mom would shoot back, with her favorite counter-accusation. Realizing that this didn't work, she'd pull out the big guns: "We're special!" she'd exclaim.

I wasn't buying it, any more than I was buying the fact that I had what my teacher called "special" large print books too big to fit in my desk. Or that I had to spend several hours a week in a class called "special education." I don't remember doing much except listening to a clock tick as I waited for Danny the Spaz, Slow Ronnie, and - worst of all - Carol C., the girl who had about as much vision as me, to finish the same mindless tasks I had just raced through. This "special" thing had too much to do with projectiles from cars and taunts from my fellow students when I slunk out of class forced to join the other black sheep.

How is it that I went from fleeing those black sheep to finding many of them a source of comfort and, yes, of inspiration?

Two key terms shaped how I came to think about being a disabled person, terms that have tyrannized and traumatized people with disabilities for far too long. My evolving relationship to the words and what they represented simultaneously signaled my growing radicalization and my coming to peace with a status quo that I feared had excluded me. First, there's that sappy word "special." It once might have suggested innovation and new ways of thinking about a category of people who had never been taken seriously. Today it remains an empty euphemism in mainstream society. And yet, a careful look at its true meaning suggests possibilities for reclaiming it. Second, as someone located on that vast spectrum between 20-20 and total darkness, I have a complicated relationship to the term "blind." Like "disabled," "blind" both illuminates and obscures how we define ourselves as Other. Critical Disability Studies needs to come face to face with how our field has absorbed the limits embedded in these orthodoxies, therefore inadvertently perpetuating ideas that many of us find problematic, even abhorrent. Such questioning of the terms we have too long taken for granted opens up new possibilities for both scholarship and activism at the core of our field.

But first, what is this word "special"? My Roget's Thesaurus lists the following synonyms: "classificational," "detailed," "notable," "other," and "particular." The words could be read along two axes, both related to differentiation. The first axis is familiar in the world of disability because it points to difference itself, the word "other" being the clearest example. Many people with disabilities would agree that the cringe factor of "special" when uttered in that special sappy tone of voice comes from a visceral realization: we're being set apart, and not in a notable, distinguished, positive way. Somehow "special" manages to bundle the over-the-top super-crip with the under-achieving victim in an amazing rhetorical sleight of hand that discards us in the very act of offering praise. Therefore we are special but in ways contrary to how we'd like to imagine ourselves.

To my surprise as someone who has found disability itself increasingly hard to define, "special" took on qualities of precision and exactness when read along a second axis of synonyms. Words such as "classificational," "detailed," and "particular" suggest that maybe "special" could help demystify disability as a slippery, ever-changing concept at the core of so much medical, legal, artistic, activist, and scholarly thinking. My reasoning goes like this: if special gets used in place of disabled, and special means something detailed and particular, then maybe disability offers something conceptually solid to grasp. Of course, as with so much related to disability, even the idea of solidity is open to some interpretation.

This brings me back to my misadventures on Mom's bike, and more specifically to suburbia. Marketed as the perfect blend of town and country, our neighborhood was a mush of ambiguity. Urbanites like my parents had been seduced by the promise of a world that had it all, an environment so hybrid that it potentially had a place for everyone. They could have the country life without having to shoot bears and carry water. Children could roam and congregate with others of their breed, all within eye- or earshot but without the unpredictable risks of city or farm. Everything (and everyone) was new and clean, safe. Alas, because my parents, who had aspirations to being free spirits, moved to suburbia in its infancy, they couldn't know that ambiguity also created a craving for conformity.

Just maybe the overnight transformations of land that marked my northern California childhood were defining disability for us in ways both large and small. Preparing for new crops of houses and the six-lane arteries that sustained them, giant tractors plowed under native grasses, shrubs, and trees, scattering in their wake scores of bird and animal species. In retrospect, I can easily imagine my mother, sister, and me on a bike as yet another species that disturbed the new orderly flow in a place where everything looked similar enough to my lousy eyes that I was terrified of ending up at the wrong door. My world was one of ranch houses without peeling paint or brown spots on the lawns, each with a driveway that contained an American-made automobile of appropriate size and color, leading to streets lined by trees of the same age and height. Just like the increasingly unblemished produce at the brightly lit new supermarket up the block, each house was perfect in its way, enough like the others that it didn't raise questions about who lived within.

How else to explain why so many people in cars hassled a woman on a bicycle with her two young daughters and week's groceries, other than the urge to eradicate a blemish?

Of course, speeding by in their cars, the screamers and trash-tossers couldn't know why my Mom was on a bike. Even I didn't know. It wouldn't be until I was in high school, when she accidentally walked off an embankment while on vacation in Mexico, that I was forced to confront the fact that my mother had problems of her own. The revelation came to me in little jolts — over the course of a day, a week, a month:

Something was wrong with Mom's eyes.

Mom didn't see as well as Dad, even though he wore glasses and she didn't.

Mom couldn't drive because she couldn't see.

Whatever it was I had, Mom had too.

All this came as such a huge shock. Mom had been so good at passing. And I had been so eager to believe her performance that I played a supporting role by not asking any questions. In fact, I liked it so much that I studied her every move so that I could integrate it into my own repertoire. Like her, I resolved to push ahead, feigning surprise and even indignation if someone offered help; clearly it was their problem, not mine. Just as I believed Mom had done, I threw myself into walls — sometimes literally — to prove to the world and to myself that I wasn't special.

Though I shared my mother's genes, I was an anomaly: while most people go from sight to blindness, my physical journey took me in the opposite direction, from blindness to sight. I was born two months premature and totally blind with cataracts. Then one evening several months later, my dad used his new camera to take a picture of me nestled in their butterfly chair. When the flash went off, I started. This wasn't supposed to happen. Realizing that my eyes might still be functioning, my parents whisked me off for the first of what would be a series of operations that would punctuate my life until early adulthood, initially giving me sight, then improving it, saving it when it almost disappeared, and later improving it yet again. These successes ultimately allowed me to see about ten percent of what other people do.

Thrilled that I wasn't blind, I grew up as a profoundly visual person believing in medical miracles. Each surgery brought some new discovery about the flicker of a candle, shiny wrapping paper, our silky black cat asleep on the golden chair; everything I could see excited me and still does, even something mundane like the red taillights of cars or the pattern in a grain of wood.

Beautiful as it all has been, my vision remains unreliable. One of the many operations I had as a young adult required the surgeon to enlarge my pupils, with the painful consequence that my eyes are permanently dilated, and thus extremely sensitive to light. I also have nystagmus, a series of rapid muscle movements that causes my eyes to vibrate, jump, and wander, and generally carry on a rich life of their own. This makes life especially interesting in crowded, chaotic places such as airports or hotels. Since I lack depth perception, I'm easily confused by shadows, brick walkways, curbs, changes in floor texture, and steps. One instant I might have what I imagine to be a nice clear snapshot with bright colors and clear lines that define shapes or even people who I recognize. Another, the world comes to me through a series of rapid images that fly by so quickly that my brain can't keep up. If I meet someone wearing a blue sweater early in the day, I can easily find her in a crowd - until the next day when she wears something different, or later that same day when she decides to take it off.

For years I struggled with how to explain this in the first split-second encounter with every new person I'd meet. I had to find a way of letting students know that I couldn't see them while still coming across as a competent teacher. Other times, I found it impossible and humiliating to explain to a friend or a colleague, let alone to an important university official or a date, why I couldn't just find him or her at a table in a crowded restaurant. I'd walked there and gotten in the door, hadn't I?

Carving out this intriguing world between blindness and sight has been my lifelong quest. A daughter of suburbia, I have been looking for a Place - with a capital P - that might offer all possibilities without making my exclusion, my erasure, my conformity a central part of the process. Some might say I've been seeking someplace special.

My initial explorations involved extremes. For my first few decades I played the part of a fully sighted person. Being ambitious and smart, I "passed" quite well. Through sheer willpower and with the help of several more operations, I weaned myself off of large print books. I learned elaborate ways to sneak closer peeks when others weren't looking. I have decent memory, plus excellent eavesdropping skills, and an almost scary ability to synthesize. This enables me to piece together the world around me in such a way that it makes it seem like I can see far better than I actually do.

At one level, this high functioning is most admirable. It allowed me to finish college, and get an internship working for a foreign policy think tank. There, I was supposed to spend each day reading newspapers in English, French, and German, then summarizing them for my boss. This was well before the digital revolution, so I made the task easier by scanning headlines and sneaking in a magnifying glass to read the articles, then wrote up fuller versions of the stories by blending them with what I'd heard on NPR that morning. That gave me the time to read other articles more closely. I went on to grad school in history because I disliked the inbred foreign policy world, and I delighted in the fact that history would let me ask big questions in my own voice. But some might say I cheated in grad school too. Classes regularly assigned nearly a thousand pages of reading each week. Our professors smiled and told us to read selectively. Well, I read more selectively than most. I figured out how to know a book without reading it. I engaged my friends in conversations about our reading assignments. Combined with what I gleaned from discussion in seminars, I knew where to read more carefully in order to write papers. Survival taught me a special kind of efficiency, and thus I knew how to figure out which books really mattered. With these skills in place, I picked an approach to my dissertation that enabled me to focus intently on a few areas. I also continued using a magnifying glass when I thought people weren't looking.

None of this was deliberate deception. It grew out of a fierce desire to measure up. In fact, I never really thought consciously of what I was doing to get by until sitting down to write about it. As one of my favorite blind writers, Georgina Kleege, has said: "The thing about denial is that it doesn't feel like denial when it's going on."

But of course at another level, all this marvelous coping was despicable because it was living a lie that surely cost far more than it brought to me. If you lie that much, it comes back to haunt you. This is exactly what happened. I confronted my blindness demon for the first time as a TA in western civ. While I had evolved wonderful skills as a student for passing, nothing had prepared me to be a teacher who had to take control of a class and manage to make everyone feel included. Most of my students figured out long before I did that they needed to improvise new ways of doing things in the classroom, so they instinctively and unobtrusively helped by doing things like saying their names before they spoke, a technique I still use until I learn people's voices or visual styles. But one redheaded fellow was less socialized and began complaining bitterly to others about my cold stares and my snubbing him. Even though nearly all the evaluations were strong, the supervising professor wrote a scathing critique of my ability to engage, and even suggested that I find a different career. After the term, I ran into one of the students from the class who pointed out in passing that the redheaded guy didn't realize that I couldn't see. This was the first time anyone had confronted me so directly as an adult. I felt my face go red, and I wanted to crawl under a rock. Unknowingly, this student had thrust a white cane into my hand.

As I think I've already demonstrated, I'm a pretty adaptable person, so I began to confront - or at least thought I was confronting - the problem head on. I would march into class on the first day and announce that I couldn't see very well, and try to put my students at ease by making jokes at my own expense. In hindsight it was pathetic, but it was still a huge step for me.

Then in 1988 I got my first real academic job as a visiting assistant professor at a school in New York City. In my new spirit of openness about my poor vision, I thought I would share with my new colleagues some of my anxieties about lecturing. I figured that my concerns weren't that different from those of someone who stuttered or couldn't follow her lecture notes when she's nervous. To make a long and painful story short, I soon learned that this had been a bad idea. When I applied for a permanent position at the school, I was turned down. It came back to me that faculty and administrators were worried that my impaired vision would prevent me from teaching large lecture classes.

I was devastated and hopping mad, particularly since they hadn't asked me to teach any large classes. I had wanted the job badly because I hoped to stay in the New York area, which has a special appeal to me as a non-driver. But this was two years before the ADA. And assuming I'd noticed it at all, I would have concluded that this obscure law didn't apply to me. Regardless, I didn't want to be branded as a troublemaker right as I began my career. Besides, I was offered other jobs that year, and took the one where I still teach — including western civilizaiton classes with hundreds of students — at the University of California, Davis.

A couple of years later a job came up at another school in New York. They sought someone who could teach western civ., but also who was interested in "minority discourse." I taught women's history, and I follow queer studies eagerly, but my research heart wasn't in these areas. Suddenly, a light bulb went off: if I had been thrown out of New York City for not being able to see, maybe being "special" could be my ticket back in! Nobody had written much about blind people in France, the country I had specialized in for my research beginning in grad school, so I was all set. "I want my academic and personal background to provide this new study with that blend of scholarly rigor and political engagement that gives the writing I admire most its intellectual charge," I explained in my application letter, somehow managing to confide in total strangers a secret I couldn't share with my closest friends. That unsuccessful application letter was simultaneously the most cynical and most heartfelt thing I have ever written. The rest, as they say, is history — Disability History, in this case.

By 1994 I found my way to my first SDS meeting, only to be confronted with a completely new set of perplexing questions as I stood transfixed at the threshold: what if I wasn't disabled enough? My journal reports my being simultaneously traumatized and fascinated by all the people using different wheelchairs and dogs and canes and interpreters and moving in that - you know - crip way, summed up by the line: "It feels like I've landed at the bar in the Star Wars movie!" No more Kansas for me. Most striking of all was my getting lost with a blind woman on our way to a protest march at the Capitol Building. I was so embarrassed by her competence that I couldn't recall anything about her except that she used a white cane.

Even as I engaged more and more with the intellectual ideas at the root of disability studies, I struggled with my place as someone in-between. Looking around at all the "real" disabled people at SDS, I felt like a fraud. I was just a gal who couldn't see well. I hadn't crawled up the steps of a courthouse or struggled with SSI. Hey, I was proud that I hadn't even ever asked for accommodations. Besides, I didn't read Braille or use a cane. Thanks to all the surgeries, there were even times when my vision seemed to be getting a little better.

My world turned upside down in 1997 when a friend of a friend emailed me several volumes from a series published by the National Federation of the Blind called the Kernel Books. I'd settled in with my nose two inches from a laptop to read the downloaded versions on a train ride between New York and Boston. Beginning with the weary detachment of a scholar hoping to find a quote or two for my research, I staggered off the train several hours later completely changed. No more than five or six pages, each story was the firsthand account of a blind person coming to terms with something no one thought she could do because of her blindness. I read about people who barbecued, babysat, performed in a school play, met the reluctant parents of a sighted date, taught at an elementary school, proved to a professor that he could do well in his biology class . . . .Each story ended with someone having a revelation thanks to hooking up with the NFB. While this message grew cloying after the first few readings, I had to agree that this Federation was onto something when it said: "Blindness isn't the real problem, it's society's responses to it. With proper training in alternative techniques and given the opportunity, the average blind person can lead a normal and productive life doing just about anything." No shame, no compromise, just direct, matter-of-fact, unremarkable accounts by people who had struggled much like me. Sitting on the train, I began to sob uncontrollably. I had spent my whole life afraid of blind people, and in these pages I was meeting scores of them telling me that I didn't have to pass as a fully sighted person for life to be okay.

Thus ended my days as someone who pretended to see more than I did. I now contemplated the other extreme, trying my hand at being a fully blind person. Learning that the NFB ran an unorthodox residential rehab program called the Colorado Center for the Blind where students and instructors all had vision impairments, I knew I had to go. Regardless of how much vision you had, you had to do everything wearing sleepshades, including crossing busy streets on your own and going downhill skiing. But I admit I played both sides of the street. I convinced the California State Department of Rehabilitation that learning blindness skills would improve my efficiency at work; I told colleagues that I was doing this "Outward Bound with My Eyes Closed" thing to help create empathy with the people I was studying in the past. My six months in Colorado completely changed my attitudes about blind people and blindness. My daily encounters with a gritty, wise, fascinating cross-section of humanity as we faced difficult, sometimes even near-death experiences put an end to my longstanding shame about using a white cane.

But I also returned to civilian life after my time in Colorado with renewed awareness that I wasn't a fully blind person either. After embracing the NFB message that blindness wasn't a tragedy, I also emerged eager to think about what it meant to be imperfectly blind. There wasn't even a term to describe someone like me. My first label, when I started to encounter people outside my family, was the impossibly vague "nearsighted." (At first I thought I was "near-sided" because I walked close to things to see them.) There was "visually impaired" (vague), "legally blind" (vague and legalistic), and statements such as "I don't see well" (vague and euphemistic). "Low vision" also had its drawbacks, linked as it was with "low intelligence," "low functioning," and various other "lows." There was even a vogue for terms such as "sight impaired" and "visually challenged" or — my particular nomination for the Most Condescending Award — "Visually Impaired Person," a VIP.

More important than labels was that I didn't seem to fit into anyone's conception of how either blind or sighted people act in the world. This became apparent as I tried to sort out if and when to use my white cane. To be sure, it can be a huge help by enabling me to walk with more confidence in unfamiliar or dark environments. It also allows me to ask colleagues and students who they are, rather than play my usual sloppy game of dancing around identities until I trick them into revealing themselves. I find it welcome in visually confusing situations such as bank counters, airports, hotel lobbies, and department stores, where my hesitation or questions with an obvious visual answer may prompt people to snap at me, "What are you, blind?" While I understand that when I don't use a cane they have no way of knowing that I see much less than they do, their impatient, incredulous tone hurts. At the same time, I must confess to my delight when an impatient (and unobservant) woman barked the question to my back and nearly passed out from embarrassment when I turned to face her with my cane.

But the cane also introduces its own set of complexities because I don't always need it, and frankly, life is simpler when I can do without. Like an umbrella when it isn't raining, the cane effectively eliminates the use of one arm. And of course sighted people's condescending, panicky behavior around white canes also deters me; in some situations I have enough vision to see people dart out of the way or I experience their little eye tests when they plant themselves in my path or stick out their tongues. And because I can obviously see things, using a white cane opened me up to accusations of faking blindness to get something (what, I wonder?). I've been called "liar!" in more than one language. Even if people don't say anything, I know they must wonder about the woman escorted to the airport departure gate with her white cane, only to start checking messages on her Blackberry and read from her Kindle.

I shouldn't be surprised at this rigid border between the country of the sighted and the country of the blind. The images have changed little from the simplistic ones I grew up with. Most of the time, blind people are invisible. When they do turn up in movies or newspaper stories or sometimes in fiction, usually they see nothing, and are pathetic and helpless, bitter and angry, or inspiring super-crip overachievers. Almost nobody occupies that place between complete darkness and 20-20 vision, even though that's the place most of us dwell. Anyone in the middle - usually an old person like Mr. Magoo - was a sad joke, a Not Quite Person forced to cope on the cruel playground of prime time television.

Ever since I chose to use a white cane in selected situations, I've collided head-on with society's (undiagnosed) case of "cryptophobia" - my term for everyone's panic in the face of ambiguity. It might be the same angst many feel when they can't immediately determine someone's gender; as they search their data banks for clues - expected behaviors, dress, voice, gait, facial expression, body space - they overload if some detail doesn't come to the rescue in fixing the mysterious identity.

For inspiration, I mull over recent academic discourse, itself steeped in ideas of interdisciplinarity, pluridisciplinarity, interpolation, hybridity: Mixed race? Multi-ethnic? Hapa? Transnational? Bisexual? Trans-gender or its hyphenless cousin, transgender? Shape-shifter? Transculturite? All have been highlighting overlaps, messiness, contradictions, imprecision, and plurality, punctuated by moments of clarity, passion, freedom from conventions. Such terms go a long way toward describing the jumpy, unpredictable, ambiguous, fascinating kaleidoscope that characterizes my vision.

But how to describe the person who actually sees this way? How to harmonize how I see with how I want to be seen?

My inner thesaurus goes to work: transvisual? polyvisual? plurivisual? multivisual? intervisual? bivisual? What would using a hyphen in any of these terms imply, especially if screen-reading software hasn't been programmed to read it out loud?

Other terms that have nothing to do with the physical act of seeing hover about: nonstandard deviation, unorthodox, middling, median, homeless, stateless.

In my case, all of these terms make sense, but only because none of them do; the second I nail down the concept with a label, its usefulness evaporates, much like my nystagmus-infused images.

Simultaneously a citizen of all concepts and of none, I have decided to invent my own country where I can comfortably live as a person in-between. I imagine something that, like the dream of suburbia, would have the potential of being neither and both, the median of medians. Unlike the reality of the place that tried to run my mother off the road, it would have room for ambiguity, contrariety, duality, humor, sarcasm and irony.

This brings me back to rethinking the place of "special" in disability discourse. Even as I cringe at the saccharin way that most of mainstream society utters the word, I wonder if there's a way of transforming it into something useful for us. "Special" might look quite different if edgy people with disabilities did the defining, much as some have done by appropriating words like queer and crip. Here the word would have connotations of resourcefulness, adaptability, and survival, qualities of which we can all be proud. Understood in this way, special might offer more opportunities to think in terms of hybrids rather than the pure forms that so many seek when they (or we) pigeonhole us as one kind of person or another. This disabilicentric side of "special" would underscore our desire not only to move in spaces that we define, but also to determine how we move within them. In this world a disabled woman on her bicycle with her groceries and two children would be both unremarkable and akin to poetry.

And a sign of splendid audacity.

So what would this new "special" place look like? First, it would be full of people with really, truly "special needs" who used fascinating devices to help them function in a constantly changing physical and social environment. For the girl on the go whose vision is on the go, I have two marvelous examples. The first is my elegant telescoping white cane. Portable and light, it fits neatly in my backpack or purse. Here I am standing in front of a white picket fence in my jeans jacket and black pants, cool and smiling in my sunglasses, clasping my foot-long compressed cane like a baton.

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Image 1: author holds her collapsed white cane

When I feel one of my many insecure visual situations coming on - bad lighting, shady brick steps, new people, a reminder to students not to raise their hands to get the professor's attention - I whip it out, and in seconds I'm transformed from a hesitant sighted person into a competent, assertive blind one: same outfit, same picket fence, slightly mischievous smile, grasping my fully extended 59" cane in my right hand like a giant pencil.

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Image 2: author stands with her extended white cane

It also impresses young children when I pull a Mary Poppins by unfurling it slowly from inside my bag. Finally, it is useful in those rare situations that call for a miracle, such as a cure for blindness: cane away, no more blind person!

The second device is my beautiful black Brompton bicycle. Watch me ride down the street: side view, me in my jeans jacket and sunglasses, leaning a bit forward over the slightly curved metal frame that somehow trumps the ridiculousness of the smaller-than-usual wheels. Now you can really notice my pointy elf-like olive green leather shoes!

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Image 3: author riding black bike

The Brompton folds so compactly into a little flat bundle of spokes and gears that I can fit it under the shopping cart in most supermarkets, right there in the produce section.

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Image 4: author in a supermarket with folding black bike stored under shopping cart

Surely I inherited a "bike gene" from my Mom. Darwin himself would applaud the logic that fitted me with an improved bicycle that would add more to my mobility and chances of survival. As a non-driver I can go almost anywhere with this chic device that can even be disguised as something that wouldn't stand out in a cloakroom. Watch me walk by an outdoor cafe carrying what many might imagine to be a black carry-on that could even fit in an overhead bin on an airplane.

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Image 5: author holding bag containing folding bike

It sits nicely in the trunk of any car, be it the back of a small Subaru SUV …

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Image 6: author slipping folded black bike in the trunk of a small SUV

or even my colleague Anne Finger's convertible VW Bug, where it rides comfortably next to her equally sporty folding wheelchair.

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Image 7: Anne Finger seated in her convertible VW Bug with folded black bike on back seat

(On more than one occasion a fellow shopper has commented on how great it is that I can bring my wheelchair with me to the store.) My Brompton's portability means that I can pedal somewhere when it's light and can throw it in anyone's trunk when its dark and time to pull out my white cane.

So if one device helps me get around by day, the other by night, does this mean I have to keep the two separate?

In my dream Place, watch me walk along with my extended cane in one hand and my unfolded bike guided by the other. Here, I don't turn heads when I use both at once. Here I am, pulling up on my bicycle, folding it up, then whipping out a white cane to head down the dappled brick steps to teach my big western civ class.

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Image 8: author standing with unfolded black bike and white cane

Special indeed. I think of Mom and my early days on the back of her bike. Along with genes for bad eyes and black bikes, I inherited her splendid audacity to create a world that makes sense despite what others might think.

Perhaps Colson Whitehead sums it up best in his recently published novel about growing up in the awkward middle place of being a black kid in the ritzy white Long Island community of Sag Harbor: "What you call paradox, I call myself." Paraphrasing him I might say: "What they call 'special,' I call myself."

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