PSA in dealing with blindness or the partially sighted
So those who know me know I lost my vision at 14 due to some freak immune system issues (I’ve talked about it on here) but that I still function. In fact, if I didn’t tell you I had a giant hole where your face is, you’d never know it, but I do. Because I have one foot in the world of the sight, having been extremely visual as a person, and one world in that of the visually impaired because of the extreme flux in my visual acuity, I feel like I can give you some useful tips, if you ever need to help a visually impaired person, or someone who is completely blind.
1. Don’t just help.
This is the biggest fucking issue. The fact is if I’m using my cane, I’m looking for things on the ground that are landmarks to my location. Which means if you suddenly open the door for me without saying anything and my cane can’t find it, I become extremely disoriented. ALWAYS GIVE AN AUDITORY CLUE THAT YOU ARE ASSISTING.
This includes you well-meaning but completely idiotic people who stop at intersections and then wave the blind pedestrian on. You know who you are. I don’t know, obviously, because I can’t see you, but the people that I’m usually nearby often point this out to me.
2. It’s okay to ask if the person needs assistance.
We may be frustrated but it has nothing to do with you. You won’t hurt our feelings. We don’t like NEEDING help, but that doesn’t mean we don’t need it. Just say “Excuse me, can I help?” But only if it seems a person is lost or confused.
3. Don’t shout at us.
We’re blind. Not deaf. And usually our hearing is our predominant sense. You’ll figuratively blind us by shouting.
4. If a blind person is about to step into something physically dangerous, shout “STOP” with commanding authority. And then be apologetic and humorous afterward. It’s how our cane training is done and so we learn to respond to it.
5. NEVER GRAB A BLIND PERSON.
Offer them your elbow with a verbal cue like “Here’s my arm on your left, if you need it.” The blind person has to govern their own equilibrium, which means they need the flexibility of letting go of you. If you tug them, you also pull them off balance or faster than is comfortable for them to “see” with a cane or foot.
6. Blind people don’t tap the cane for themselves.
The “tap tap” of the cane is usually used only in groups of people to alert you of their coming (though sometimes it is used the brush the cane over uneven terrain that might catch the cane and jab it into our chests). When we walk with a cane, the tip is always aligned to the opposite foot, ACROSS the body diagonally for bodily protection. We then step forward and swipe the cane to the opposite side, along the ground to accurately read the ground a few steps ahead. Tapping the cane actually can remove some of our perception of the land, but we do it for you normies, so you don’t stop dead in front of us and get your ankles bruised by a titanium rod.
7. We obey traffic patterns.
We learn these. And even if we don’t, you aren’t helping us by holding up traffic and honking at us to go ahead and cross. Actually you’re annoying us.
8. Only a small number of visually impaired people are actually COMPLETELY blind.
We are taught to optimize our sight for US. NOT YOU. So if you see a person with a cane who looks completely normal and doesn’t wear sunglasses? Guess what? They’re still partially sighted/legally blind. They’re not less deserving of attention. We wear sunglasses if our eyes are sensitive to sunlight – “photophobia”- like mine. Or we wear them to prevent the embarrassment of the wandering eye. Don’t judge a person’s capability by how they use their cane or their their eyes. Some legally blind people are only blind at night, some at day, some are blind in certain lighting conditions, some can still read with assistance and some can’t visually read at all. There is no uniformity and we optimize for us, not you. You don’t matter. So please don’t do the thing that woman on my flight to LA did and whisper to your friend that you saw me reading my (magnified and adaptive tech phone) and that you’re sure I am only playing blind to get priority boarding. Go fuck yourself with that bullshit.
9. Don’t point.
It really amazes me how many times I’ve said “what’s this?” Or “where’s that?” Only to have someone point. The fuck is wrong with you?
10. Don’t you ever dare touch a service dog unless you believe there is an immediate risk of danger.
11. Proper auditory cues.
You can’t say “it’s at 1 o’clock” for everyone, because guess what guys…not all blind people have seen clock faces! What?! OMG you’re kidding!. Instead give distances in steps, give direction in angles, give directions via landmarks not street signs. I remember one time, my friend Kirsten was asking what a person looked like, and someone said to her, “Well, they’re blond and have a heart shaped face” She said “What’s a heart shape like? And blond is yellow right? That the color of a lemon, right?”
The wrong way: “Oh it’s on Barrett street, about one hundred feet from here, at three o’clock.”
The right way: it’s about fifty paces at a right forty five degree angle from the direction you’re facing, beside a giant open park surrounded by a large metal fence. They may not be able to see the thing, but they can locate things with canes and hands, and get a feel via sound. If you know ground landmarks, like changes in paving, those are also helpful.
12. DONT HAND BLIND PEOPLE A WAD OF CHANGE, you assholes.
Hand them the change first and allow them to put it away, which they do by feel. Then hand them the bills sequentially by denominations so that they can fold and stow these bills in the way that helps them keep track of denominations. THEN hand off the receipt.
13. Don’t ask how they lost their vision.
Don’t be that guy. EVERY GUY. Jesus Christ. Some people are still dealing with the trauma from whatever it is that cost them their sight. I’m not, but I get tired of explaining it to every single fucking person I meet. Don’t say that line “Do you mind if I ask if you were born this way?” It’s none of your business. Stop treating the person like their limitation IS them. You should be helping them through their limitation so that you can GET TO THEM, and get to know the person behind it.
14. If you see a blind person traveling alone at night, and you notice someone watching or casing them, it’s okay to approach the blind person and say “I think you might be in danger. How may I help you?” And then explain the issue.
I have been followed, cased, and tracked. I realized it was happening and prevented it, with some hilarious results, but it happens. Which is why it’s ok for you to be protective of a person, it’s just not ok to be all up in their business.
15. Some blind people wear headphones or earplugs.
These aren’t a “stupid idea”. They’re actually there as a visual aid. What? Well blind people often have very sensitive hearing. Especially to high or low pitch. Many will wear earplugs or headphones to dampen or heighten certain sound values as a visual aid. I personally carry a pair with me everywhere. If I’m on a bus or train, the headphones dampen treble or higher decibels. If I’m in a noisy place like a bar or club, the plugs soften the noise, almost like wearing sunglasses in bright sun.
16. Don’t ask for Braille tutorials.
Not all of us read it. It takes a long time to learn and it’s almost entirely self taught. So if you want to learn, buy a card and get to work.
17. We memorize.
We know the layouts of rooms as instinct. Which means if I walk into a hotel, I am instantly without even thinking about it, running my hands over things, finding switches, marking strides, counting to myself, running my fingers over edges and so forth. This is how I see. So DONT MOVE SHIT. And DONT LEAVE YOUR FUCKING STUFF IN MY PATH.
18. Ray Charles was blind. Not all blind people are Ray Charles.
Stop assuming we all play music. Stop assuming that we all experience things in the same way.
19. Blind people have insomnia.
It comes from not being able to differentiate light from dark. It throws off our circadian rhythm. Meaning it can often interfere with our job, and also that we tend to become creatures of habit in order to avoid difficulty. Don’t break our habits, it throws us off.
20. Give yourself some sensitivity training.
If someone in your family or circle is blind…heck if you’re just a nice person, spend a few hours trying to do everyday tasks with your eyes shut, or put on a pair of fucked up sunglasses, or just give it a shot as you’re at work. See how long you can go before the urge to open your eyes is so powerful and overwhelming that you have to…and then imagine you don’t have a choice. That’s how it feels, every day. In every task. Be patient and kind.
There’s probably a lot more I’m forgetting. Maybe some of my blind peeps can add in?
Thank you for this. Thank you so so very much.
No problem. It needed to be said. I feel like there are so many PSA’s and stuff about how to treat people, but seldom if ever do I see one for a specific impairment. Blindness is more common than people know. It drives me mad when people don’t know how to handle it.