By Theresa Sweeney-Smith
I am one of the lucky ones. I have had glaucoma since I was 16 years old. I have had the experience of sight, of driving a car, of seeing my son born in 1981 and with much less vision, I have seen my beautiful granddaughter born in 2012.
I have a job that I love and a supportive husband, so I am not complaining.
I stopped driving in 1993 so I would not be the cause of an accident. My peripheral vision was gone in my right eye and my direct vision was gone in my left eye. I had to face the fact that it was not safe for me to be behind the wheel any longer.
In 2011, I contacted the Department of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR). My eyes were getting worse. My friends at work were grabbing my arm to steer me in the right direction and keep me safe. My husband was holding my arm instead of my hand and as I found out later, giving the facial look of apology to people I walked in front of or parents whose children I almost tripped over. They gave him the stare of, “How rude is she?”
The DVR is a wonderful resource. They came to my home and office and did an assessment of what I needed to accomplish things. In addition to software and a magnifier, they suggested that I take white cane training.
A white cane, me? Do I want the stigma of being blind?
My husband was supportive, but I needed to contact someone who did not know me. I decided to contact the HR person at Badger Association of the Blind, now known as Vision Forward Association. I am in HR, and I learned that this person was visually impaired also. I told him I wanted to talk with someone who could give me a positive way of looking at things. He said to me, “All of your friends, family and your employer know you cannot see. The white cane may make them comfortable that you will not walk off a sidewalk or run into something.”
I asked, “What about the people who do not know me?” He said, “Well, would you rather look blind, rude or stupid?” He told me that he use to go through the airport and feel so uncomfortable. People would yell, “Come through here!” They did not know he could not see and thought him to be someone who was ignoring them, stupid or perhaps a threat. He determined that he would use his cane and everything changed. People understood his issue and were much kinder. They did not yell at him. They were calm and they assisted him.
I could totally relate to his story. I have had the same airport experience. When I told my husband what he had said, my husband told me about the non-verbal apologies he had been making on my behalf.
I took the white cane training and it has changed my life. I do not have to explain that I do not see. People understand. They don’t always assist me the way I would like, but they are open to my suggestions and even though I think I could still bluff my way through certain situations, letting the world in on my visual secret has not given me a stigma, but a tool to help others assist me.
Sometimes we just have to get past our own vanity and notions of what others will think and allow ourselves to live a more independent life.
Theresa Sweeney-Smith lives in Wind Lake, Wisconsin and spends part of the year in Arizona with her family.