By Chad Nelson
Imagine this situation: you are blind, and you walk into a restaurant, bank, or some other business and you want to get a meal, make a transaction, or buy something. You just happened to go in with a sighted, or even partially sighted friend or significant other, for no other reason except that you are with him or her. You and your friend walk up to the counter and the clerk turns to your friend and asks, “Good morning. What would he like today?”
Now, in this situation there can be two outcomes; the first is that your friend answers for you and says, “Yes, he would like the turkey sub with lettuce and tomatoes,” or, the second response would be, “I don’t know, ask him.”
Here are two other examples:
A sighted friend and I walked into a bank together to get money out of my checking account, and I walked up to the teller line, indicating that I wanted $20.
Bank teller: “Can you please give me his account number? I need to look up his account information.”
Sighted friend: Looks at the teller, smiles and shrugs.
Me: “You don’t need to ask her. I can speak for myself. I am only blind.”
The teller didn’t know what to say. I think that she felt pretty embarrassed.
The second time was at a sandwich shop. I went in with a partially-sighted friend.
Cashier: “Good afternoon. What would he like on his sandwich?”
Friend: “I don’t know. I didn’t ask him, but you can ask him yourself.”
Me: “I am able to answer questions by myself.”
Clerk: Ignores me.
It comes time to pay, and the same thing happens, only worse.
Clerk: “Please take his card and swipe it through the machine for him.”
Me: “Sir, you know just because I can’t see, doesn’t mean that I am unable to hear. You need to please address me, and please stop talking to others about me like I am not here.”
Clerk: Ignores me.
By this time, we were both getting pretty insulted and angry at the lack of respect and tact by the employee who just couldn’t get the idea that, just because I am blind, I can’t handle my own business.
This doesn’t happen every time. As a matter of fact, a lot of times, such as the other week at a bank branch and the other day at a department store, I dealt with people who addressed me respectfully and treated me like I am a real human being. But, on the occasion that people ignore me and talk to the other person I am with, it makes me and my sighted friends angry. We feel like people think blind people are helpless in every other way as well as not being able to see. This is not true at all and the general public needs to be educated, realizing the blind have feelings and can do everything anyone else can do, just in a slightly different way.
There are a lot of times when people don’t know how to act around someone who is blind, and they think that person needs to have a caregiver. Blindness is not something that makes a person incapable of doing things; it simply takes away any useful vision. There needs to be more positive education for those who are either ignorant of people who are blind or simply don’t understand blindness.
Some things a sighted person can do when encountering a blind person would be to say something like, “Is there anything I can do to help?” Not, “What does he or she need?”
Another thing that is also helpful and won’t make a blind person feel as if they are incapable is to lightly touch a shoulder or hand in a way that is not obvious to others and ask “How can I help you?” This will let the blind person know that they are the one being addressed.
Some things a blind person can do if someone is talking to a sighted friend or significant other instead of talking to them directly would be to simply say, “Can you please ask me the question? I am perfectly able to speak for myself.”
If a blind person knows that someone is talking about them, simply answer in the affirmative. Such as, if someone asks a sighted friend, “Would he like something to drink?” The blind person could say, “Yes please, I would like a Coke.” This is a gentle way of letting the sighted person know it is expected that they should be talking to the person who is blind.
Being blind is like any other disability that isn’t understood. It only takes education to help people know how to react in a positive and acceptable manner.