Whether you are a student, parent, teacher, coworker or community member, we regularly meet people who are unique. This uniqueness could be in their appearance, abilities, or philosophical beliefs. I embrace the opportunity to meet new people, but recently have found that people, particularly young adults, are very nervous about meeting someone who is visually impaired. I hope to share some ideas to help quell these fears.
My office has recently welcomed nearly 40 new employees. During the holiday season, I oversaw the collection of donations for a gift to the team’s supervisor. Six new employees told a colleague that they were nervous coming to my desk as they had never met someone who is blind. They thought they might say the wrong thing or ask the wrong question. Although my friend brought their money to me, she told the new hires that they needed to sign the card at my desk. One person eventually came over, but the other people were too scared. I never anticipated this reaction, and have started strategizing ways to make everyone feel more at ease.
Putting People at Ease
Although every visually impaired person is different, I never get offended when people ask questions about blindness. I realize we perform some tasks differently, and people are curious to know about the adaptive technology and daily living strategies we utilize. When possible, I will allow someone to feel braille, listen to the JAWS program, and describe the specially designed headset I utilize where one ear is for the telephone, and the other ear is for JAWS. By letting people gain firsthand experience, it will hopefully make them feel more comfortable.
If I hear someone struggling to interact with me, I encourage them to talk with me just as they would someone who is sighted. I always use words such as “see,” “watch,” or “look,” in conversation. Just like any other coworker, I enjoy conversing about sports, a musical/theatre show, or current events. Through these conversations, we can build a rapport and start a friendship which can last for a long time. I also encourage people to say “hello” and identify themselves when they see me. I love to talk, and try to learn people’s voices quickly, but hate to call someone by the wrong name.
Public Fear of Blindness
According to studies completed by the American Foundation for the Blind and the Royal National Institute of Blind People, the public fears blindness more than cancer, strokes, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, or heart attacks. Through positive interactions with people who are blind, I hope some of these fears can be greatly reduced or eliminated. Each day, it is a pleasure to meet new people, and I look forward to helping people feel more comfortable when they are in the company of a visually impaired person.