Being visually impaired is like living in two different worlds, yet not really belonging in either one. We are not totally blind, nor are we completely sighted. Most people categorize us as blind, lump us into one group of people, with the usual misconceptions, and a few added on.
Some people have the strangest notions of what blind people do, from the food they’re allowed to eat, to the very way they think, hear, behave, and live.
Many can’t understand there is a middle ground of visual ability, where there is some sight, though it isn’t perfect. Most healthy people can’t understand that having impairment doesn’t prove a lack of ability to function efficiently.
Just because we may require some help, and a few special tools, this in no way means we are less able to achieve great things. The visually impaired are not blind, we are partially blind, partially sighted, have “low vision,” or are visually challenged.
Many of us are classified as being “legally blind,” which is a specific measurement of actual sight that makes us eligible for SSI, (Supplemental Security Income).
Those of us, who are legally blind, cannot drive. This makes life more challenging, in not being able to get up and go whenever we want to. We are legally allowed to use the same white cane the totally blind use, the one with a red section painted near the bottom, above a white tip.
This cane tells those who can see that we cannot, or not very well. We hope they’ll will notice us and be careful. They see this cane, with its special reflective quality, shining in the light, and think we can’t see at all, even if we wear glasses. Often they’ll honk loudly, as if our hearing weren’t very good either.
It’s strange how some people think we hear better, while others think our hearing is worse. If we walk in a fairly “normal” way, some will yell at us that we’re not really blind, while others will make rude remarks about how blind we are.
For those of us who have visual and hearing loss, life can be even more frustrating, as well as being caught between the world of the sighted and the blind. Because we have some vision, people think we understand things like hand gestures, facial expressions, eye contact, and other body language.
They’ll give directions in terms of the nearest highway exit, or main street, and assume we know exactly what they’re talking about.
One time while I was grocery shopping, a man asked me if I can shop for myself. The question threw me off guard, and made me angry. I replied honestly, yes, though my tone showed I was insulted, and I walked away.
Later on I regretted being so upset, thinking I portrayed a bad image of us, and have been more careful with my responses about my disability most the time.
If that happens again, I’d explain that we have visual aids other than glasses to help us see, and sometimes people are uncomfortable around us while we’re using them.
I wear my monocular and magnifier on a belt when I go out, and one day two people talked about them to each other, but didn’t ask me about them, as if they were afraid of me.
My monocular, which is like a small telescope, helps me see far away, which is
adjustable, like the binoculars people use for various distance activities, such as bird watching. Sometimes people think it’s a camera, and get paranoid.
Occasionally someone will ask about it, and I gladly explain, even letting them look through it. Children really enjoy doing that. People only know what they’re told, and often accept, without question, information as fact.
When we’re able to put our anger aside, and gently explain to them about our condition, in terms they can understand, they often lose their fears and see us in a whole new light.
I’ve done this successfully, and have a list of suggestions we can use to help us educate them and show them what we’re truly capable of.
It won’t work all the time, but when you are successful, it’ll help build your self confidence, as it did mine, and you won’t be as afraid of them as they may be of you.
Use your intuition to know whether they’re approachable, be positive and polite, and who knows, you may even make a friend!
1. If someone yells insults at you, ignore them. They want a reaction, no matter how informative your response is. I’ve tried responding and it got me nowhere. Don’t waste your time, or lower your pride, dignity and self worth to give them
the satisfaction of a comeback.
2. When someone directly asks you a question about your disability, they are scared, but their curiosity was even stronger.
Ignore their fear and gently explain, for example, why you wear glasses, what your visual aid does, how your cane, dog, or any other assistance you have, helps you get around, do things, and be independent.
Also mention daily activities and interests, such as food, music, movies, computers, and books.
This will show you have something in common with them, and will soften their uneasiness.
3. If someone offers to help you and you don’t want them to, be polite, and say, “I really appreciate your kind offer, though I’d like to do it myself, but if I need any help, I’ll gladly ask you.” Sometimes this may backfire, as peoples’ egos are so big, they get insulted that their good intentions were rejected, and may become very angry.
At this point, you must ignore them. Defending yourself will usually bring more anger than understanding, though I’ve tried, and failed. It doesn’t mean you’ll fail all the time. This happened to me on a bus, and, although I explained, it did me no good. Do what you feel is best.
4. Unfortunately, peoples’ attitudes are difficult to sway. Keeping a calm disposition, being polite, acting professional in situations that call for it, at workplaces and in dealing with those in authority, will show them you are confident, dignified, capable, and independent.
One time in a diner, a waitress offered to take my tray, I was in a bad mood already and snapped at her, which I shouldn’t have done, but told her I could do it myself. My friend told me later, he heard her say she admired my independence.
5. Many people are surprised when they see us doing things they don’t think we’re supposed to do, or are capable of doing. Someone once said to me, as I walked by with my cane, “My, you do get around well, don’t you?” I don’t recall replying, though I may have acknowledged her, while trying to hold in my anger.
Her tone was very condescending, as if she were shocked that I could do so well on my own, and I didn’t appreciate it. Emotions are often so strong; they get the better of us.
It’s sad that we do have a lot of anger about these things, and, though it is understandable, letting the world see that side of us only sharpens their distasteful views of us. We can release our feelings in other ways, when we’re alone.
Creative expression is a great way to channel them, as well as reaffirming our abilities. We need to focus on what we CAN do, regardless of our limitations.
Whether we’re blind or partially sighted, we must stay in touch with our positive qualities. Although we may feel the need to prove ourselves to others, we must first prove to ourselves we are capable of living a meaningful and productive quality of life.
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