Since we’ve had a few articles that cover the sheer ineptitude of the sighted world when trying to understand the blind community, I figured that I’d ask some friends of mine if they had any unanswered questions for those of you who are visually impaired. I’ve also included a couple of my own. I do hope that the questions proposed here are considered sensible. None of them have anything to do with the existence of Braille chicken acquired from blind-only grocery stores, I promise.
The first is one that I’ve wondered about and is then followed up by a similar question. It has to do with trust. There have been many articles written in this magazine by our feature writers and contributors that have mentioned the help of strangers. Without trying to sound too paranoid or pessimistic about my fellow humans, the truth is that there are many people out there who would gladly take advantage of someone who cannot see. Whether it’s a clerk at a cash register or a person guiding you through a busy area, there is always the chance that their intentions, no matter how well they present them, are actually a disguise. Do you find it difficult to trust strangers who offer to help you? Are you apprehensive about asking a stranger for assistance? Do you feel that you’re a better judge of character now that you have to focus on things outside of someone’s facial mannerisms to gauge their intentions?
The next question that works off of the previous was given by my girlfriend who works with children. She asked me what the parents of blind children, or conversely, blind parents with children, tell their kids about how to treat strangers. Of course, at younger ages, they’re probably taught to not speak to strangers, as every parent tells their child for their own safety. But what about when they start to breach that age where independence begins to take over and situations arise where interaction with strangers becomes a greater possibility? Is asking for assistance recommended only if it is absolutely necessary, or are they encouraged at an early age to become comfortable with public intervention? From a parenting perspective, I’m sure there are many different views on this that may change from situation to situation and not remain static.
Going in another direction, a friend of mine who is my technology go-to guy, asked what piece of modern technology has impacted your lives the most. I briefly talked to him about the virtues of screen readers and things like VoiceOver on the iPhone and how they’ve made all of the information we tend to take for granted entirely accessible to the blind. I’m still interested to see what you have to say, as I’m sure that your answers will vary.
Going in yet another direction, one friend of mine, who considers herself quite the matchmaker, was curious about the relationship aspect of the blind community. She was initially curious about the outlets used to find a mate. I assured her that you all are no different and that you enjoy the same things we do, but it was her final remark that really caught my attention. She said, “Think of the dynamics of a first date for you and I. Your first opinions of the person are almost undoubtedly aimed at their looks. Is he or she pretty, what are they wearing–things like that. If you can’t see the other person, the entire game is changed, so to speak, and instead of looks driving your initial feelings about the person, you immediately dive into their character and find out who they truly are. It seems so much more intimate.” As I listened to what she had to say, I realized that I had never really thought about it like that and I felt that it was not only insightful, but a great thing to pass on to you. The questions that eventually emerged from our conversation were: Are looks as important in your relationships as they are for many new sighted couples? If not, do you feel that your relationships work better because you’re not so focused on looks, and rather who the person is inside? Do you think compatibility is easier or harder? In a culture where so much emphasis is placed on looks and shallow behaviors prevail so often, do you feel that you’re able to bypass many of the shortcomings that go along with dating and get to know a person much better?
Again, I hope that these questions will be viewed as at least mildly intelligent and not as an unfortunate continuation of sighted ignorance. I also hope that if you have a response to any of these, that you’ll submit them for the reader’s forum. Not only will I pass the answers on, but it will hopefully open up some interesting dialog.