When I walked into the doctor’s office this morning, the receptionist greeted me with a cheerful “Good morning.” I was pleasantly surprised. You might think, “What’s so surprising about that?” It’s exactly what I need when entering an office, a friendly voice directed to me, so I can orient myself to the desk and proceed with my business. However, it’s so dismaying to discover that more often than not, the person at the desk, upon realizing that I am blind, is suddenly left speechless and completely at a loss for what to do. Believe it or not, there have been many times that the person behind the counter has sat there, staring, like the proverbial deer in headlights. This young woman was going to be different. How refreshing.
She talked directly to me, not my friend who had brought me. She told me what she was doing. “I’ll just go make a copy of your new health insurance card, and I’ll be right back…. Here’s your card.” Again, I was grateful for her words. That’s all it takes to make me happy, just a few words. Instead of slapping the card on the counter and expecting me to know that’s where it is, or instead of holding it in the air and wondering why I’m not reaching for it, or instead of handing it to my friend, she handed it to me. Bravo! Well done. She was scoring points with me all over the place until alas, she dropped the ball. “Does she want her receipt?” she asked my friend.
The Columbus Dispatch columnist Deborah Kendrick has the perfect comment for this faux pas. “Please don’t talk about me when I’m standing right here.” Every blind person I know has experienced this humiliating exchange. “Does she want her dressing on the side?” “What color of dress is she looking for today?” “I put her receipt in the bag.”
I am an adult with a fairly well-functioning brain and excellent hearing. Just because I cannot make eye contact with the receptionist, the store clerk, the server, or the person on the other side of the desk, it does not mean that I am incapable of communicating on my own behalf. Eye contact seems to be the number one channel of communication for peoplewho are sighted, and if eye contact isn’t made, the communication is broken, or worse, never established.
When I walk into a room for a meeting, and the person who is assisting me in finding a seat asks me, “Where would you like to sit?” I’ve learned to answer, “Next to somebody.” I don’t really care who I sit next to. What I don’t want is to be seated in a row by myself. If I am, it is very likely that no one will sit next to me. I don’t smell bad, and I’m not an obnoxious person, so I’ve concluded that the reason for being isolated is that I haven’t made eye contact with the others in the room, which would be a silent communication That I would welcome company in my row or at my table. I try to smile and try not to look scary, but unless I am proactive, it seems that no one wants to get too close. Are they afraid blindness is catching? I don’t think so. I suspect that they are not aware that the blind woman sitting alone is not alone by choice. Communication does not have to be with eyes only. If I know you are there, I will speak to you, but if I don’t know you’re there, I’ll need for you to speak first. I’ve told my neighbors on my street that if they see me out walking that they’ll need to call out to me first. And for Heaven’s sake, don’t just wave. Pippen might see you and wag her tail, but she can’t tell me who you are or even that you are there.Don’t be shy. We won’t bite. Speak up!