The Blind expect only understanding and empathy from the sighted people, and not arrogance and sympathy.
By Azeem Bolar
When I first became blind, some felt I was an alien and that my blindness could be contagious, others wanted to shower pity, but instead, made a mess of the situation, because I do not deserve pity, only envy, and that was in short supply with those interacting with me.
According to my experiences, one of the difficulties the blind feel, is a lack of understanding of the situation by the sighted and surely, nowhere close to understanding of the inconveniences dished out by visual impairment. The sighted people, at times, do lose their patience while guiding the visually impaired.
“Frustrating” could be a better term when it comes to giving descriptions to a blind man, not realizing that one has to mention minute details to create a better picture in the mind of the blind. Funny enough, most sighted seldom realize that visually impaired could also mean totally blind, and even after being told, they are somehow under the false impression that the blind man can see a little. A common mistake that the sighted do is trying to be over helpful and over protective towards the blind.
Traveling by bus can seem adventurous and it was one of those tiring days when I felt like hitting the sack, but was at the mercy of the bus, which was taking its own sweet time . Unable to get a seat, I stood through the long journey. While the conductor passed by, collecting tickets, he saw me standing and without a second thought, curtly ordered the sighted person to vacate the seat reserved for the blind and which happened to be occupied by a sighted person. The poor man, without complaint vacated the seat in my honor.
Sometimes directions given to the blind, can indeed cause confusion, if it is not given in minute details. There have been moments in the past, when I had asked for a particular direction and was given a non-verbal reply, that is in sign language. Obviously, I could not see the “sign language” direction offered by the person.
At the dining table, also at times, the sighted assume that if they tell me, “pass the salt,” or “pass the salad,” I will be able to handle it. But they need to go a step further and tell me “can you please pass the salt kept near your plate in front of you!” Now that makes sense to me. The sighted cannot be blamed for this, as it is all a simple learning experience and should be taken in this spirit.
Understanding and empathy, not arrogance and sympathy is probably a good attitude to inculcate when rendering assistance to the visually impaired. Very rarely do I get hurt when the sighted lose patience with me. Actually it ends up becoming a joke.
But yes, temper is unwarranted. There is surely a calmer way of communicating, so what, if I cannot see the body language of the angry man, the tonality tells it all.
A disabled individual is generally in search of acceptance and not to be identified as a disabled person and then left to fend. Even a kind word may be misunderstood as pity if not accompanied with the right tonality. While the sighted are visually hyped, the blind are hyped auditorily. A good balanced way for the sighted to relate to the visually impaired is to ignore the absence of sight, because, almost anything can be done by the blind.
The fact is that the blind can perform several of the tasks, well, or even better than the sighted people. Blindness is Bliss!
(The writer is a Bangalore based Counsellor and can be reached at [email protected])