8 Things You Should Never Assume About A Blind Person At Social Gatherings

I understand it’s hard to know how to accommodate or communicate with someone who has little to no vision. I didn’t know about any of this “blind etiquette” stuff until I lost much of my own vision 3 years ago.

I’ve always enjoyed going to social gatherings. For me to enjoy the various get-togethers now, I want to feel as mentally comfortable and physically capable as I possibly can. Here are some helpful hints on what you should never assume about us blind kids based on my own experiences. I don’t expect everyone to relate to these, but I do suspect many will.

1. Never assume that we know who you are when you approach us. A hug and a hello is nice (or a little creepy), but, who the hell are you? Please talk to us before you touch us. It is so annoying to me when people assume I want bodily contact from them. I finally wrote a separate blog about this very situation …Check it out: “Talk Before You Touch!”.

2. Never assume that we know when you are speaking directly to us in a group situation. If we don’t answer you, it’s not because we’re rude, Or don’t like you.  99% of the time, it’s probably because we have no clue you’re talking to us! It’s helpful if you say our name before you direct the conversation our way!

3. Never assume that we know who is sitting next to us or across the table from us. We feel so much more comfortable when you let us know who is sitting with us! And I am begging you, please don’t make it a game of “Guess who?”.  Honestly, that game gets old real fast!

4. Never assume that we know who is in the room when we enter it. First and foremost, don’t drag us around to each and every person like we’re some sort of oddity. That is embarrassing and not needed. We would prefer you to quietly give us the rundown on who’s who, so we can form a mental picture of the room. Standing in a room full of unidentified voices is very uncomfortable.

5. Never assume that we want to remain seated OR stand in one place the entire time. We might want to mingle and we can do it safely with your guidance. If it’s not a familiar environment… we often feel “trapped” in a particular area, because we can’t “see” well enough (or perhaps not at all), to move about any party obstacles. Offer to escort us to go outside or inside, to another table, to the bar, or go bust a move on the dance floor! 

6. Never assume that we need our food cut up.  Usually, I am capable of doing this for myself, It’s not pretty, but I will always give it a go. If you see we are struggling, discreetly ask us if we would like your help. Don’t embarrass us in front of others by reaching over and announcing that you are going to cut up our vegetables for us. Sheez… We’re not toddlers!

7. Never assume you need to talk louder in order for us to understand you. We can hear you, we just can’t see you. Unless you know the person is also hearing-impaired, there is no need to change the manner in which you speak to us. No need to change the volume or tone. No need to shout or slowly enunciate every. single. word. We’re probably not taking a third grade spelling test at a social gathering. But, hey….If you like doing spelling tests as a party game, between the water balloon toss and beating the crap out of the piñata…disregard what I just said. 

Please don’t assume anything about a blind person. The one thing you can assume is that we are blind. We know what makes us comfortable or uncomfortable. We know what we are able or not able to do. We know what we want or don’t want. Ohhh, wait, I almost forgot number 8!! 

8. Never, ever, under any circumstances, assume that it’s ok to give us the damaged dessertt. Don’t try to slip us the mangled macaroons, burnt brownies, crushed cupcakes, or the runt of the lemon bar litter… just because we can’t “see” it. And, if you serve us a skimpy sliver instead of a hearty helping of any dessert…Oh, Honey. We’re gonna have a problem!!  

30 Comments on “8 Things You Should Never Assume About A Blind Person At Social Gatherings

  1. Love love this one Maria…..
    So totally true on all accounts here too….
    Great blog as always….
    Take care.

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  2. VERY GOOD INFORMATION! AS ALWAYS, ENTERTAINING. THANK YOU FOR SHARING. THANKS AGAIN FOR MEETING JOHN FOR LUNCH. HE ENJOYED THE VISIT.

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    • Hi Sheila…. Thanks for the nice message and I very much enjoyed meeting John!! What a great son you have…I’m sure we could have talked for hours!! xo

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  3. Hi Maria. This is so well said and on the money. I have been blind since January and am experiencing most everything you have. You missives are funny and true, and sad about the sighted people around us. Thanks.

    Best,
    Carla Ernst
    Girl Already Blind
    414.614.6873

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    • Hi Carla…. Thanks for the message. I’m sorry to hear that you recently became blind. it sounds like you can already relate to these situations! It’s a whole new world right?!? Thanks for reading and take care!

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      • Thanks so much for getting back to me Maria!

        Yes, I have gone blind too, probably caught it from you trying to read your blogs.

        It’s so interesting to hear you say you’re sorry about my blindness – you sound like all the sighted people I’ve been in contact on Milwaukee buses and stores for the last two days. Sorrow is the natural feeling to express, but having had no significant vision since last January, I am already beyond that, and focus on going forward in my new life. For me, the gory medical stuff is that it apparently was due to the residual effects of a severe bout of bronchial pneumonia, but no one really seems to know what caused it.

        I don’t mind being blind, it’s the fact that I can’t see anything. I feel that although my vision is gone, my independence is not, and daily is becoming stronger.. I don’t want to say that blindness is not a bummer, but it is not the worse thing in the world. And I’m almost now quite used to it, doing many and more of the things I did before – writing, composing music, performing, sailing, shopping, swimming, and much more – but I have a long way to go to be able to function fully in this new world I have fallen into.

        I’m not much for sitting around. Early on I decided to embrace the situation positively and do everything I possibly can to live a fulfilling and fun life.As challenging as it is sometimes, the more difficult problem is managing the sighted people around me who range from feeling sorry and pitiful about me due to my new “death sentence” of darkness, to those trying to help me by pulling my arms (and even my cane!), yelling at me from a foot away, or a waitress at restaurant asking my girlfriends “What would she like to eat?” I actually know what to eat since I have done that before. Probably too many times. And another waitress asked if I would like to see a menu, and I told her I actually I would like to see anything at all.

        I find many are afraid to use “sighted” words fearing that would be insensitive to me. One friend told me to watch my step, then quickly corrected herself, saying she was so sorry because I can’t see, and then burst into tears. So who’s struggling with blindness? It seems to be the sighted people around me. That’s why I’ve told virtually no one from my former sighted life about my blindness because they are simply too hard to manage with their pity and sorrow. New people who meet me today, just see a blind woman, then react how they would normally react to a blind person, good or bad, and sometimes not too well.

        I am a writer, so obviously I am writing again, just in a different way with my “Chatty Cathy” talking computer. I am quite accessibilified with my laptop, iPhone and talking watch. It would be much harder to function without those devices.

        I live alone but can get around fairly well. I can do some basic cooking, and seem to be able to get dressed, which is good, because there’s a no nudity policy in effect in Milwaukee. I have a talking book reader and received my first disc today. So I say that everyday I have new windows of perception open to me.

        I do have a cane which is my lifeline to mobility. It’s amazing how so many people going through slow vision loss don’t use a cane due to the stigma. I feel the opposite because between the sweeping, tapping, and communicative value of letting sighted people know I am blind, it is a God send to me.

        I’ve been learning to use my cane by trial and error. More error than anything else, since i just fell (again) a few minutes ago after I got off a bus in front of my apartment. This is due way more to my lack of balance than my blindness. But I love my cane. I learn a lot by listening to videos, which is a bit less hazardous than walking across the highway with it.

        So that’s my little story. Hang in there Maria and everyone else going through vision loss, and don’t let it get you down. It’s not that bad!

        Best,

        Carla Ernst
        Newly Gone Blind Girl
        414.614.6873

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      • Thank you for sharing all of that! I appreciate you being open and honest about the last eight months of your life! You have a better handle on it then many folks I know who have been blind for years!! You’re a tough cookie!!

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      • Thanks Maria and I’m sorry my writing was so long! I scrolled over the words after I sent it,
        and I was horrified what my Chatty Cathy computer told me what I had wrote!

        It’s still difficult for me to go back and fix typos, but I hope to get better at that.

        I don’t get to talk about my blindness much, particularly to other people going through this like me, so that’s why I exploded on your site.
        Blindness is still quite new for me, so I don’t feel particularly brave, expert or helpful to anyone else. At least not yet.

        And a tough cookie sounds great right now. I’m not much of a tough cookie, but I wish I had the courage to make some tonight, however I am still focusing on getting milk on my cereal without it spilling all over my kitchen (again). But I’m not one to cry over spilt milk.

        I have told few to no one from my former sighted life about my blindness because I find they tend to feel so sorry for me, pity me and simply don’t know how to react. My favorite was when I was at a meeting I volunteer for, and a woman sitting next to me who happened to be from my Unitarian church asked why my computer was talking. I told her directly that it was because I can no longer see and that I was blind. She simply freaked out and said she would call the church immediately and have other ladies bring casseroles out to me. Casseroles? Not only to do I not like casseroles (as it harkens up horrible childhood memories growing up in a large Catholic family in Chicago being stuffed with casseroles to conserve costs), but now they would make me fat after I ate them, and then what would I do when the Casserole church squad left, feeling they had done their churchly duty? I need to learn to make my own casseroles, not just eat them. And when I get better at cooking, it will not be casseroles anyway. Just lots of tough cookies.

        You sound absolutely amazing Maria. We are all facing different challenges with this blindness thing and you are doing such great work not only in providing this very cool, informative, encouraging and funny blog, but all that you are doing for LHON. I had never even heard of that and can’t even spell LHON. But I’m learning new things every day.

        Please feel free to call me if you would like since I am a better talker than a writer, which is sad, since that is what I do for a living. Best, Carla Ernst 414 614 6873.

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      • Couple things, if I may. First, yes! A thousand times yes, Maria. I’ve been doing this thing all my life so far, and you’ve nailed this social gatherings thing. Especially the “I don’t want to sit down in the same place” thing. That’s my least favorite thing.

        Second, and perhaps more importantly, Carla, you’re a rock star!! You’ve either gone through your grief quickly, or you’re in complete and total denial. No, seriously, you’ve got a lot of resilience that lots ofnewly blinded people could emulate. You’re doing great! Nope, life isn’t over for you, and good for you for taking the bull by the horns. Now I’d better finish reading comments.

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      • Nice chatting with you Buddy. You are very insightful and inspirational to me, and full of great tips!

        I’m hardly in denial, maybe a little shocked some time, but I certainly know this real, but I don’t think I’m any kind of rock star, just dealing with what I have as best I can. Learning new things every day. Call me any time you would like!

        Best,

        Carla Ernst 414.614.6873

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  4. so funny maria, as usual. and all the information is ob
    vious…well, if you are blind, that is,,,keep writing, i love your posts…and you,. myrai

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  5. Hi Maria, all these situations happened at my conference after meeting you! I should of asked Lissa to attend the conference with me!

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    • Hi John…. I don’t doubt that many of these did happen to you! These situations can happen in many different environments! I.e. workplace, conferences, meetings, etc. It was great to meet you while you were here in San Diego!

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    • Hi Daniel… Believe it or not, it HAS happened to me!! I immediately call them out on it too!! Mistreatment of the blind girl!! Ha ha!!

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  6. I’m really fond of the “Tell Us before you touch us” “, that almost sounds like a click to tweet quote 🙂
    I really like your suggestion about how just because we are blind doesn’t mean that we want to stand or sit in one place! Unfortunately, I think this is an aspect that I lack in, when it comes to networking… Often I allow myself to just sit and one spot and don’t get out there to get to know more people.
    And maybe I’m in a minority but I’ve never had someone offer to cut up my food, I’ll be honest there are a few times when I’m just feeling too damn lazy that I don’t want to cut my own food and if they want to cut up for me why not?
    🙂

    All joking aside though, I agree with you on all of these point thanks for sharing!

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  7. Hi Michael…. Thanks for the great comment!! Glad you could relate to most of these! I agree that it is hard to get around to network and meet people when you were blind. Mingling about can be stressful when trying to put ourselves out there while putting our vision loss aside at the same time. Baby steps, baby steps! Good luck with getting someone to cut up your chicken and vegetables!! Hey… the struggle is real! Ha ha!

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  8. Such great information for us sighted people. I had no idea. Thank you for educating us.

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    • Hi Kathy!!! Thanks for reading and I am glad you got something out of it! I write my blogs to educate, as well as, entertain!!! Hope all is well with you!

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  9. Hi Maria, I was pointed to your blog by a tweet from the RNIB here in the UK. I can sort of relate to most of the list in this piece, although I am registered blind, but do have some residual vision. I may read your piece to my wife, as she grew up partially sighted, but is now totally blind, and I’m sure from reading your post myself, that my wife will agree with some of the things you’ve said, so I may come back with a second comment when I’ve read it to her. Knowing how life is for us around sighted people, it’s mostly family who don’t understand. I can certainly agree when it comes to your point about saying who’s in a room, although, in the context where it was problematic for us it wasn’t in a large gathering, just my parents not understanding a situation. I hope you don’t mind me commenting from the UK.

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  10. Pingback: News: August 27-29, 2016 – My Macular Degeneration Journey/Journal

  11. found the article funny. having lost my sight some ten years ago i still find every day a challenge. ty for shareing

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  12. Flying Blind

    Ever since I lost my vision, many people have said, “Carla you’re so brave, I could never go through what you’re going through!” But my response is always the same: Yes, you could do it if you too had lost your vision. I don’t like to be called “brave” since I’m actually quite a chicken. But this week you might say I was brave. Unfortunately, on Monday my 90 year-old-mother passed away peacefully in her sleep in hospice care in Florida. So given little choice, I had to fly from Milwaukee to Jacksonville to attend the memorial service. Being new to blindness, I’m still trying to ride city buses let alone navigate an airport. So Wednesday I bravely took two city buses at 4 a.m. to get to the airport where I tapped myself around to actually get on an airplane for the first time as a blind woman. It was hard, but I did it. But flying back home today was a different story. I guess I was naïve to think that I would be an expert blind traveler after just half of a trip. I had a humiliating experience that I hope none of you go through. After working through the baggage check line, l had successfully put my purse, suitcase and laptop onto the rolling rack and heard it all roll down the track. Then as I walked into the human scanner, the TSA lady saw me tapping my way to the scanner and tersely exclaimed, “No canes!” So she took my cane and gave me what seemed to be a regular cane, likely made of non-metal material that would not set off the alarms. But as I started to walk through, she grabbed my arms and proceeded to pull me through the scanner and I immediately lost my balance causing me to smash into the edge of the scanner and go hurtling down to the ground. The sighted people around me gasped in horror at the incident. I got up in tears facing the ongoing frustration of being blind and said to the agent, “Let’s try this again, but this time, just let me walk through the scanner on my own.” She reluctantly agreed, and I of course easily sailed right through without falling, tripping or injuring anyone, all to their amazement that a blind woman could navigate through without their help. As I increasingly get to be much more bold in my blindness, after I walked through and picked up my things, I told her quite forcefully that she should not pull blind people around and let them be guided by her voice or let people hold her elbow. She acknowledged me, walked away but just screamed out, “Next!” to the ensuing victims. As I’ve said in other missives, blindness is not the issue; it’s managing the sighted people around me. I hope the rest of my journey is more successful. Safe travels everyone! Carla Ernst 414.614.6873

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  13. To briefly introduce myself, I am a completely visually impaired youngster all the way from India. I discovered this blog through an RNIB Connect Radio’s post shared on a Facebook group I was, which I listened to, about Maria Ma’am’s first-time cane experience, from which I acquired the URl for this blog.
    This is the first post that I am reading of it, and most of these seven pointers are so easy to relate to. My friends and family consider my voice-based person identification abilities pretty polished, and so I do stand up to their expectations for the most part, but in unexpected situations if unanticipated people turn up, particularly that remotely related distant uncle or aunt of some sort, things can get messy, where I usually simply pretend to know them sufficiently well while exchanging greetings. However, it does get quite annoying when people expect me to recognize them by the touch of their hand, pat on the back or something of the like!
    Mingling in a social crowd can get difficult at times, but I have observed it to be much simpler when you are located at a good vantage point, such as a position from which you can actually audibly listen an on going conversation and participate in it.
    Fortunately, I don’t get people desiring to cut my food for me, apart from this weird incident I had at a Model United Nations conference recently, where a fellow delegate of my committee offered to assist me outside during the high tea break, and she asked me if I would be able to eat on my own, with utmost politeness. 🙂 I expressed the situation’s obviousness, and we had a good laugh about it then.
    Talking about Model United Nations conferences, I find them a very good stimulation not only academically for the United Nations, but also of alliance building and social interactions. I like to believe myself to be an articulate orator, due to which I was able to be successful in my last, third though, MUN conference (in which I happened to win Best Delegate too!).
    On the whole, in conclusion to my ramblings, great post and truly well said!

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  14. Oh my, this is exactly what I would say to friends… Also to my husband of 9 years should read this lol.. Thanks Maria..

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  15. I just found your site a couple days ago and I really like it. I also am blind and only went blind about 3 years ago . I have my own blog but I do not always write about stuff to do with blindness I would like to I just can not think of ways to explain it at times. I write about different subjects that I think of or people give me an idea about. I would like to Have more ideas from people about any idea weather or not they are talked about often or not. I am not trying to use your blog to promote mine I would just like more people and point of views for my blog.

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