“But, you don’t LOOK blind…”, she said in an irritated tone. The woman was sitting in a space that was saved for me at the top of the stadium bleachers at a crowded high school football game. I had asked her if she would mind scooting over, so I could sit in that seat. I mentioned that I was legally blind and I didn’t really want to walk down the old rickety wooden steps (with no handrails), to find another seat. Since my vision loss, some of my awesome mom friends always saved me a seat, so I always had a safe and accessible place to sit for the games. Thankfully, the woman moved over…with an evil eye roll, I’m sure.
Did she expect my eyes to look different or unusual to indicate I had a vision problem? Or maybe assume I would be wearing big dark sunglasses, because don’t all blind people wear sunglasses 24/7? Didn’t she realize that “blind” comes in a variety of flavors? Like ice cream or martinis?
In all fairness, my eyes look just like they did before I lost much of my vision 4 years ago. (I do have some blurry peripheral vision left.) For many, including myself, vision loss is an invisible disability, making it harder for people to be aware of it or to offer assistance and/or accommodations without being asked.
Continuously educating the public is important. Helping people to better understand that vision loss can be an invisible disability is good for us AND for the next Invisibly disabled person they meet. We need to encourage others to be more aware of what we can or can’t do, and what we need or don’t need – No matter what condition we have.
It is pretty obvious that a person might need some help if they are struggling to open a door or attempting to carry several large packages out of a store. But what if a person is standing at the top of a dimly lit set of stairs or trying to find an open seat at a coffee shop? Is it obvious to others that they might need help? Hmmm. When your disability is not visible, people may not know how to approach or offer to assist you. Speak up about your needs to get the best outcomes. I ask for Help all the time. Among other requests, I ask people to read menus – Including desserts, tell me who is in a room, or give me details about the clothing on the 50% off clearance rack. I love me a good bargain!
This can save you a whole boatload of frustration. When a disability is not visible, it can easily be forgotten. I need to regularly remind friends and family to guide me through crowded areas, or give me a little more detail when describing a person, place, or thing. Maybe it’s just me, but I need all the damn details! I know most people try their best, yet it’s easy to slip back into familiar habits after a while.
When I feel the need to, I tell people about my vision loss right up front. Let’s be real, you’re not going to be able to see your name, or number appear on a little screen to tell you it’s your turn, or see important graphics if you’re in a meeting with a PowerPoint type of presentation. Yeah, those might be times you want to mention your invisible disability. Recently, I took a new weight training class at the gym. Before class, I let the instructor know I was legally blind, and needed to be in the front row. This way, I could follow her a little bit better, and I could easily ask for clarifications. It would also explain any silly mistakes I made.
For this one, I can’t speak for all Invisible disabilities. I suspect it can be a challenge, or sometimes impossible, to make some disabilities more visible. If you’re living with vision loss, there are things you can do. For example, If you’re an athlete, such as a runner, skier, or tandem cyclist, you can wear a shirt or vest that says “Blind” or “Visually Impaired” on the back. And, of course, there’s the infamous white cane. Whether you prefer a symbol cane, a long white mobility cane, or a pink cane embellished with swarovski crystals, It WILL alert people of your invisible disability – Well, at least 98% of the people you encounter. The other 2% are just plain self absorbed idiots! *It’s your choice if you want to be more visible, these are merely suggestions.
It can be aggravating when people don’t recognize your need for assistance, or forget about a request you have made. You can’t control other people’s actions, but you can control your reactions. You know what? Life is too short to be a “Bitchy Betty”, or an “Angry Andy”all the time. (FYI: Nobody wants to hang out or play with Betty or Andy. Nobody.) Try to grin and bear it after an innocent faux pas, or just laugh off that awkward attempt at assistance. Sometimes you need to remember that it’s the thought that counts!
Any disability can be challenging in daily life, but one that is invisible may create additional obstacles. Being forthcoming about your vision loss, or any other condition, opens the door so you can comfotably ask for assistance – Making a better experience for everyone. xx
*My blogs are based on my experiences, and my experiences only.
I so appreciate your blogs for all they teach me about what it’s like to be visually impaired. Even though I am more aware of invisible disabilities than I was before your vision adventure, I still have a lot to learn. Thank you.
Well, you are welcome and to be honest, you have taught me so much over the last couple of years as well! Your strength and sense of humor is to be admired!! xo
This is a wonderfully helpful post Maria. I have experienced a lot of but you don’t look blind comments and assumptions. I was born with a visual impairment called FEVR and although I can see, my vision is limited.
Thank you for the comment! It’s always nice to know that my blogs are enjoyed and found to be relatable! XX
Agreed (also speaking from my experiences). There are times we need to disclose (for me it will be one of the many symptoms of PRMS) and times to be silent about it. I am also a T10 paraplegic, so the elephant in the room is my wheelchair, which confuses people even more.
Thanks for reading and leaving a comment! I suspect many people are a little uncomfortable around wheelchairs, walkers, white canes, etc. – People don’t know what to do for us, so they just say or do nothing. “Speaking up” is something I’ve really had to work on. xxCall
once again your post is enlghtening and humorous…….you give great insights with a smile…you are the rockstar for blindness enlightenment…the sighted of us are “in the dark” so to speak as to how to best make you feel comfortable and relaxed
And once again, what can I say to my #1 fan?? Thank you for your support and endless encouragement Auntie Myra! Hugs! xo
Great post! My husband is Visually impaired and uses a symbol cane, which he hates! I tell him he needs to to let people know he has a disability.but in our experience it’s 98%that are ignorant and only 2% who take any notice! There are a lot of self-absorbed people round here!
Thanks for leaving a comment! I have to be honest, I don’t particularly like using my cane either. So, I totally understand your husband’s feelings on the matter. But, the advantages outweigh the disadvantages and it’s hard to wrap your head around that. It’s unfortunate that more people are not aware of their surroundings, Let alone somebody walking with a cane. I’ve written blogs about my struggle with the white cane, and you can find them in the archives under, “Life with a white cane”. Perhaps your husband would like to read them –He will realize he is not alone in his thoughts. Take care!
Excellent post, Maria with some great tips! I think we generalize so much that we forget to think in terms of individuality and even if we share the same eye condition that our residual eyesight will be different for each person. I get how people are confused over the vast range of blindness, part of it is how blindness is defined, but you’re right it’s up to us to educate and advocate so that people are more enlightened.
Thank you for taking the time to read this and share your thoughts! I appreciate all you do to educate and breakdown the myths about blindness! You help so many to believe they can live a Bold, Blind, and Beautiful life! xo
I just read this on Facebook. It took a brain aneurysm for me to finally be willing to ask for help; that is how I became blind in the first place. Surgery made it so I can see with one eye. I tend to be like a little two year old wanting to do everything herself. I am learning to ask for help . I wear my prescription sunglasses all the time outside and occasionally inside thinking that will give off a hint, but now I notice people are wearing them inside and outside too, so I’m back to asking for help. One thing I have noticed and appreciate very very much is that people are willing to help. I live in a small town where I think the whole town must know and most of the people bend over backwards to help me. It’s when I am not home that I have to ask for help and/or wish for neon sign over my clothes.
Is there a way to get your blogs?
Thank you for this! It is so important. When I was doing my O&M training, my instructor and I talked a lot about finding opportunities to educate people when it comes to blindness and visual impairment. I love your blog.
Hello Maria I can definatly relate to your situation here. If I need assistance I am not afraid to ask that is for sure. I am legally blind as well and a lot of people do not see the different variations of blindness. I have (LCA) Leabers Congenital Amaurosis.
A great blog post Maria I shared on my Facebook page for my blind/v.i.p friends to read and what I’d add to the list too, its important for vision impaired like ourselves to remember things like this too especially if they’ve only recently lost their vision and dealing with the sometimes crazy situations that can happen in out lives! Lol
What a wonderful post and so dead on! I have been legally blind my entire life, and I agree with all five!
Hi there! Thank you for the great feedback on this blog!!! Always awesome to hear when others can relate! x
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