“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.