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Can't Have It Both Ways.

Today, my father and I were checking out at Wal-Mart. In order to expedite our departure, I went to put the shopping cart away while he paid. On my way back to where he stood, I saw someone coming towards me. I stopped and waited for them to pass. The man who passed me remarked, "You do pretty well for someone with black glasses and a cane."

Not knowing what else to say, I replied, "Thank you." But as I walked back to my father, I was unsure if it was a backhanded compliment, especially since his tone seemed like it could be somewhat disbelieving or a tad snarky. I could not see his face, so whatever expression it carried was completely lost on me.

I've been legally blind my whole life, and I've learned to do everything in my power to not collide with people and objects. The man, from a distance, was a white oval with a brown circle on top. It's not what most people would call a person, but I saw it move toward me. If we had been in a wider space, I would have continued walking, but the path through the checkout lines is fairly narrow, so I thought it best to wait and see if the blur was trying to move through the same space that I was. This time, I was correct. Sometimes, no one comes and I wonder if I just spent a few seconds looking like I had no idea what I was doing.

I honestly do very well for someone who can't see clearly and whose eyes will mis-see objects or not see them at all, and it's nice when people notice how well I do, but it can also make things harder. I've had people not believe that I was disabled before. I even had a mall cop get in my face and argue with me about whether or not I had a disability. I took off my glasses so that he could see my lazy eye and how my eyes constantly shake and don't really focus. He still argued with me, until I got up the nerve to flat out march away from him. I was about fifteen at the time and found it very upsetting. Now that I'm older and more used to it, I don't find interactions like these nearly as upsetting, though no one has been as vocal as that mall cop. I wonder if remarks such as, "You do pretty well for someone with black glasses and a cane," are more critical than complimentary. Could the person think that I really shouldn't be carrying a cane, or were they honestly trying to give me a compliment? I feel like it implies that they didn't expect me to get around well. Granted, getting around is sometimes difficult or very stressful, especially in big crowds, but it's hardly the kind of thing for which I'd expect to receive praise.

I think it might have to do with how I was raised. My parents were never sure of how blind I was. They did not know until I was fourteen that I don't see outlines around objects and that the only things I use to distinguish objects are their color and how light reflects off of them. I don't remember people complimenting me on how well I did with my disability as a qualifier, and I still don't look at my accomplishments relative to the impairments I had to accommodate while achieving them, even when it is relevant.

I also feel like there is this misconception that everyone who carries a white cane is completely blind. We're all visually impaired to varying degrees, just like how people in wheelchairs have many different mobility problems, people who carry white canes have many different visual issues. I met a scientist who studies snakes in Latin America (How cool is that!) who carries a cane because she has no vision in the center but has her peripheral vision. I lack most peripheral vision on the sides, above, and below, and my limited field is pretty blurry. I have not asked other people I know who carry canes to describe what they can and can't see, but I'm sure that I would receive many different answers. There are also many different ways to use a cane and several different tips for them depending on what the user needs. For example, the tip on my cane rolls so that I can glide it across the floor.

It's hard to find a balance between being seen as capable of many things and having people understand that I don't process everything the same way and that I sometimes need help. When it comes to being legally blind, there are two main points of view on how we should operate in the world. One is that stores and public places should adapt to help us and the other is that we should become completely self-sufficient. When I learned how to use a white cane, I was told to just keep walking and not move to accommodate the other people walking around me, since they should move out of my way, but not everyone is paying attention and not everyone knows what my cane means. For all the confused people who probably wondered why the "blind" woman moved out of their way, there are many people who only realized I couldn't see as I was already passing them and at least a few more who did not notice at all.

So, today I stepped out of someones way like I usually do and was told that I did "pretty well for someone with black glasses and a cane." I still don't know if I was being made fun of in some way, nor do I have a facial expression to put with the words. Maybe it was a compliment or simply a tactless statement. The best thing to do would be to take it at face value, since, all things considered, I do indeed do pretty well!

(Also, I love Toph and almost never have a reason to use this icon, so thank you, Wal-Mart stranger, for you have given me an opportunity! :3)



( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
Sep. 29th, 2013 03:06 am (UTC)
it was either a weird compliment -- some people are just bad at compliments -- or he was implying you're faking it. either way whatever, it was a weird thing to say.

japan is really good with having ways for the blind to get around and not fall onto train tracks, but its so shovey-pushy here even if you can see it can be impossible to avoid people. pretty sweaty and gross sometimes >(
Sep. 29th, 2013 03:22 am (UTC)
I think he was possibly implying the later, but whatever. It's not my issue.

I love the beeping things in Japan! I also love the textured walkways. Oh god. That reminds me of the time I was on a "study" abroad trip with People to People. I don't know what the person who was planning our itinerary was thinking when they decided that we should ride the commuter train during rush hour "for the experience". My group leader was pushing us further back on the train. Businessmen began simultaneously pushing past me as ten other students were pushing me back. I ended up falling onto a young man's lap. I was somewhere between embarrassed and mortified, especially because of Japanese proxemics, but I guess it can't be helped on a train. I just jumped off as quickly as I could while hurriedly saying, "もしわけございません." (The other girls kept teasing me about it, since he was the cutest guy we saw on the trip.) Both times I went were in August, so I definitely understand the sweaty and gross, but costal Virginia, where I lived for 21 years, is just as bad.

Spain is also super awesome for the blind. There's an office in each city that works on making sure that the blind are able to get around and be helped. I went around by myself while I was there. Whenever I got confused, people would help me find where I was going. There's even a blind museum in Madrid that has to miniature scaled monuments from around the world that you can feel. (I didn't get to go though.)
Dec. 5th, 2015 04:38 pm (UTC)
Or the person might not have been very able to judge how the remark sounded, through some health/ ability problem of their own? Just a possibility.

Not all problems are very visible, or fall into expected and neat categories, so although you might have had people telling you never to move aside for others and that they should always accommodate you, suppose you met someone who had been given the same advice for a similar reason? I know a number of people who, for several different (physical) reasons, would be extremely relieved and grateful that you had stopped to let them pass or would have stopped in the same way for you. Also, everyone I like and respect would have appreciated the courtesy from you and would also have done the same for you, providing they were able to perceive you were there in time.
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )



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