Written by ETI Content Writer Hillary Dolinksky
To some, my blindness is like a puzzle to solve—people notice that I am unable to see and then right away start trying to figure me out. I can almost feel the wheels turning in their minds, wondering if I need help, if I should be out on my own, and if I’m okay. A few brave souls ask me questions, but others either walk around me or grab my arm to assist me without saying a word.
I understand that there are many different dynamics to these kinds of interactions and misconceptions. Some people with blindness are open to answering these questions, whereas others are quick to get annoyed. Some people with sight are genuinely curious about my disability, and it’s beautiful when people are curious, but there are also people who may take advantage of me because I cannot see. The sooner we talk about misconceptions in an open and honest way, the sooner we can dispel the stigma around blindness.
Below I have shared some of the most common assumptions people make because of my blindness. As you’ll see (no pun intended), many concern my independence and my ability to navigate this world on my own.
“How do you get from point A to point B?”
People see my cane and assume I am unable to walk on my own. They forget that I have feet and four other senses to rely on. I can familiarize myself to places I visit often, just as people with sight might recognize a coffee shop on the corner or an intersection a block away. Let’s say I’m in Harvard Square—I know that area very well. I can get around just fine there. If I’m in a new place, I can use technology to help me navigate, or I can use the ancient art of communication and ask people for a point of reference.
Believe it or not, when I cross the street sometimes, total strangers will just grab my arm to pull me across. Hello! I can hear the cars and can tell when they’re stopping. I have legs and I can walk. I understand that people may think they’re helping, but they also assume that I’m unable to get around by myself. Even at the airport when I ask for help getting to my gate, some airlines will ask if I want a wheelchair. No, thank you, I just need to know which gate I’m at and what direction to walk in to get to my flight.
“How do you send emails? Type? Use Facebook?”
I am lucky to live in the age of technology, where there are new apps being designed all the time. Most people with sight rely on their eyes to know where to click a button on a screen, or how to type out an email. I bet if you closed your eyes and tried to type an email, you’d surprise yourself with how familiar your physical body is with layout of your keyboard. Same goes for me—with a few changes to my keyboard, or with the use of a screen-reader that speaks to me, I can use technology to read an email from my doctor, write my term papers, or share updates with friends on Facebook.
“How do you live alone? Get groceries? Do your laundry? Pick out clothes?”
People have this idea that sight is everything, forgetting that there are other ways to get around it. You can memorize where things are a grocery store. You can ask! And thanks to apps like Amazon or Instacart you can order things you need online and have them delivered right to your door. I learn what color shade a clothing item is and what it can match with, and then I organize my closet accordingly. Just because I can’t see how I look doesn’t mean I don’t care, or that I don’t want to feel beautiful. I can tell if something fits, and fashion is so much more than just how something looks. Blind people can wear makeup if we want to because of how it makes us feel, not just how it makes us look.
Many people are also curious about how I keep myself clean. I think my lack of sight actually makes me more sensitive to staying clean! My other senses, like smell and touch, are stronger and help me notice if something needs my attention.
“I’m sorry you’re blind. I’ll pray for you!”
I’m not sad because I’m blind. I think people feel an urge to say something when my blindness comes up, and usually the first thing they say is, “I’m sorry.” I feel that sighted people think I’m unhappy with my situation. Our disabilities and imperfections make us uniquely perfect—my blindness has been perfect for me if I’m embracing it in the right way. It has pushed me to use my passion and start my nonprofit Empowerment Through Integration—something no one should feel sad or sorry about.
It is important for us to strip away misconceptions around blindness—both from sighted people and people who are blind. I can’t assume that people are pitying me when they offer help, or that society is always against me. But sighted people also can’t assume that I’m incapable of doing things on my own or experiencing “normal” things because I’m blind. I hope we can continue to build true, honest, and curious conversations around disabilities to move forward together.