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5 Things Not to Ask Me About My Visual Impairment

I live in India and have albinism. While that attracts plenty of questions of its own, it’s the ones about my visual impairment that I usually find more difficult to answer. Particularly these:

1. “What do you see?”

It’s difficult to explain. And the answer often depends on a range of extraneous factors like the time of day or the lighting in the room. Sometimes, I can recognize you from a distance; other times, I don’t even notice when you’re right in front of me.

Also, I may be extremely myopic, but I can still make my way around without my glasses on. So please don’t gawk. And whatever you do, never wave your fingers in front of my face asking me, “How many?” That’s about the most annoying thing you could possibly do.

2. “Why are you squinting?”

Because I need to. Sometimes, I just can’t see very well, despite having my glasses on. And there’s no doctor or surgery that can fix that at the moment, so please don’t recommend your ophthalmologist. I’ve lived with my condition for 28 years. I’ve done all the research there is to do and seen the best doctors I can afford. I go for regular check-ups and get updates about the latest procedures available, so please keep your advice/suggestions to yourself, no matter how well-intended they may be. This holds true even if you are a doctor yourself or related to one.

woman in red shirt

3. “Do you need help?”

If I do, I’ll ask for it. At least most of the time. Usually for things like crossing busy roads or reading menus printed on walls at fast food joints. But when you try to help me without me asking, it is incredibly offending, like you are making me feel inadequate. I can manage most tasks completely well; I just take a little longer to do them. For instance, at the ATM, I’m a little slow with pushing all the right buttons. That doesn’t mean you have to try to help me. Chances are you’ll just end up confusing me and I’ll take even longer than usual.

4. “Why don’t you drive?”

Because I love myself and respect others too much to risk causing an accident. Driving is great, it is empowering. I would love to drive myself around, but the truth is that my eyesight just isn’t good enough. Public transport can be very empowering in its own way — it gives me extra time to read or check emails or just plain daydream. And it’s kinder to the planet.

5. “Didn’t you see me smile/wave/gesture at you?”

No, I didn’t. And I wasn’t snubbing you. I will never understand you unless I come right up to you and stare at whatever signs you are making, which kind of defeats the purpose of gestures, I suppose. So no, please don’t put me through that. If you want to get my attention, speak to me. My hearing is sharper than my sight.

Follow this journey on Mehak Siddiqui’s blog.

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