The Mighty Logo

I Am Blind, Not Deaf -- Please Learn the Difference

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

I have had some interesting experiences living life as a totally blind person. I’ve had people assume I needed help when I didn’t. I’ve had people assume they knew where I was headed and try to physically direct me to said place. I’ve had people walk past me as I was attempting to ask them for help, because they didn’t realize I was speaking to them due to lack of eye contact. I’ve had people point and say it’s “over there” or “that way” without providing any other context. I’ve had people ask me if all my other senses were super heightened, essentially wanting to know if I was Daredevil. I’ve even had someone ask me if I had ESP. But if I had to pick the most amusing and also exasperating experiences, it would have to be the many, many times people have equated blindness with deafness.

This manifests itself in many ways. It has come in the people who talk to me either louder or slower or sometimes both. It has occurred when people talk or work around me, such as “what does she want to eat?” or handing my husband my credit card, which I had just used to pay. However, out of all these, the one that has always bothered me the most is when people do or say things, sometimes mundane and other times rude or hurtful, right in front of me because they assume I can’t hear them. Apparently there are a lot of people in the world who don’t realize the eyes and ears are two separate, distinct parts of the body, each with their own unique function.

This happened a lot in middle and high school. I think rude or mean kids just come with the territory in those grades, but that didn’t mean the remarks didn’t hurt. Once as I was walking by some classmates, I heard someone make remarks about my cane. The other replied that they needed to be careful, because I could probably feel them staring. Apparently, my ears didn’t work in their minds, even though I was standing right next to them.

As an adult, a situation like that is quite funny and if someone were to say something similar now, I think I’d have fun throwing out sarcastic quips. But at that time, as an insecure, self-conscious adolescent, I was flustered.

Another incident involved a male student saying if I hit him with my cane he’d “knock the hell” out of me. Looking back, I don’t think he meant a word of it, but as a withdrawn and shy freshman in high school, I didn’t know that. This kid was also being just a bit melodramatic. First off, it’s not as if I could avoid running into people, as that school was always ridiculously crowded. Furthermore, it’s not as if I was wildly swinging my cane around in bludgeoning circles, seeking people to maim. At most it would have been a tap on the ankles. So that remark was rather pathetic and actually kind of amusing, now that I am 22 years older and can examine the situation from an adult mindset.

Now that I have kids of my own who are both blind, I cannot help thinking of these experiences. I hope they won’t have to experience as many of them as I did growing up. However, it is somewhat a comfort to know that when they do, I will at least be able to relate to them in an empathetic way. I also hope to be able to teach them to not be afraid to speak up and educate people about the separate senses of eyesight and hearing. I hope I can teach them to be polite about it but also, if the moment is right, to maybe throw in some wit and sarcasm, because that just makes life more fun and entertaining.

Getty image by George Doyle.

Originally published: May 27, 2019
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home