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When Interacting With a Blind Person, Please Do This

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Winter howls. Wind says, “You haven’t yet earned the weather you want.”

But I’ve scheduled work with my computer wizard. I pull up my hood and push the bar to exit the building’s back door. I hold the cold outside handle with my left glove to make sure the door is closing. But it isn’t. I assume it’s the wind and push harder until the young male stranger says, “I’ve got it.”

He had not made a sound, had not come close enough to touch me, but has just learned Rule One: You must actually interact with blind people. You mostly have to talk to us, which is probably why so many people don’t interact with us.
I smile, tell him I thought it was the wind. He laughs, perhaps sheepishly.

He goes in and I go out to a waiting car.

When I come home two hours later, I unlock the back door and enter and again it will mysteriously not close.

Another mysterious stranger. Different guy. He has to talk, too. Maybe the wind masks their footsteps? Maybe my hearing isn’t what it used to be? I think this guy is from India. (Have you ever tried telling people’s characteristics by their voices? Very dangerous and usually wrong if you say such surmises out loud.)

Now I’ve had two such incidents in one morning. The second guy bravely follows me in. I know he’s behind me because I keep him talking. Frigid weather is a safe subject. I want him to remember what to do if he sees me again.

It’s not just doors. A few days ago, I passed the elevator, cane extended. The long-time tenant whom I think smokes a lot said a cheery hello. While avoiding him, I walked into someone else who was trying to tiptoe on air.

A few people touch me before speaking. I usually mention that I have fast reflexes and they shouldn’t try this if I have a hot cup of coffee in my hands.

Some very uninformed people will grab the top of my unfolded cane, which gets them evil looks and sometimes angry words.

A woman in loud high heels recently ran out in front of me to get to her mailbox faster. Then she saw my stopped self and asked if I needed help. Was she daydreaming or looking at her phone? Did she decide rudeness was easier?

Unless people talk or make noise, blind people don’t know they are there. My across-the-hall neighbor always said hello to me specifically when she saw me in the lobby. Another neighbor called her on it, saying, “You never say hi to any of us.”

Helene’s answer was, “but you can see me and you know I’m here.” We always know who the smart sighted people are.

One night, I paced parking lot perimeters. I had heard no one for 10 minutes and forgot that people could be in my happy world of inattention until I heard keys jingling. He had come up the lower parking lot steps.

“I knew you didn’t hear me because you didn’t stop walking,” he told me.

“I forgot to pay attention,” I laughed and added, “you were very smart to make noise and speak.”

Getty image by Ron Bailey.

Originally published: February 18, 2020
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