I was lost, but I stayed calm.
I have been blind all my life. Early one September evening, I was disoriented and lost. I had gone shopping at Winco and encountered a shopping cart right in my path that changed my course and I ended up in the middle of the parking lot.
Then a gentleman asked if I needed help. I asked him which way was Andresen. He told me to turn around and listen to the traffic. I turned around, following the sidewalk to my right and found the street.
He didn’t touch me, he didn’t just tell me a direction to go, he actually thought about what I needed and told me something that was helpful to me; listen to the traffic.
These are things I want people to know. My sighted peers mean well, but they don’t always know how to interact with a person with a visual impairment.
Here are other questions that you might want to know about helping a person with blindness:
What would you like sighted people to know if they see you trying to cross the street?
We listen to the traffic and its pattern when crossing the street. First, we listen for perpendicular traffic and for cars that turn into the middle of the crosswalk. Then when a blind person is crossing the street, we listen to the parallel traffic.
Some intersections are more difficult to cross than others. If you see a blind person waiting to cross, it’s a good idea to wait a few minutes for them. Don’t be afraid to offer us help. We know it can be nerve-wracking when you aren’t exactly sure the right way to help someone so I have a few suggestions:
In a loud clear voice, state your presence, tell them your name and ask them, “Do you need some help crossing the street?”
Offer your arm, or walk close to them and let them know you will be crossing with them. If a blind person starts to veer into the street, please don’t just grab us as much as you think you are trying to keep us safe. It can make us feel nervous just like it would anyone else. The best way is to give us directions such as “go left” or “go right”.
Most importantly, do not grab or try to hold our canes! It’s awkward and unsafe as our canes are our eyes. Plus, I’ve heard it can really hurt when we whack you with it out of fear!
How do you arrange and match your clothes?
When blind people get dressed, there are different techniques we use. For example, we can use a braille labeler and create labels to identify colors. Some people use color reading apps available on smartphones, while others ask their relatives or friends to tell them what to wear. Sometimes people use pins to keep their clothing together. It really comes down to what unique system works best for each individual person.
I actually don’t use any of those techniques. I tie socks up in a knot to make sure they don’t come apart. Certain shirts and jeans have a texture that is unique to them. When I go shopping, I make sure to ask someone if the shirt and jeans match.
Tell me about the experience of cooking.
I really enjoy cooking! I use my sense of smell to determine what spices to use and when my food is cooked. When cooking certain foods like steak, I use a talking thermometer. I tend to get a little creative in the kitchen. My skillet is my best friend! I love to make fried chicken and make omelets. I’ve made one with mushrooms and ham. I add a lot of melted cheese. I like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Pasta is life!! My favorite dish to make is shrimp pasta. I add a caesar salad and some french bread and of course a ton of cheese!
What is something you want your sighted peers to know that we don’t know?
There are few important things that come to mind. Descriptions are incredibly helpful. The more descriptive the better. For example, if I were in the cafeteria with a sighted person, the way they could help me the most is to tell me in very descriptive words what the cafeteria is like. Tell me how the tables are set up and their shape. Tell me if the chair is to my left or right and help me feel for the top of it. It’s the same with small items like silverware or condiments. Tell me “the forks are to your left” or “the spoons are in the middle container.”
Another thing I think is important for my peers to know is that not all people are completely blind. There are various eye conditions and you can’t assume someone’s disability just because they are carrying a cane. The most important thing to remember is to be respectful and not to get offended if someone doesn’t want to share everything with you.
Helping others is important to me and that is why I like to talk about what may be most effective when helping a blind person. I think the best way to ask someone is “what is your eye condition” or “how does it affect your daily life”.
Don’t be scared of us! We are humans with goals and dreams just like everyone else. Plus, you might just learn something new from us!