It was a bleak Seattle winter morning several years ago, and I shivered as I climbed into the yellow taxi cab.  I was dreading my appointment at the WA Department of Services for the Blind (DSB) for many reasons, but I had finally decided to see what kind of services might be helpful to me.  They had sent me a voucher for the taxi ride, so that transportation to DSB would be direct and free.

I handed the voucher to the cab driver, and noticed him eyeing me suspiciously in the rear view mirror.  I glanced down at the time on my phone to make sure I would be to my appointment on time.  When I looked back up, I saw that he was once again glancing at me in the rear view mirror.

I instructed myself to stop being paranoid, and focused on checking Facebook updates on my phone for the remainder of the ride.  As the driver pulled into the DSB parking lot, he asked in a thick Indian accent, “So, are you blind?”

I wasn’t expecting his question, so I paused briefly before saying, “Um…yes, I have a rare eye disease that is causing me to lose my sight.”

He did not say anything back to me, but shook his head from side to side, and made a “tisk, tisk tisk” sound, like he was tapping his tongue on the roof of his mouth.  I instantly felt my face flush with embarrassment.  I wasn’t sure if he was pitying me or shaming me.  I was relieved to step out of the taxi and out of the driver’s seemingly judgmental presence.  I didn’t give the incident further thought until recently when I read For the Benefit of Those Who See: Dispatches from the World of the Blind. Continue reading

 
1. You hear yourself telling your 5-year-old to “Hop up!” when she is lagging behind.

2. While doing sighted guide with your spouse you find yourself patting him on the arm at every corner, saying “Good boy!” 

3. You open your wallet and, instead of cash, find kibble.

4. When you pick up your cane you instinctively give it a “forward” command.

5. You tell your friends you are going to “do your business” as you head to the lavatory.  

I met Amy via an online Retinitis Pigmentosa support group, and we instantly connected.  Reading this post, I think you’ll see why!  She writes an awesome blog and has a memoir that I’m looking forward to reading.  This is one of my favorite posts because it discusses the spectrum of blindness and how many people with vision loss do not appear so.

 

By Amy L. Bovaird

Real-Blind-Person-1024x1024Look at the picture. Who would you guess the blind one is?

You might think it’s the second photo because there is a little part of a cane sticking up. The truth is … each one of us in the photo is blind.

Blindness can’t be measured on a set of scales with a needle, one pointing to BLIND and the other SIGHTED. Yet, it’s often believed that it’s like that. Either you can see or you can’t. So when onlookers see an individual using a white cane, many times the thought that accompanies it is, “that person can’t see anything.”

But then the same blind person looks at a watch, checks messages on a cell phone, looks both ways when crossing the street, makes eye contact with the onlooker, orders off a table menu, walks around a number of barriers while dragging the cane behind, or simply smiles at him or herself in a mirror.

You can see! You’re faking it. You just want attention. You must want a free bus pass. You’re playing tricks. Snea-ky!  Hey, look this way. And the most famous response is … But you don’t LOOK blind!

People have often voiced these thoughts aloud to me – much later, of course when they can laugh at their misconceptions. Sometimes strangers even voice these thoughts out loud. While it might seem strange, some vision-impaired people may unconsciously follow these same fallacies. I don’t look blind. AM I faking it? Are people going to think I am? I struggled with it certainly. That’s one reason it is so hard to pick up a cane and use it.

Those who are not familiar with blindness often have a certain idea in their minds of what a blind person looks like. When I ask them what that is, their response might be, “Someone with thick glasses.”  The answers vary; sometimes silence follows.

The truth is, you can’t tell if someone is blind by looking.

I’ve had people try to “catch” me by snapping their fingers quickly to see if I notice the movement. It’s equivalent to “Look at me! Gotcha!”

I wonder why people want to catch us. What’s in it for them?

When I trained in Orientation and Mobility, I learned that “blindness” encompasses a whole continuum of varying degrees of sight to no sight. A lot of people are visually-impaired and no one even knows their struggle because they have enough vision to get around without a cane or a guide dog. But the struggle is real.

Yes, some people can make eye contact. Some can’t.

Some can look you straight in the eye one moment then turn around and spill a large glass of water the next. There’s a gap in their peripheral, or side, vision. Some can see where you’re standing, but not your hands. So you go to shake a hand and the person stands there unaware. “What a snob,” the thought is. Another gap.

In Erie, Pennsylvania, where I live, there are about 290,000 citizens. 15 % of those people are legally blind. That means there are about 43,500 people who cannot see what a typical person should be able to see. That’s a lot of people!

I never minded people thinking I was clumsy or air-headed. It was an easy blame. It was much harder to admit I couldn’t see. Maybe you know someone who is having some struggles. Maybe it’s his or her vision. Be kind. And if you see someone with a cane, don’t “test” them. Don’t “wonder.” It’s hard to pick up a cane, believe me.  If I wanted attention or a free bus pass, I could solve that in other ways.

Today’s truth: blindness is a continuum with a large span between legally blind and completely blind. There is no one look to being blind. – you can tweet this.

Do you know anyone who is visually-impaired or blind? If you could ask them one question about their vision, what would it be?

Amy3-4Bio

Amy Bovaird is an educator, an inspirational speaker and author of the bestselling memoir, Mobility Matters: Stepping Out in Faith. Although Amy suffers from a dual —progressive vision and hearing loss—she continues to enjoy running, hiking and traveling. She also supports local and national animal rescue organizations. Amy blogs about international travel and the challenges she faces as she loses more vision and hearing. But more importantly, she shares the lessons God reveals to her through her difficulties. You can read about her experiences at http://amybovaird.com
Other ways to connect with Amy:

Facebook page

Author Facebook page

Amazon kindle, paperback and Large Print

Signed copy of book

Audio sample (book coming soon!)

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Yellow lab, Roja, wearing a furry lion’s mane.

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Husband Ben dressed as Scarecrow, Joy in tin woman costume with guide dog Roja, dressed as cowardly lion, standing next to Elli, age 5, dressed as Glinda, and Lucy, age 9, as Dorothy.

So I was just starting to really like this Joy person.  Sure, she’s a bit chatty and won’t stop commanding that phone of hers to do different things, but she plays tug-of-war like a real champ and even lets me win sometimes.  And her kids are awesome…they let me snuggle with them as they fall asleep, and whenever Joy says it’s time to get them from school, I race to the front door to put my harness on!  But Halloween really made me question the entire Thomas family, even Joy’s chill hipster husband with the big beard.

They put this furry lion’s mane on me, and as if that weren’t embarrassing enough, they added this badge labeled “courage.” Then they all got in weird costumes too.  After getting all gussied up, they took me to this dog parade where there were tons of dogs and treats, but they had the nerve to expect me not to sniff around!  I figured it was payback time for the mane, so I barely listened to a word they said.  I’ll teach Joy not to pawn her strange human traditions off on me!  I’m a serious working dog, after all.  I can’t be bothered with this hullabaloo.

I saw Joy pack up all the costumes yesterday, though, so I’m thinking this was just a one time thing.  I’ll let it slide this time, especially since she took me to Chicago yesterday to hang out with some fellow working dogs.  I got to see Anja, who I used to play with when I lived in California.  We pawed each other like we were small pups and then snuggled next to each other in our harnesses on the floor of some taco joint they took us to.   I also got to meet a new friend named Cabrillo, and he was super friendly.

All in all, I still think Joy is a decent handler, so I think I’ll keep working for her.  Plus, she just got these new lamb treats that I really can’t pass up.  You should see the drool that hangs from my mouth when I catch a glimpse of these things!

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Jane, Joy and Pam, with guide dogs Anja, Roja and Cabrillo.