10 Pet Peeves of the Blind and Visually Impaired
1. The Guessing Game. "Hey [insert name here]! Do you know who I am?" Oh, please don't do this. I've seen adults do this with students (a lot) and frankly, it's just rude. Don't put that person in a position to be embarrassed in case they don't remember. Yes, they will recognize familiar voices, and you may know they recognize you, but please, resist the temptation to prove it to others by quizzing them. Don't you think you'd feel a little stressed if you thought you'd be tested about people every time you went out? Be considerate and identify yourself!
2. Being afraid of the "s" word. Someone can be talking to a blind or partially sighted person and say something like, "Let's go see what's for lunch." Then they gasp and think, "Oh no, I shouldn't have said 'see!'" Lighten up. Everyone uses "see," "look," and "watch out"—including people who are blind or visually impaired.
3. I'm blind, not deaf. HELLO, HOW ARE YOU?? Which goes along with one of my own pet peeves: "You teach blind kids? So you must know sign language?" Um, no. I know braille. I wish I had a dime for every time someone asked me that—including administrators during job interviews. Sometimes they "get it," but sometimes they don't. (That's okay; I've just deducted 5 IQ points from them!) And, for the record, I have taken sign language classes, but since I don't have any deaf-blind students, I have long forgotten it. I wonder if teachers of the hearing impaired get asked if they know braille?
4. Blind people can hear everything. This is the flip-side of #3: people assume the visually impaired have so much better hearing than the rest of us. No, but they do rely on it much more, so they are probably listening and paying attention better. They're not necessarily paying attention to the teacher, though. They also don't have visual "distractors" so to speak, so they can focus more on what they hear. Unless they don't want to hear it, of course. They are human, after all.
5. "I don't really believe he's blind, even with that white cane. I'm not moving from this side of the hallway." That attitude will leave you sprawled out on the floor when the person barrels into you. Here's a good rule: Don't play chicken with a blind person. You will always lose. Instead, get out of the way, or at least make yourself known by saying something or making a noise.
6. Holding out your hand to shake theirs without touching their hand. If that person cannot see your hand, how is he/she supposed to know where your hand is? Answer: They will often extend their hand in anticipation, but if not, tell them you would like to shake their hand and then reach out and take their hand. Same thing goes for handing them something. You would be amazed how many times this happens. "Here's your homework," and then you hold it out in space. Or, even better, don't say anything at all and hold it out. Again, exactly how is he/she going to know where it is? Grope about for it? Sometimes groping is okay, like for finding a dropped item. But when handing things to the visually impaired, please touch their hand with it so they know where it is.
Some things are just funny
7. Low expectations. This includes:
- The pitying person - "Oh, you poor blind child. You must have a terrible life!"
- The know-it-all person - "Dr. so-and-so can work miracles. I know because my grandmother/nephew/dog has 20-20 vision now."
- Mr. Helper - "Let me do that, I know it's too hard for you."
- The excuse-maker - "I don't want him/her to learn how to make a [insert food here] because they might cut/burn/make a mess." Or "You can't go on that field trip because there might be a terrorist attack and I would worry."
- The denial/embarrassed person - "Don't use your cane at the store so people won't know you're blind."
Unfortunately, the list goes on and on. Low expectation is probably the worst thing one person can do to another, regardless of abilities. If you aim for low performance, that's likely what you'll get. Don't be an enabler. Being too over-protective will dramatically hinder their progress toward independence and living a happy, social, productive life. Step back. Allow them to fail, get a minor injury, and make their own mistakes. That's how we all learn. Don't forbid them these opportunities.
8. Would you like to feel my face? Whoa. Do you ask sighted people if they'd like to feel your face? First of all, a blind person is not going to get a lot of information from feeling a face, other than maybe the shape of your nose. There are times when it is appropriate, such as when learning parts of the body. But if you are not immediate family, allowing a blind or partially sighted person to "feel" you is very inappropriate. And there are some who will attempt to do just that because they know many people aren't sure about that protocol. Their hand needs to stay in a handshake, and not move up your arm, and certainly nowhere else! If you wouldn't let a sighted person feel you, don't let a blind one. I've answered this question a lot from sighted people who have felt awkward allowing this to happen. Well, they feel awkward for a reason! It's not socially acceptable! Feeling your hair, or the lack of it, can be appropriate depending on the circumstances. I've also had this question from a parent: How will my son know what a particular girl looks like? Answer: His friends will tell him!!! Oh yes, they will. ;)
9. Rudeness. It's usually just ignorance, but don't assume that any blind or visually impaired person automatically needs help. Grabbing the person's arm and pulling them along is wrong on several levels. We know you're probably just trying to be nice, but don't. First, always ask the person if they would like some assistance. Then, use the sighted guide technique correctly. Offer your arm and let them hold it, usually right above the elbow. Also, if there are several others with the person, speak directly to him/her, not through an "interpreter", as if the person is not there. Say his name, so he knows you are talking to him.
10. Pure meanness. Placing obstacles in the blind or visually impaired person's path, throwing things at them, rearranging furniture, moving or taking their belongings, calling them names, taking them to the wrong place and leaving them. Yes, it is mean - and it happens all too often. There will always be Sith among us, but educating ourselves and our children about disabilities may help reduce the bias, discrimination and ignorance.