Guest Blogger Paula Kiger: It’s Plain To See

Grandma Barbara, Paula, Tenley

My children love to have Grandma Barbara along for trips to amusement parks and other crowded places. Why? Because we get to park in handicapped parking, of course!!

Barb has been blind since 1985. I came into the family in 1987, so I have never known her sighted; she has never “seen” my children. When thinking about a topic to share with Susie’s audience, it occurred to me that our experiences with a visually impaired family member may lend themselves to a few nuggets that you can use.

When you and your children (if you have any) encounter a blind person, there are ways to get past any barriers the blindness creates, to help the individual with any logistical issues and to get to the fun part – getting to know the person behind the cane and dark glasses.

Here are several tips:

Lend an elbow, not a hand. If the blind person has had conventional mobility training, they will prefer to take your elbow lightly if you are going to walk somewhere together. It is disconcerting to be taken by the hand or “grabbed.”

Tell them your name, even if you have interacted with them before. Blind people do not have a magical recall of various voices, and when the environment is crowded, there is also the matter of many voices at once from which to differentiate. My sister in law, Brenda, said that is one of the biggest things she has worked with her children on – identifying themselves when they approach Grandma.

Don’t ask why they are blind. This has been one of the most mystifying things to me, being with a blind person so frequently – the number of utter strangers who say, “How did you become blind?” or “Have you always been blind?” (And then there’s this question’s weird cousin – “Do you wish you had never been able to see so you wouldn’t know what you are missing?” Just don’t. Think about it, would you want someone saying, “So were you wearing the silk teddy or your flannel nightgown when you conceived your baby?”) If the blind person wants to disclose the information once you know each other better, great. In the meantime, don’t ask.

The Lighthouse of the Big Bend produced a set of 9 “myths about blindness” that are probably the best “Cliff’s Notes” if you only have one reference for dealing with blind people:

Top 9 Myths About Blindness

9. If you are blind you have “Super-Power” senses. (Truth: Without vision, you learn to notice & focus on your other senses more.)

8. You must talk loudly to a person with a visual impairment. (Truth: Not unless the person also can not hear!)

7. People who can’t see can feel your face to tell what you look like. (Truth: Most faces feel the same.)

6. All blind people read Braille. (Truth: Many people who are blind since childhood may, but most adults who become blind do not.)

5. Everyone who is visually impaired sees blackness. (Truth: There are many degrees of blindness, most people can still see a little, and the 10 to 15% who see nothing may see white or flashes.)

4. Strong enough glasses will help anyone who is visually impaired. (Truth: Glasses don’t help the retina, optic nerve, or brain.)

3. The Lighthouse staff use sign language to work with the blind. (Truth: Just speaking is effective unless the person is blind & deaf.)

2. To travel independently, a blind person needs a guide dog. (Truth: Very few use guide dogs (1%), many more use white canes (10%), and most do not need a cane or dog to travel independently.

1. Blind people will always recognize your voice. (Truth: Some people have distinctive voices, but most sound the same—it is helpful to identify yourself when you approach someone who is blind.)

Now, back to that handicapped parking. There’s one much more critical benefit to having Grandma along on family outings. Despite the limitations of her blindness, she shares unlimited and unconditional love with each family member.

It’s plain to see.

7 thoughts on “Guest Blogger Paula Kiger: It’s Plain To See

  1. Paula, this is such a well-written piece. My adult cousin suddenly became blind (really, it happened over the course of a few months) when his optometrist prescribed the wrong meds. Unfortunately the damage is irreversible. But, my cousin has an amazing spirit and a strong resolve and he’s doing very well. He prefers to not use a cane and has a great job. I’m so inspired by his determination.

    • Kristi, thank you for commenting! I am sorry your cousin is facing the new and huge challenge of being blind; it sounds like he is very determined and conquering this. You make another very good point, which is that each blind person makes different choices. Barb does use a cane whereas many people have companion dogs and she has not gone that route. Now with the advent of “talking computers” (voice synthesization) I do not think Braille is as universally utilized (but I don’t know stats).

    • Liesl, these are definitely things on the list of “stuff I wish I had known” when I first became acquainted with Barb. I hope the blog helps alleviate some awkwardness for people. Thanks for the comment.

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