Today I saw a post on twitter about a young woman who is blind being offered a braille menu for the first time in her life. The twitter post and subsequent BuzzFeed article made it seem like this absolutely normal moment was life changing for the young woman. At first it made me smile, that blindness was being discussed on social media. After a while though, it began to bother me quite a bit. I’m 24 years old and I have been blind for 23 of those years. I learned at a young age to ask for menus in braille. They aren’t always available, but in most chain restaurants they are. Because most of the general public isn’t used to interacting with those of us who don’t use our eyes to see, you have to ask for the braille version, but it’s always fun to be able to decide what you want for yourself. I myself, am a creature of habit. Once i find a food I like at any given restaurant I’ll usually just order that food because that’s what I want. The last time I was given a braille menu I used it for the purpose of showing my stepson what braille looked like in a book. I never saw something like a braille menu as anything more than I deserved. Maybe my opinion here is a product of the self confidence I’ve been actively fostering in myself over the past 2 years. But I believe the fact that what should have been seen as an ordinary moment in a young woman’s day became a news story says something very negative about how blind people are treated by the majority of the sighted public. If we as a Society are surprised and emotionally moved when blind people are simply treated like everyone else, what message does that send? From where I sit it screams that people who happen to not have eyes that work should feel very lucky when they are treated with common decency. They aren’t usually seen as full, capable, functioning members of the world, so when they are they should be extremely grateful. The sad part of this to me is that it becomes a vicious circle. Blind people are taught that they shouldn’t expect to be treated like everyone else. So they grow up not demanding the respect they should be given automatically. On the other side of this equation, the rest of the world is learning that they can, for the most part ignore blind people. When they do treat the blind like they are actually people too, they expect a parade for their goodness! I see this whole situation as just sad and wrong. I live my life demanding respect. If someone is genuinely kind to me I am thankful for that. But if I’m offered the same treatment as my sighted friends, I just call that a normal day. It shouldn’t be news worthy that a young woman who is blind was able to order dinner with the same ease as her sighted sister. Blind people need to become strong enough to take what they, as human beings in this world, deserve. And in return sighted people shouldn’t feel like saints when they do the minimum to include blind people in everyday life.https://twitter.com/buzzfeed/status/846786971385171968
A couple of instances have occurred in the last week that have bothered me quite a lot. As a general rule people don’t speak to me directly. They address their questions or comments to whoever I happen to be with. People act as if my blindness has rendered me incapable of doing something as simple as ordering a coffee. Although this annoys me a great deal, most of the time I don’t go through the effort of correcting them. The exception to this is when I’m alone with my step_children. I’ve spent the last year trying to teach these kids that my blindness doesn’t have to keep me from living a productive, full and happy life. Letting people overlook me and speak to my 15 year old feels like accepting a kind of defeat. And in doing that, I would be showing her that I’m less of a person than I actually am. This weekend my stepdaughter and I went shopping for my wedding dress. The saleswoman who was helping us was one of the most frustrating people I’ve dealt with in a long while. Not only did she not speak to me directly, but according to my stepdaughter, she didn’t even look at me once during our hour and a half of working together. Every time she asked my stepdaughter a question about what style or color of dress I was looking for I’d jump in with my answer. Some people take this hint and stop the behavior and start talking to me as though I am an actual person who can talk and think just like they do. This woman however, was not one of those people who could be taught. When we finally left my stepdaughter was absolutely annoyed and I was incredibly frustrated with the way the experience had gone. This incident came to my mind immediately the next day when I opened the door to the pizza delivery guy. Now I should explain that the pizza delivery guy and I have a long term relationship. This particular delivery guy has been delivering pizza to my house at least twice a month since October. He is fully aware of my blindness. Every time he delivers my pizza he asks me to sign the receipt. I do sign it, just in my own way. I have been blind my entire life so I don’t know how to write many print letters. I learned how to write a somewhat messy H and thats what I use as my signature. For some reason the pizza delivery guy chose this weekend to become unsatisfied with my signature. After I opened the door and said hello he looked over my shoulder and asked my stepdaughter if she could sign the receipt for me. I may have slightly overreacted to this because of my frustration with the saleswoman the day before, but I didn’t feel like it was appropriate for him to address my daughter when I was standing right in front of him. He has seen me sign receipts at least 12 times. There was no reason for him to ask someone else to do it. The fact that he asked a child to do it seemed even more disrespectful to me. I less than politely told him that I could sign it and sent my stepdaughter to get her brother ready for dinner. I signed the receipt and forgot about the whole thing until tonight. I ordered pizza for dinner and the same delivery guy brought it. He handed me the pizza and left without even asking for a signature. After I closed the door I stood in the middle of my living room and laughed. These 2 episodes have made me realize something. As a blind person I have the responsibility of demanding the respect that sighted women my age are given without question. I have the responsibility to make people treat me the way I deserve to be treated. It isn’t fair, and it isn’t reasonable, but it’s absolutely true. If I don’t demand respect, I will be treated like a passive child. I won’t accept that in my life. I won’t teach my children that it’s okay to treat someone as though they don’t exist because they are different. I will continue to push the people I interact with to see me as a person with all of the same rights, opinions, and thoughts as them. If you encounter a person with a disability, try to remember that they are a person first. No matter how different the disability may make them look or even act, they deserve a certain level of respect just for being a member of the human race.