The topic of things that are “taboo,” or unacceptable to talk about, or do, is an interesting one to me. Ideas, rituals, and other ways of life only become “taboo,” when society bases a judgment of whether something is acceptable or unacceptable, upon it’s own knowledge and experiences. Does this mean we should accept these things as “taboo” as well? Well, if you want to continue reinforcing these stereotypes, by all means, just be a follower in society. In my mind though, something is not “taboo” until I have determined it to be morally or ethically wrong. This means that some “taboos” in society are not “taboo” to me.
Living as someone who is blind/VI, I have come across many topics that seem to be “taboo” in our society, specifically with regard to interacting with people of the blind/VI community. For instance, people often become very cautious on what they say or talk about, fearing they may offend someone. Because of fear of offending us, people often hold back from asking questions and really learning how we blind/VI live our every day lives. Therefore, those in society fail to truly understand and be well educated about what it is to be blind and how the blind/VI live in a very visually oriented society.
As I expand upon the "taboos" in society of the blind/VI community, I will explain how I look at my visual impairment and how I think most others that have come to grips with their visual impairment view the world. I cannot speak for every other blind/VI individual. Everything that you read in my blog is “Through My Eyes”, but I do believe I have a good grasp of how others in my shoes also view the world.
One of the first “taboo” or controversial subjects for those in society is how to address these people? People ask themselves, will I offend them if I call them blind? Do I need to call them a “person with a visual deficit?” Is it wrong to say they have a visual disability? The answer to these questions is that it really doesn’t matter what you call us, it’s more important how you interact and strive to include blind/VI individuals into “ordinary” society. All of the above terms are acceptable terms. Any issue with “political correctness” in regard to these terms is really just a debate of semantics. As mentioned above, the sensitivity and openness to one’s visual condition is strongly linked to the degree of acceptance that this is who they are and this is normal for them. As people who are blind/VI it is our job to go through the grieving and acceptance process, while it is the job of society to become educated on how to interact with us. If we are unwilling to help resolve the curiosity toward how we live, we don’t have grounds to be angry when people in society show their ignorance towards interacting with those who have visual deficits.
Those that know me are aware that even I call myself “the blind kid”. It doesn’t matter what exact word choice you use. What matters is the interactions and overall perception of who I am and what I can do. For example, many of my friends also call me, “the blind kid,” but I know that they believe I have tremendous abilities and that my visual disability doesn’t define me as a person. With that said, I wouldn’t go calling everyone that is blind/VI “blind kids,” but you also don’t need to fumble with your words and constantly fear you may have offended us.
The second “taboo” that I want to clear up is the “did you see that?” taboo. I can’t even count how many times someone has asked me whether I saw something or whether I watched a certain movie, then bit their tongue and felt like a horrible person because they thought they offended me. Another similar scenario takes place when meeting up with friends I haven’t seen for a while. They come to the door, I answer, and the first thing they say is, “it’s so nice to see you!” As they say this there is a slight hesitation then an awkward pause as they try to retract what they said. There is nothing wrong with what they said, but because the word “see” is thought to imply vision they worry they may have offended me. Worry no more because these are common phrases that even we as blind/VI individuals use and the fact is that we do see things, we just C Different.
As blind/VI individuals we still “see” things, but as I mentioned above, we just C Different. We may read books by listening to them via audio books or using text to speech software, we may watch movies by using our ears and mental imagery, but we still “see”. So, next time you are hanging out with a blind/VI friend don’t think twice about asking whether they have seen the most recent hit movie or saying hello by “nice to see you.” This is OK.
A third “taboo” is “white cane syndrome.” This is a term I have created which I would equate to “white coat syndrome,” where people immediately get anxiety and increased blood pressure while in the presence of a doctor. I see the same type of behavior and mentality when people are in the presence of a “white cane”. When a blind/VI person walks down a sidewalk it’s like the parting of the Red Sea. People seem to bolt away from the mysterious white cane as if it were a light-saber from Star Wars that may swing and hit them at any second. Although, some blind/VI people do get a bit erratic with their cane sweeping, let me assure you the cane doesn’t bite. Often times, the individual using the cane does have some vision as well. Remember, only about 10% of those that are legally blind are actually completely blind (NLP- no light perception) and the majority of those that are legally blind carry a white cane at least for identification. I know I am one of the exceptions. I currently don’t use a white cane although I probably should. I guess I am one of those kids that always has to be different.
After gaining the courage to remain on the sidewalk when the white cane is approaching, the next step is to strike up a conversation with the blind/VI individual carrying the white cane. Ask if they need any help with anything. Just as though you may strike up a conversation with another individual you come across in everyday life. Don’t assume they are completely blind because they use a white cane, just as you don’t assume everyone without a white cane has full vision. As blind/VI individuals, we love it when others take interest in our lives and want to include us in their events. You may come across some blind/VI individuals that are rude or irritable, in the same way you come across some fully sighted individuals that are rude or irritable. If in your attempts to interact with a blind/VI individual they do get defensive or take offense realize you have done nothing wrong. This is not acceptable behavior by my fellow blind/VI but I do understand where it may stem from. As I mentioned above, we all go through the grieving and acceptance process in different ways and at different speeds. Regardless, it is our job in the blind/VI community to get through the acceptance process as quickly as possible and never take offense to those in society that are trying to become educated. We are just as much at fault for the ignorance of society if we are not willing to assist in educating those that wish to be educated.
In conclusion, I hope this blog has helped ease some of the anxiety and hesitation you may have in interacting with people of the blind/VI community. I hope it has motivated you to become educated about how people of the blind/VI community live and play. We may not “see” but we still “C”, just in a different way. Many of us carry white canes, but we “tie our shoes just like everyone else.” The white cane is just an identifier that the person has decreased vision; it is not an identifier of an incapable person. We love it when others expand their comfort zone and include us in their lives. I hope this blog has helped shed the “white cane syndrome” and has given you confidence and comfort the next time you encounter someone in the blind/VI community.