One of my favourite blogs is written by Gramme Innes, Australia’s former Disability Discrimination Commissioner. He is witty and articulate and his posts are always interesting and thought provoking.
One of his recent entries is about how people who are vision impaired, blind or disabled are often treated as if they are invisible, spoken about rather than spoken to.
I myself have experienced this, standing next to a friend or family member and having a waiter or shop assistant asking them what I want to drink and eat, or handing my change to them to pass onto me. It is frustrating, embarrassing and makes me feel very uncomfortable.
I don’t think people ignore me to make me feel bad about myself but rather they feel uncomfortable interacting with someone who is different. It is easier for them to deal with the person they consider normal.
Most of the time Wiley and I run errands, go shopping etc by ourselves. If there is no one else with us people have to engage with me – although some do try to talk to me via my dog. They might say things like “your a beautiful dog, what does your owner want today?”
I do my best to help people I am engaging with feel comfortable. I smile and ask them politely for assistance. I am clear in what I need from them. For example if I have just ordered a coffee I will hand them my money confirming with them the denomination of the note I think I have just handed over. I tell them I will keep my hand out and could they please place any change in my hand and not on the counter. I will also ask them to place my coffee in my hand or give me directions to an empty table.
If asking for directions I’ll ask if there are any empty tables and if they are to my right or left? That avoids them pointing and saying over there. ‘Over there’ doesn’t exist for me as they could be pointing in any direction. I also make sure to thank them and tell them their assistance has been very valuable. I want to create a positive experience for them so the next time they have a blind or vision impaired customer they are more inclined to interact with them directly.
The biggest antidote to my invisibility cloak is Wiley. Since working with him I get a lot more attention and offers of assistance. In fact sometimes I think iI have traded my invisibility cloak for a neon flashing sign saying dog in public please ask lots of questions!
I am reasonably confident more people on buses, in queues or cafes engage me in conversation than other non-disabled people. OK it is always to ask about Wiley but at least we are having a conversation.Although constantly answering the same questions about Wiley, vision loss and guide dogs can get a little tiring I much prefer it to everyone behaving as if I am not even there.