THOUGHT PROVOKER 32
What is in a Compliment
Last Updated December 01, 2002
To Provoke Thought Is The First Step To Beyond
“You don’t look blind.” The guy on the street corner said. I had just given him directions to a business he was looking for and I'm not clear on what this last statement meant.
“Well thanks, I would want to talk with you about that if we had time. But, I need to get to work and you need to get to your appointment. Good luck.” I said in return and crossed with the newly green light.
In our building, in the elevator, standing by the panel with all the buttons, I punched in the floor for all those who got on. “Tenth, Sam and thanks.” The last gentlemen said before the doors closed. Then he went on to say, “You do that so well, we forget you are blind!”
“Yes, doesn’t he. I’m sure I couldn’t do so well.” Another passenger said as the lift began to rise.
Getting off on my floor, I was followed by another person from the elevator; a woman by the sound of her heels. “I bet you’ve heard that one before.” She said as her stride brought her along side me.
“Yeah.” I answered, knowing there was some understanding here.
“You wonder if they really know what their saying?” Was her parting comment, she turning to the left down a intersecting hallway and I continued on.
**1. There is possibly more skill required in receiving a compliment than in giving one. Further, it is bad form to hear what is not being said. The unintended consequences of good intentions serves to perpetuate stereotypes on both sides of such conversations.
If this guy is too busy to take such obvious openings to discuss his blindness and the on board fears of the sighted, the attitudes they have will be sustained if not reinforced. One does not have to be a crusader for independence but it cannot do harm to be receptive to even patronizing compliments from the sighted. In most cases such clumsy comments are not mean spirited in intent. Many of the blind people I have witnessed have, at times, let their militancy for independence miss the genuine interest of the other party. Say what you mean and mean what you say if that is your style. Take a minute to ask the party:
"Are you expressing delighted approval of my apparent ease of coping with my blindness or are you secretly thanking God that the situation is not the other way around?” Is that a little too confrontational for you? Well, then, how about: " are you awkwardly probing to the best of your ability, the perimeter for an opening to ask what you really want to know?"
“ No matter, let's have lunch and discuss whether life is a bitch or a piece of cake” We are all given a basket of gifts in life; sometimes the gift of sight is
omitted from some baskets. Sighted people are from Earth. Blind people are from Earth. Deal with it.”
Dave Mitchell (Tempe, Arizona USA
FROM ME: “Have you heard this one- ‘Damned if you do and damned if you don’t.’ Isn’t this disabled thing with adjustment with competency a tough one for some non-disabled to initially grasp? I mean, what a truly awkward situation for both parties! Can anyone draw a parallel between it and another like situation? (to show that it does happen elsewhere and to see if in other situations people have found an acceptable solution to an impasse of this nature.)”
**2. “It is the subtle nuance that sometimes catches one off guard, the blatant observations are somehow more easily handled. I always think, what should a blind
person look like? Tin cup full of pencils, a pitiful "help me" posture or going full tilt with the flow of foot traffic with confidence. The latter I
hope. However it is my observation that most people are just at a loss for words and these little things are most likely blurted out. Sort of an ignorance blip
on a radar screen. The actions are the education. Let people in the general population learn by watching empowerment in action. Also a friendly attitude
helps in the education at times. It is nice to know that there are people who are sensitive out there, sighted or not.”
Suzanne Lange (Chico, California USA)
FROM ME: “There is something to being caught off guard. Does it help, in regard to a reasonable reaction in this instance, to have thought through this eventuality and have an acceptable answer ready?”
**3. “I am afraid I get very upset, sometimes, when people say these inane
things like--I don't know, for the life of me how you do such and
so--and You do that so well--and that's just amazing!!! I can't stand
to be put on that pedestal which some sighted folks insist I must be on
top of!! I am always angry, in the first place, that they put me there,
and secondly, I know I am not near as "amazing" as they seem to think!!
It truly frightens me that these people seem to believe I am doing
something "unusual, when, most of the time, it's something perfectly
normal,--such as opening a door--without hitting someone with it, or
picking up the quarter I just dropped!!! This is ordinary stuff, but it
all somehow becomes heroic when a blind person does these things. I feel
there's something so very wrong with this picture!!! Why can't we be
simply accepted and allowed to be and to do things without people acting
as if it's some super accomplishment when, in fact, it's only every-day,
simple tasks that, under normal circumstances, would not be anything
special--walking to the bus stop, finding your office, (you do this
daily, what's the surprise in it?) I wish people would not do this, but
I haven't a solution to stop them from it! I have tried asking why it's
so wonderful, amazing, etc., but, so far, have no clue as to why they
persist in feeling, much less, verbalizing these things. I think that
the only reasonable explanation is that blindness makes them
uncomfortable and they aren't at all sure they could be a "successful"
blind person, (whatever that is!) I think that the real issue is that
they fear that they would not be able to function, therefore, we sure
are "AMAZING" to do it ourselves!”
Phyllis Stevens (Johnson City TN USA
FROM ME: “This ‘amazing’ thing, being placed upon a pedestal is an interesting phenomena. Is there a sociological or psychological or scientific name for this? Again, that old extreme thing, either you are totally devastated or you are a super person and can over come it and do… well I’m sure they still don’t think you can do it all, still not really be their equal, not even with being amazing, but just amazing for a blind person, right?”
**4. “Yes.........I do believe that provokes a lot of thought. There are parallel
comments in a gender-related way that provoke the same feeling in
women......I’m sure you can just imagine................”
FROM ME: “Here is a parallel. Any others?”
**5. “This is a very interesting question. In some cases, these "compliments" are
sincere compliments. However, I am of the school of thought that says that
when someone says, "You do that so well" their expectations of your ability
are reduced, due to your blindness, and they are surprised that you can do
a job better than poorly. As for "You don't look blind", and people
forgetting that you are blind, I think these are true compliments. Sadly,
blindness is a stigma; if one is blind but does not appear to be so, they
are not under the spell of the stigma. My advice would be to look at the
giver of the compliment and not the remark itself to determine if it is
sincere or patronizing in nature.”
Arielle Silverman (Scottsdale, Arizona USA)
FROM ME: “Sincere or patronizing in nature- can you tell when it is one or the other? How about some examples and how might you/we react differently to each respective kind? I mean, we shouldn’t react/handle the same to both kinds, should we?”
**6. “I can really relate to this situation. Although, I have found in my present position as Outreach Program Coordinator working with low income families, my visual impairment is an asset. They generally say that I seem to be able to relate to their frustrations in finding work etc. If this comment comes from my clients, I understand that they are simply making an observation of a challenging situation. I find it more difficult when my colleagues make similar
comments. Some of them appear to be inspecting me and assuming any mistake I make is directly connected to my vision impairment. If a chart must be created, they usually comment that it amazing that I could do this with assistance of a computer. I almost feel like my success was accidental or lucky. Eventually, they begin to understand that I do my job well and make errors similar to others entering a new field. It is kind of funny, but sighted people never feel
it is a complement if I observe, "It is easy to forget you are sighted".”
Marcia Beare M.S.W. (Martain, Michigan USA
FROM ME: “Two things: This response brings out an interesting thought. Might the status of a compliment-giver, make a compliment more palatable or less?
In the future there will be a THOUGHT PROVOKER dealing with ‘where, when, how, why is blindness an asset?’”
**7. I am not sure if the incidents described could be considered
compliments. I have experienced similar comments as I have gone about my
daily activities, in and out of the home. Depending on my mood at the time,
my response could be curt but courteous, an attempt to educate and develop
awareness but there are times I find it most annoying. One particular incident, repeated each time I encountered this certain medical professional, who always greeted me with, "I always forget you can't
see, you don't look blind at all". I never did consider it a compliment.
Rather someone who was not altogether at ease with blindness or blind people. To this day, I am uncertain as to what a blind person should look like. I believe this all too prevalent patronizing attitude stems from a general lack of understanding and awareness of the alternative techniques
adopted by blind persons in order to retain as much dignity and independence
as they are able .
In the story presented, the blind person is quite obviously familiar with
his environment and as a result avoids the true mark of blindness, in the
eyes of most sighted peers, an inability to function independently and
usually requiring assistance to perform daily activities.
I think, wherever possible, it is prudent to explain the techniques used and
to add for good measure, how environmental cues and accommodations make life
somewhat less stressful.”
Beryl Williams (Saskatoon, Saskatchewan Canada)
FROM ME: “Mood as a factor: Can an encounter of this type change your mood? And finally, does mood influence how you react? Anyone have suggestions on how to perform ‘mood control?’”
**8. “Compliments indeed!
Once, when I was at this storytelling thing led by a guy who called
himself Brother Blue, I had to use the bathroom. Somebody showed me where
it was, and I went in. I came out a minute or so later. As I retraced my
steps, Brother Blue said, "You got out by yourself. You have more on the
ball than I thought!" I said nothing, and could only laugh to myself--and
out loud later, when Masha and I were away from the place.
Another time, I apparently displayed the courage of a whole regiment on
the battlefield by climbing a snow bank. As evidence of this boundless
bravery, I point to the woman who knocked on our door a few minutes later.
She said she was a nurse. She said that her heart went out to me when she
saw me climbing that snow bank. I guess I should have given it back to
hers, since I already had one that worked pretty well.
One time, I responded to this courage thing by trying to explain about how
we blind folks are pretty much like everybody else in that department.
The woman who'd started the conversation got herself real hurt, trying to
ascertain (apparently with the aid of alcohol) how she had offended me. I
could not get her to understand that taking offense had nothing to do with
it, that I just wanted her to have different notions.
Some people think we should just accept these "compliments." Others think
they deserve anger because of what they imply. I suggest that neither of
these approaches helps to promote our first-class membership in society.
So, when I get one of these pseoducompliments--well-meant, despite its
real meaning, I try to reply with something short, calm, and to the effect
that I'm pretty much like the person who gave me the "compliment." Of
course, sometimes I do better than others.”
Al Sten-Clanton (Boston, Massachusetts USA)
FROM ME: “Have you heard this one- ‘Don’t shoot the messager!’ Well, like this gentleman shared, it can sometimes put off, offend a would-be complimenter when you explain some facts about blindness TO THE SIGHTED participant in one of these encounters. I can’t see how this can be avoided, can you?”
**9. “If the statement is "You don't look blind", or "you don't act blind".
That's coming from an ignorant person who already made up their mind what a blind person should look like and act like. If they say, "I sometimes forget that you are blind". That could be a compliment on your ability and their perceptions of blindness.”
Tom Rash (Yucaipa, California USA)
FROM ME: “Some of these compliments can be right on, right?”
**10. “Oh, those compliment with hidden meanings, hidden insults, hidden put-downs! Things like "You're so amazing"--my very most frustrating one; "You don't look blind;: etc. Now I know we're supposed to educate people, but I've come to believe that most sighted people will never view a blind person as an equal adult person who just happens to be blind. My friend and I are in our fifties. The lady at the local Chinese restaurant refers to us as girls, and once asked me where my little friend was. I can't figure it out! Why does sighted society view of as children? Statements that are supposed to be compliments are often hurtful, not to mention very annoying. There are a few people who seem to have "some understanding," as you put it, and they generally have it kind of instinctively, built-in, untaught. Many, if not most, people seem to not be willing to learn that we are people, with desires and needs just like themselves. I guess I should pretty cynical, and some would say, perhaps truthfully, that I cause my own problems. I don't know. All I know is that I, in turn, feel very uncomfortable around most sighted people, because of their underlying attitude, hidden agendas, and limitation of my own personhood.”
Carol Ashland (Eugene, OR, USA
FROM ME: “A couple of things: This response I think is too true. Meaning, with the feelings that most humans have on vision loss, with the great difference in the so few number of positive/competent blind to the number of sighted persons who don’t know of blindness as a lesser overall problem in an individuals life, you wonder… do you ever think we will never significantly change what it means to be blind.
Second, she refers to she and her friend being called “girls.” What is this phenomena? I’ve seen it happen when a person of the dominate race meets up with a minority person or I’ve heard it in the voice of a younger person when they address an older person.”
**11. “this is a GREAT topic. I've thought about this one a lot and I have some standard answers. I'll start with my most obnoxious. To the person who is so rude and pushy about their condescending praise of "oh I didn't even know you were blind'. I'll answer, "sorry, I forgot my tin cup and pencils today". I have only used that one once on a guy that just keep pushing the issue.
If I have the time to talk I will usually go on to explain politely, how the implication of the comment is. If I'm talking to a woman, I might ask her how she would feel if someone told her they thought she was such a good driver, they forgot she was woman. If I'm talking to a man I might say that his comments are so sensitive I almost forgot he was a man.
I once had someone way that they didn't know I was blind, they thought I was normal. I answered that I am normal, I'm just blind. Or the person who felt it necessary to announce to a room full of people that I was blind, I stood up and acted shocked and said "I AM".
In the elevator the perfect come back would be to say "if the lights went out I would be the only person who wouldn't fumble around helplessly."
I guess what people really mean by saying 'I forgot you were blind" is that they think that being blind makes a person less able and you see so able, how can that be?
Education is the first step, annoyance is the second and indignation is the third. Depending on the person and the comment. JODY I suppose if time is short, the best question to ask when the comment 'you don't look blind' would be "OH, how do blind people look?"
Jody Ianuzzi (USA)
FROM ME: “Along the notion that blindness is within the realm of normality, what do you think a well-meaning sighted person would think after they had just complimented you on finding your own elevator button if you were to say, ‘Well, you know, I’m only blind.’”
**12. “I work with parents whose young children are blind or visually impaired. I've heard it called the "grocery store syndrome" because a parent and child often can't do a simple daily chore such as going to the store without hearing these kind of comments. There was an article written by Steven A. Gelb in the Journal of Visual Impairment and Blindness titled, "Stranger Responses to Visually Impaired Infants: Sequence and Content" that describes these kind of comments well. When the stranger knows with certainty that the infant has a vision problem the predictable response falls into three sub categories (condolence, overcompensation and denial).
"Over compensation occurs when the stranger praises ordinary behavior of the infant as something exceptional or unexpected. These responses appear to be generated by the belief that children with impaired vision are helpless and incapable of achieving normal developmental milestones. Strangers may praise an infant because "he can move around so well," or because "She talks so nicely." The mothers observe that the stranger seems surprised that the infant can crawl (or walk) or talk at all. The stranger also may praise the mother for beings so "devoted," when her mothering behavior is not unusual. The mothers interpret this praise as an indication that the stranger feels it must be difficult to love a visually impaired child--hence the praise for routine mothering responses."
As the article states, this kind of response sends a message to parents about their child's place in the community. Overcompensation tells parents that being visually impaired changes an infant's social status. Overcompensation is hollow praise that is ultimately experienced as demeaning. It communicates a different rather than normal social status for both the infant and its mother.
How much influence does this "stranger response" have for a parent and
ultimately the child? Depends on the parent. I think that the best response is to understand the underlying meaning and be able to put it in the "they don't know what they are talking about" mental file. Humor is often the best way to respond to keep your sanity. Does anybody have some good one liners to follow up one of these comments?”
Andrea Story Vision Impairment Services for Infants and Toddlers
(Anchorage, Alaska USA)
FROM ME: “A couple of things: As for a one liner, thinking that if all of us were routinely exposed to the positive aspects of the human potential to comfortably cope/live with vision loss, my line would be- ‘Yes, every parent should have one.’
Second, how about this three phase/level of reaction by strangers to you the blind person or your blind kid? (condolence, overcompensation and denial). Have you parents felt this?”
**13. “Wow, I love this PROVOKER! I've had similar experiences with fellow sighted people in my daily life. For instance, my band director is one of these wonderful sighted people who just considers me as a band member who happens to be blind. He doesn't bring it up unless the need is there. If I need an accommodation, for instance, he'll bring it up, but he doesn't make it a point always. There are many times where he'll point at something and ask me to play it in a piece of sheet music. I kind of look at hi, and say, "Um, Mr. Murray. Where are you talking about?" He'll kind of smile, and then realize who he's addressing. It's just interesting what people think. Or, I was just at a leadership camp for people with various types of disabilities. Well, one of the other delegates said something was over there. Where's over there, I asked in return. I think these compliments should be taken as just that, compliments. Some people may perceive them as the wrong way, but I don't. Sorry for rambling on.”
Stacy (Wisconsin USA)
FROM ME: “I’m saving that “its over there” theme to be used in a future THOUGHT PROVOKER. But I think it fits here too. I just hadn’t thought of it like that. How about you?”
**14. “Well what do you make of those kinds of compliments?”
Carolyn Finefrock (Blindfam)
FROM ME: “I wasn’t sure if her question was addressed directly to me or not, however… having the last word, I say she is asking that question to anyone who reads it. So, what do you say about that kind of compliment?”
**15. “In response, the following was contributed by Fatos Floyd from Lincoln, Nebraska USA)
WHAT TO DO WHEN YOU MEET a SIGHTED PERSON
People who use their eyes to receive information about the world are
called sighted people or "people who are sighted." Legal "sight" means
any visual acuity greater than 20/200 in the better eye without
correction or an angle of vision wider than 20 degrees. Sighted people
enjoy rich full lives, working, playing and raising families. They run
businesses, hold public office and teach your children!
HOW DO SIGHTED PEOPLE GET AROUND?!
People who are sighted may walk or ride public transportation, but most
choose to travel long distances by operating their own motor vehicles.
They have gone through many hours of training to learn the "rules of the
road" in order to further their independence. Once that road to freedom
has been mastered, sighted people earn a legal classification and a
"Driver's License" which allows them to operate a private vehicle safely
HOW TO ASSIST A SIGHTED PERSON
Sighted people are accustomed to viewing the world in visual terms. This
means that in many situations, they will not be able to communicate
orally and may resort to pointing or other gesturing. Subtle facial
expressions may also be used to convey feelings in social situations.
Calmly alert the sighted person to his surroundings by speaking slowly,
in a normal tone of voice. Questions directed at the sighted person help
focus attention back on the verbal rather than visual communication.
At times, sighted people may need help finding things, especially when
operating a motor vehicle. Your advance knowledge of routes and
landmarks, particularly bumps in the road, turns and traffic lights,
will assist the "driver" in finding the way quickly and easily. Your
knowledge of building layouts can also assist the sighted person in
navigating complex shopping malls and offices. Sighted people tend to
be very proud and will not ask directly for assistance. Be gentle yet
HOW DO SIGHTED PEOPLE USE COMPUTERS?!
The person who is sighted relies exclusively on visual information. His
or her attention span fades quickly when reading long texts. Computer
information is presented in a "Graphical User Interface" or GUI.
Coordination of hands and eyes is often a problem for sighted people, so
the computer mouse, a handy device that slides along the desk top, saves
confusing keystrokes. With one button, the sighted person can move
around his or her computer screen quickly and easily. People who are
sighted are not accustomed to synthetic speech and may have great
difficulty understanding even the clearest synthesizer. Be patient and
prepared to explain many times how your computer equipment works.
HOW DO SIGHTED PEOPLE READ?!
Sighted people read through a system called "Print." this is a series of
images drawn in a two dimensional plain. People who are sighted
generally have a poorly developed sense of touch. Braille is completely
foreign to the sighted person and he or she will take longer to learn
the code and be severely limited by his or her existing visual senses.
Sighted people cannot function well in low lighting conditions and are
generally completely helpless in total darkness. their homes are usually
very brightly lit at great expense, as are businesses that cater to the
HOW CAN I SUPPORT A SIGHTED PERSON?!
People who are sighted do not want your charity. They want to live, work
and play along with you. The best thing you can do to support sighted
people in your community is to open yourself to their world. These
Americans are vital contributing members to society. Take a sighted
person to lunch today!”
**16. “It is a universally accepted truth among the sighted that all blind people
stare off into the distance when attempting to hold a conversation, rock
back and forth when they get excited, make a hideous mess when they eat,
and are always hopelessly lost. Blind people who rise above one or more
of these behaviors are truly elite and they must be recognized as such.
Thus arises the compliment "You don't look (so) blind."
To say that all blind people except the elite exhibit odd stereotypical behaviors is of course an exaggeration that comes with stereotyping. However, the stereotypes will not change unless a few things happen. Some of the stereotypical behaviors need to be seen in the light of alternative, rather than unacceptable. For example, cane travel. I have noticed cane travelers taking the longest paths imaginable. This is not due to improper technique, actually their technique looked like it came right out of an O and M text book! However, the limited and close-to-body feedback that they were getting from their cane caused them to have to make course corrections that any sighted person who had never seen such a thing would interpret as unacceptably gross. The truth is that sighted people make the same kinds of course corrections, but they are based on information that is both more precise and more sensitive to distant
objects. Therefore the corrections that they make are limited to centimeters, whereas cane travelers might have to backtrack meters. Somehow sighted people need to learn that this is only a minor nuisance that independent blind people willingly accept. Some blind people engage in stereotypical behaviors for which there is really no excuse except that they likely were brought up in a social environment that regularly permitted such behaviors. I believe that people should strive to just get over them. I acknowledge that this is hard. I have to try awfully hard not to be an absent minded professor type. But as long as some people rock or stare off into the distance when talking, these stereotypes will be reinforced.
Finally, sighted people need to meet more competent, professional blind people. They need to come to expect blind people to be competent, and they need to be disappointed when blind people do not measure up to common performance standards. I find myself being too forgiving of incompetence at times, but I can tell you that I always get burned for it. I need to expect blind people to perform as well as their sighted colleagues.
I know that I want a lot, but stereotypes were not arbitrarily decided in a board meeting in Hollywood. They were built up over years. It will take years of not looking so blind before sighted people will accept alternative techniques and genuinely expect good performance from the blind. To those who have received this compliment, keep up the good work, but make sure you tell the complimenter "I'm actually changing what it means to be blind!"”
Mathematics Accessible to Visually Impaired Students (MAVIS)
New Mexico State University
FROM ME: “Have you ever heard this one’ ‘Seeing is believing.’ Does this not go along with this gentleman’s state of, ‘Finally, sighted people need to meet more competent, professional blind people.’ I also agree with him where he encourages us to continuing getting out there and showing that behavior that brings compliments.”
**17. “Hi to all, well, I think these kind of compliments should be taken as just that, compliments! I have had many sighted people, friends and or relatives, forget I'm blind. Many of my sighted friends on this list can tel you that. They've done it themselves! (smiles) I think we have to learn to laugh at ourselves in life. After all, life's too short to always be serious.”
Stacy (Wisconsin USA)
**18. “I myself consider that a backhanded "insult, not a complement" and say so! I have responded with you get around surprisingly well for a sighted person! This causes them to laugh, and stop being so condescending Because that’s all that is.”
Diane Dobson (Rehab Counselor list)
**19. As much as I initially also said "How condescending can you get!", I thought about this for a while last night. Yes, it's true, a comment like the one below may cause people to stop and think about what they are actually saying...and then hopefully think before they say it again. But there must be better ways to open people's minds about disabilities without being "condescending right back at them."
Their "complement" just shows a lack of open-mindedness about disabilities in general. What other things can we do to make people understand?”
Dana Maynard (Rehab counselor list)
FROM ME: “Have you heard this one- ‘An eye for an eye.’ Many in this forum, from PROVOKER to PROVOKER have deplored the use of using condescending behavior in response to condescending behavior toward you. It would be interesting to see if a study has be held wherein we find out what best changes a persons opinion and within this see how people react to being snapped at. Has it been done?”
**20. “This is of course a regular part of the lives most of us as blind people lead, and how we react to it depends on many factors in our lives at the time. If things haven't been going well that particular day, or maybe I'm not feeling the best, then I may have little patience with the person or the
situation. I chose long ago to do my best not to respond with an impolite comment, unless the individual’s behavior goes beyond such a backhanded complement, which is sometimes the case, when such comments are associated with unwanted and imposed assistance or physical contact. What I have come to recognize in these situations is the matter of time, both regarding when
the encounter occurs, where, and how much time either myself or the other person has to devote to the situation. When I have places to go and things to do, I want to resolve the situation as quickly and politely as possible. When I have the time to offer a more complete response, then I will attempt
to make the investment. The rest of the interaction is decided by the other person, if they have the time, or the willingness to consider what I am offering. We live in a busy world, and many of us, blind or otherwise, do not feel like we can spare the time to learn more about someone else's
condition in life, especially when we have no reason to believe that we have a need to learn anything else about it.
Another factor has to do with where we are in our personal adjustment to blindness, and this is probably the most confusing aspect of our situation for the average person to grasp. When we are first facing the realities of blindness, chances are we will accept such comments as real complements,
because we hold the same beliefs about blindness as the person making the statement. Once we begin to learn the truth about blindness, and the alternatives that allow us to achieve independence, we recognize what such comments are based upon, and feel strongly that we must defend our hard won
independence and rebuilding self-esteem. Once we have completed, or rather entered the final stage of our adjustment we recognize such comments for what they truly are, misguided acts of kindness, and we respond with well guided expressions of understanding, and attempts to educate.
Time is truly the critical factor, the chance encounter with a stranger is probably not going to be a life changing experience for either of you. In most cases, at best, it is an opportunity to open the person to thinking a bit differently about blindness, and you won't always be successful in even
this, but it is always worth a try.
I would say the short, I'm in a hurry, answer would be: "I appreciate what you are saying, but there's really nothing special about me or what I am doing." It doesn't change the person's life, or mind, but at least it
doesn't reinforce his or her thinking either.
The long answer can go a bit deeper: "I understand that you are trying to pay me a complement, and I really do appreciate it. however, I hope you will please understand that what you have said to me really isn't very complementary, even though I know it was well intended. You see, when you
tell a blind person that he or she "doesn't look blind", it's a little like telling someone "That's funny, you don't look Jewish." Or when you tell a blind person that he or she is "amazing", it's a little like telling a black man that he is "a credit to his race". I know you said what you did to make
me feel better about myself, but please understand, I already feel good about myself, and not because living with my blindness somehow makes me special. I feel good about myself for the same reasons you feel good about yourself. I am a productive member of the community, and I contribute to my
family. I work hard, I do my job well, and pay my taxes, and even if I complain about it sometimes, I still enjoy doing it. I hope that I haven't hurt your feelings by telling you this, but I felt that I needed to explain my feelings about these sort of things to you."”
Jeff Altman (Lincoln, Nebraska USA)
FROM ME: “Another interesting point made here- ‘Another factor has to do with where we are in our personal adjustment to blindness, and this is probably the most confusing aspect of our situation for the average person to grasp. When we are first facing the realities of blindness, chances are we will accept such comments as real complements, because we hold the same beliefs about blindness as the person making the statement.’”
**21. “Jeff, I liked the response you posted on the NFBnet. It was such a good summary of what we often try to get across to people that, I hope you won't mind, me sending it out to several of our staff. Perhaps they will read it as well.”
Field Services Supervisor
Division of Services f/t Blind
Little Rock, Arkansas
FROM ME: “I am aware that there are quite a number of rehabilitation staff around the country who are using THOUGHT PROVOKER as counseling or training materials for clients, families or other staff. This is good. Thanks to us all!”
**22. “Well this really is just a matter of attitude I think, if you have gotten far enough in life to be working and out in public places, meeting people then you should already know people can and will say just about anything. If you let what people say around you bother you, then you haven't quite yet learned
yourself to handle society as a whole. I think it's all got to do with your idea how you deal with your own daily life. As most of you know that society looks at blind people in a different way to begin with. I've already learned to live with all the curiosity and such. That's my opinion.”
Wolfman (Omaha, Nebraska USA)
FROM ME: “Interesting point- Its not just your attitude toward blindness which will aid you in handling a back-handed compliment (as one person termed them), but its your over all adjustment and attitude toward life in general that is the key; saying if you are use to people and life and the good and bad that can come with it, then you can handle these specific issues. What do you think about this?”
**23. “This THOUGHT PROVOKER is an excellent follow-up to the story about blind culture. I wear a large shade hat and thick dark glasses, even indoors in many instances. Some people remarked that they wished I could remove both as they had no idea what I looked like. I was taken back at how
that remark hurt me as I thought I was reconciled to my situation. It was as it I were less a person. It bothered me for some time. I wrote a poem about it and it helped. It is below. I have never shared it, but
thank you for allowing the opportunity for us to share our feelings on the subject of our visual impairment and how it affects us.
Umbrella eave terracing amber gables
Furrowed upon the septal bridge
Pinnas bent by plastic beams
Shadowing the voice that echoes:
I am here!”
Catherine Alfieri Monroe County Women's Disability Network (Pittsford, New York USA
**24. “I have received these kinds of "compliments" for such things as getting into a car without banging my head, or opening the door of a building. Once after church, for no apparent reason, a woman behind me started telling me what courage she thought I had. I am always perplexed about
how to respond to such folks. I don't want to say "Thank you", appearing to accept the statement as a compliment, because "Thank you" validates the other person's view of the situation. Getting mad certainly doesn't help, although occasionally I can't control the impulse to do so. Unlike Al, I
don't find that it helps much to tell the person we blind people are pretty much just like they are. They don't believe this, or they wouldn't have given the "compliment" in the first place, and they're not going to start believing it just because I ask them to.
Once, in a restaurant, a waitress who had been assisting me with a buffet started telling me how much courage she thought I had. Instead of trying at length to talk her out of this belief, I told her that blind people generally didn't like to hear such "compliments" because we considered
ourselves just normal people. I talked with her about the idea that, even if this was her reaction to us, it was better left unsaid. When I came home and discussed the situation with Al, he disagreed. Not only does he believe that it's better to stay focused on the philosophical issues
involved, he also doesn't think it's a good idea to ask people to suppress their honest reactions. I, on the other hand, thought that while we might have to wait a while for true acceptance of our normality, at least we can let folks know why certain comments might be unwelcome. I'd be
interested in others' views on this matter.
I do think that occasionally such comments may actually signal the dawning of enlightenment. Last week, after I had navigated around a bit of bumpy terrain, a woman said something like, "You did a good job navigating that maze. I didn't think you were going to be able to get around it." I
thought it reasonable to hope that she'd gotten a little insight into how cane travel works.
This is a sensitive issue, since such interactions usually come about when we're in the middle of some activity and are not prepared to have a long discussion of the "compliment" and the beliefs underlying it. I hope this discussion will lead to more insights on how to deal with such situations.”
Masha Sten-Clanton (Boston, Massachusetts USA)
FROM ME: “Her husband’s response is #8.”
**25. “These types of discussions are worthless if the purpose is to eliminate them from happening. The sighted out number the blind and are usually not participants in discussions of this nature. However, with the fewer number of persons with vision loss and with the stronger likelihood that they will take part in this type of discussion or may seek out help to cope with the stresses of being blind in a sighted world, then it makes sense that what is gained will better help the blind themselves. My recommendation then is to have all teachers and counselors and whom ever work with the visually impaired bring this specific topic up as an important issue to examine and work through. Thanks for doing it here.”
Chuck Marley (USA)
FROM ME: “As indicated above and in previous THOUGHT PROVOKERS, these THOUGHT PROVOKERS are being used for teaching and counseling in a variety of situations. This is definitely one of my goals; all who read and in any way participate gains.”
**26. “I don't see how this is related to blindness? I think that several complements may be meant one way and taken another way. For example, the belimmic teen who thinks she's ugly and fat will never believe someone who tells her she is beautiful, when in fact, she is beautiful. It's not mean
for the person to make the complement, but it fuels the teen's disease. Granted, we are going to get remarks like, "you don't look blind." or "You do things I could never do." all of the time. I don't see that as a complement or a smart remark. It's just somebody responding to the way that
they interpret things.”
Sarah Lanier (Alabama USA)
**27. “Of course, we receive many compliments grounded in ignorance. It is not necessarily stupidity.
My responses vary when confronted with the statement that I don't look blind. If there is no possibility of changing an attitude, or if there isn't time to discuss it, I simply thank the person and go on my way.
Sometimes, though, I tell the person that I work at it. That's true, too.
As for the second sort, I can't help feeling that when someone actually does forget that I am blind, and demonstrates that forgetfulness by, say, walking away from me, it really is a genuine compliment. And I do things better than they would if they suddenly could not see. That isn't so much a
compliment as a statement of fact.
I try hard not to answer in anger with comments like "I'll just have to try harder to get my blind look down." I've never been educated by insult and I don't think that I'm unique in that respect.”
Enoch Todd (Warren, Ohio USA)
FROM ME: “This last point/thought makes me think, YES, most of us don’t do well with negative reinforcement- ‘I've never been educated by insult and I don't think that I'm unique in that respect.’ What do you think?”
**28. “I've had this discussion with a number of friends who are blind. We've all asked what a blind person is suppose to look like or how are we suppose to act. I've had the same discussion in other situations in less friendly tones. I think though that what people are really trying to say is that
they are impressed because they don't believe they could pull it off. They don't realize that the fact of the matter is then when you become blind or acquire any kind of disability you have two choices, you can curl up in a ball and stop living or you can get on with your life and learn what you
need to function. But people don't want to be told this is the case, they aren't ready to hear it. The best thing to do is simply smile and move on taking the compliment for what it is, a sighted person's respect
for something they can't comprehend.”
SueEllen Melo (Albuquerque, New Mexico USA)
**29. “The English language, being the most complex to learn, just like a maze, has many twists and turns. It is very easily misinterpreted and misused. What would seem like a compliment turns out to be quite derogatory.
I have experienced this situation myself and believe me, it is quite uncomfortable for both myself and the other who decides to speak before he/she thinks about what he/she is saying.
I have encountered people who've said they've worked with or have been around blind and vision impaired people for most of their lives and they still seem surprised as to how well we are able to work through daily living situations.
I'll give you an example. My husband and I have large print/raised line checks we use to pay our bills/etc. I was writing out a check to a rental agency and the realtor said she'd been living next to the Carroll Center for the Blind since she was a little girl and had seen how its students had been living. Apparently, she was even blinder than I for she said she was frankly amazed at how neat my handwriting was and how wonderful it was that I could fill out the check! Would she have been able to do it if she hadn't been shown the first time the check-writing situation arose? It isn't sight that enables me to fill out a
check. It is my brain. True, my vision is important for me to put things in the right places and make sure they are legible, but that's as far as it goes. It is a simple process of memorization and accommodation that enables me to fill out the check -- nothing more. It isn't a miracle at all.
What these people are implying/saying when they "compliment" us is "We didn't think you had the intelligence to work through the situation." As if our lack of or limited sight dims our intelligence?
Please, please, think before you speak! My parents taught me that since I could talk because I couldn't see well enough to judge others' facial reactions, but it seems the sighted person needs to be taken through that lesson.
Now, I won't be so cruel as to ream out someone who says such a thing, but I do try to be diplomatic about it and, since I understand that in many cases, the person doesn't mean to be cruel, I try to explain the danger of hurting someone's feelings. It unfortunately doesn't make them feel any better, but they
are aware of what they have done and perhaps they'll think before they speak the next time.
Shelley Proulx (Brighton, Massachusetts USA)
**30. “To be honest, "you don't look blind" has never been said to me before;
however my mom told me that a neighbor of hers told her that I didn't look
blind. My mom's response was, "oh, how is she supposed to look" since she
was really curious, grin. When the neighbor stammered and looked
embarrassed, my mom dropped the subject, not wanting to further embarrass
I think sighted people have some image of how a blind or disabled individual
looks or acts and it totally amazes them when they are confronted by
somewhat who does not meet their imagined expectations. So they blurt out
the first thing that comes to their minds; this "amazement" that blind or
otherwise disabled people can "look" just as they do, be totally functional
in the world. They are confronted with their own fears and it startles them
to realize that blindness or disability isn't the total end of the world.
In a way, it bridges the gap to show that it is possible to lead a perfectly
okay life, albeit differently but okay and that ordinary people do it
The more people who "see" that so-called "amazing" feats are simply ordinary
tasks, the closer we come to bridging the gap and leading to understanding
Debra B. Streeter (Victoria, Texas
**31. “You are Amazing!” How many times have I heard that one!!!! The thing I usually say is, “I am amazed that you are amazed! But your obviously a person who hasn’t learned this yet, that most things in life do not require vision to perform. I’d like to take the credit for being amazing, but doing all this stuff just takes common sense and personal ability. Believe me, after a person does it or watches it for a while, it becomes just ordinary boring normal stuff. So watch and learn.”
FROM ME: “The above is me.”
**32. “’" I think you can really see Lee and are just pulling our leg .’ I have heard this so many times but more from females. Apparently I stare with my eyes sometimes, I am told, but I know what I can and cannot see> For most folks I try to give a quick education as to not all blind people stare at
the sky or in to the pavement. Each time I explain something I have a grin which helps break the ice and some folks just will never understand ... Statements which will make us all laugh , such as " I know he is looking right at me.." or " Do you see the way he is looking
around." all of this being said within earshot.. I have had people in my office who apparently have challenged me to find out that I really do not see and I think this is a riot...We in and from a blind community need to have a real sense of humor and let those who " do not believe" just live
with what they, as individuals perceive to be " pretending" on our part . Many will never comprehend how you as a blind person can find n elevator button or how you might actually make it to work or to a bus stop.... It is only during our most embarrassing moments that some folks
will say," he really is blind." when I collide with a open doorway or trip on a upturned rug just inside a doorway of a shopping center... Seriously Robert and friends. We ,in my opinion, need to lighten
up and educate constantly with some humor , those who are non believers of total or partial blindness. personally I was fortunate to have some sight until my early 30's and when the last of the lights finally went out I was not prepared but it took only a few trip and falls to learn
about a cane and eventually a training with now my third dog Guide.... Some honest folks will say, " It is good that you cannot see the problems in the world ." and I agree that that without education, humor,
sensitivity and most of all understanding we all could be in trouble ..thank you Robert for opening so many doors for discussion here...”
Lee A. Stone (Hudson, New York, USA
FROM ME: “I am totally blind and get around well with my cane, well cane and brain. Interesting, I have been accused more than once of having some vision, because I do get around well. So, how about this type of compliment? Might we term it the upside down and backwards compliment?”
**33. “I am totally blind from birth. The funniest one that ever happened to me was when I was in college, I had some chicks jealous boy-friend knock me off a bar stool because he thought I was making eyes at his girl-friend.”
Eric Mogale(California USA)
**34. “I'm sure we've all had both these comments made to us at one time or another; "You don't look blind", and "You do that so well, we forget that you're blind". No, maybe these aren't true complements, and they certainly are an opening for discussion with the person offering them. But, at the
same time, I believe that, over the years, we've become to critical of these comments which are meant to be complementary. Like it or not, there is a stereotype of blindness. Most people believe that all blind people look different than sighted people. Maybe because of the dark glasses; maybe
because sometimes we don't look directly at someone speaking to us; perhaps it's because some people aren't as well groomed as they could be., or, it might just be that people know so little about blind people that they don't expect to see us traveling, working, participating in our communities as
they are. So, they say the first thing that comes to mind, fully intending it to be something good. I believe we must be very careful about how we respond to these "complements". Yes, we've come a long way in society, but we still have a long way to go. We can't kid ourselves; we not viewed as
equal all the time. Not everyone understands that through training and opportunity, we are contributing right along with them in society. So, rather than being offended by these comments by our acquaintances and those with whom we come in contact, we should accept them in the spirit they were
intended and take any opportunity to gently educate the person offering the complement about blindness.”
Cindy Handel (Willow Street, Pennsylvania USA
**35. “look at it this way. you are standing in an elevator and 3 or 4 people are there also. they are uncomfortable with anyone who is different than themselves.
so they try to cover this up with a compliment they don't mean or sometimes idiotic or the compliment just don't make sense like for instance I couldn't
do this as well. You know, people are amazed at a blind person that can remember there name. or dress themselves, so the compliment I couldn't do as well
just don't make sense. they are simply trying to make conversation, when they don't know what to say. and or cover up shame for how they feel after they
find out the blind person is no idiot. I will give you an example of an idiotic statement by someone and my come back a person said to me at my wedding,
I can't believe your married, you are blind. I calmly said, I didn't know you had to make love with the lights on. the woman was speechless, she said she
was sorry and then walked away. come back with an answer if you feel the person is just sucking up or making small talk because they have nothing to say.
another example someone asked me, how do you shave, I said, with a straight razor. they asked me how I used a razor I told them if I cut off my ear, I
know I made a mistake. someone said to me after I dialed a phone, god, I didn't know a blind person could do that, I said it is my eyes that don't work, not my fingers or my mind. someone even tried to give me a compliment how do you remember the day, I can't even do that, I said if the day is going bad,
and I can't remember my name, , and someone balled me out the day before for not going to church, then, I know its Monday.”
William Spencer (Sayre, Pennsylvania USA)
**36. “I get compliments like that all the time. Of course, I have enough vision to navigate without appearing to be visually impaired. As a result, I end up explaining my visual impairment to new co-workers. Since I work in a nursing home, I tell new staff jokingly that if I
don't recognize them, it isn't because I have Alzheimer's disease.
I have always thought of such remarks as "You don't look like you're blind." and "You do that very well." as nothing more than mere compliments. People who make such remarks are amazed that I can
navigate just as effectively as any sighted person and that I can read Braille just as fast as any sighted person can read print. I'd like to think that people who make these remarks are eliminating any
negative stereotypes they have developed regarding blind and visually impaired people.”
Abbie Johnson (Sheridan, Wyoming U.S.A.
**37. “Well, all blind and I presume all handicapped persons, get this kind of backhand compliment a lot of the time. People seem to need to comment on our condition and how well we do in public.. they could not possibly do that well if it were them. this is one reason that the sighted world has
such a fear of blindness...it is constantly reinforced in their minds as a fearful thing. I , myself, get very tired of explaining why I have such a good attitude or why I walk so slowly. Just once , I would like to just walk into a building without comments on my state of being. Incognito, I
Pam McVeigh (Ruston, Louisiana USA
**38. “I am complimented when people forget that I am blind. shows that maybe people are looking at me as a person first, and not obsessing so much on the blindness.”
Laurie Dow (Blindfam list)
**39. “Here here to that!”
Then later- “I agree with that way of thinking...keep it light-hearted and simple. I
usually do take it as a compliment and enjoy it.”
Carolyn Finefrock (Blindfam list)
**40. “Well, when somebody, as they often do, says to me that they forget that I am blind, I hug them tightly and say "Why thank you!!"
Reeva Parry (Hillsboro, Illinois USA)
**41. “Well? What IS in a compliment? I worked in a hospital for a number of years as a chaplain and found myself in lots of elevators with lots of people. I've had so many things said to me that I can't count them but once I got to know the people, at least the ones I saw every day, we got beneath the
compliments to: "I'd be afraid to be blind, or, "I bet you have a great effect on people once they figure out that you can't see how they're dressed, the bandages, the amputations, etc.) I think that a lot of times
the compliment is only the first part of the thought and that sometimes it is really saying, "I couldn't do that if I were blind," or, "Oh, so if I were blind I wouldn't look different?" I wonder sometimes if the compliment says more about the person giving it. Just my thoughts for the moment.”
Jo and Whitley for whom most of the compliments go to the dog!
FROM ME: “Consider this last sentence/point- ‘I wonder sometimes if the compliment says more about the person giving it.’ Now, I do think this is true! How about you and what all does it tell us?”
**42. “"You do that so well, we forget you are blind!" Er - okay. What are we doing well here, pushing buttons? But hey, I'm sighted. It's not up to me to feel insulted or complimented. But somehow I get the same squirmy feeling from that genre of remarks as I got when we adopted our daughter.
People kept saying, "Oh what a wonderful thing you're doing, taking an unwanted child." I would say, "Why is it wonderful? We wanted a child. God was wonderful for giving her to us."
"You don't look blind" So what does a blind person look like? Let's see: short, tall, fat, skinny, handsome, beautiful, plain, homely, blonde, brunette, redheaded, curly-haired, straight-haired, kinky, gay, straight, prudish, bisexual, married, single, widowed, divorced, with/without kids,
African-American, Asian, Caucasian, Amerindian, East Indian, Scandinavian, Irish, Germanic, Middle-Eastern, Magyar, Russian, Slavic, Baltic, Arabic, Jewish, Catholic, Protestant, born-again, Reborn, Unborn, Heretic, Pagan, Druid, Wiccan, Pro-life, Pro-Choice, and everything combined and/or in
between, including a lot of stuff I haven't thought of. Would you recognize a blind or visually-impaired person without a cane, a dog, or other visual aid?
On the other hand, I'm sure these people making the remarks THINK they're giving the blind folks a compliment.”
Carolyn Gold (RPlist, Clearwater, Florida USA
**43. “Good post Carolyn, maybe we should use this as an ad campaign for the blind.
This is real good...”
Mike Cormier (RPlist)
**44. “People mean well but speak from their ignorance. Blindness, deafness, being confined to a wheelchair, any disability makes the able-bodied uncomfortable. They feel compelled to say "something" and that something usually ends up being what they feel is a compliment. Perhaps, more like well-wishing? For by the grace of God go I. It might be they're thinking, thank God it's not me.
I have talked to people who were blinded later in life and listened to their stories about how they saw a blind person and what their thoughts were at that time. Then they'd tell me how they feel now as a blind person. They are still independent, just do things differently. Their before and after comments convinces
me that they were unable to comprehend what it would be like to be disabled and their original thoughts and feelings before blindness were based on fear, "what if that were me?".
Many people have commented that I don't appear blind and think I do well. Funny thing is, I don't know how to act any differently, I've always been "this way". I
wonder what I should look or act like. What do blind people look like? How do they act? I look and act like me and I'm blind. I might not fit the sighted persons model of a blind person but that doesn't make me "unblind". I'm not sure what they're looking for but I'm not going to concern myself with what they think. I'm going to continue to be me and leave the wondering to them.”
Isabell Florence (Davison, Michigan USA)
FROM ME: “That was a good one; she spoke of having interviewed person’s after having gone blind, seeing if the reality was like what they feared/thought. One PROVOKER in the future will be called something like, ‘Before and After Going Blind.’ It will be interesting to get many individuals take on what they thought/knew before their vision loss and then now. What do you think?”
**45. “I often hear random "compliments" from elderly residents who live in my building. One afternoon, I was having a pleasant chat with a woman who had lived here for quite some time. I checked my Braille watch and noticed that we had talked for about a half-hour. Up to this point, there was no mention made of my blindness. It was nice having a conversation without that taking
center stage. But just as quickly as this thought crossed my mind, she said, "You don't look blind." "Hmmm. Really?" I asked. "Why is that?" She replied, "Your clothes always match. I mean, they're really! really! Nice. You haven't fallen down the stairs and you haven't gotten lost in the
hallway. The blind lady who used to live here couldn't find her way out of a paper bag." OUCH! Those words really stung, but I smiled and tried very hard not to take her comments personally.
I was told that some of the residents in my building were losing their vision. They were scared, angry, confused. And why not? Their last example of blindness was a woman who could not dress, travel, or function independently. Now they're observing me...a very different person. My
clothes match and I'm not asking for assistance to get from point A to point B. Huh? It doesn't make sense. How can blindness represent two opposite extremes?
The more people saw me, the more they began to open up. I encouraged them to stop by my apartment to see how I cooked, cleaned and did the laundry.
Once they realized how common tasks could be accomplished without sight, my blindness was no longer an issue. People were educated and the well-intentioned "compliments" were put to rest.
And to think it all began with a woman who said, "You don't look blind...” Who would have thought?”
Lisa (deafblind list)
FROM ME: Don’t anyone who is visually impaired, to any significant degree fail to realize or accept that what they do will be observed, judged and in some cases, taken to heart; may what you give as an impression be a positive one; strive for your best!”
**47. “When I first moved to this small town 2 years ago, many people said that very thing to me if they saw me carry the garbage out to the curb or walk down to the local coffee shop. Then they began to except these things as normal and asked me how I did other things. Now through my gentle and kind
attitude and their increasing knowledge of what it is to be blind, they see me as not so unusual or abnormal. They have taken me off that pedestal and have become comfortable with me. They see me as an equal and they now invite me to go places with them. I think that most people are nice but
just have not been around a blind person enough to understand how we can do everyday things without becoming lost, so to speak. As they saw me perform normal tasks in normal or alternative ways, but still get it down, they saw me as competent. I do not find the ignorant comments an insult to me, but
rather an insult to them because they are unaware. I remember one man asking me if my wife dressed me. I had a hard time with that one I admit. I stood there until I could control my temper and then responded and said no, I dress myself. He is now a friend of mine because I did not loose my
temper with him. He now laughs and jokes with me, he sees me do things and takes them all for granted as he should. But, he just needed educated. People, please do not take offense at sighted people when they say such things, most of them mean no harm or insult. They are sometimes at a loss
for words. We are the only ones who can really educate them to what we can do. But we must be nice to them so they will learn instead of being afraid of our wrath if they ask questions or even talk to us.”
Patrick L. Conrad- Dunlap, Iowa USA)
FROM ME: “This response is one of several that mentioned as one reason why sighted folks say what they sometimes will say, as “a lost for words.” At first I didn’t see this as a valid reason, but now I do. How about you?”
**48. I can’t think of many blind persons I have known who haven't been the recipients of the kind of compliments that mark our behavior or appearance as unexpected
for a blind person. We can react to these remarks in all kinds of ways, but the saddest reaction I know is the blind person who converts these somewhat
demeaning remarks into a picture of themselves as truly wonderful; and an exception to whatever blindness is supposed to be. I have met a few people who
have bought into this self-image and their situation is truly pitiable. The social psychologist George Herbert Mead once observed, " I am what I think you think I am." If I think that you think that I am wonderful and adopt that as my self-image, somewhere down the line, I will be in for a rude shock.
On ;the other hand, there are blind persons who overreact to low expectations about blind persons and go about to do all kinds of marvelous things. These
are sometimes called the "super blind." I have to confess that I am truly amazed by those who sail alone from South Africa to Australia or half way across
the Pacific, but I would be amazed at ;them even if they were sighted. Likewise, climbing; the highest mountains in the world is a feat beyond ;my imagination.
;Unfortunately, all the journalistic reports of these feats marvel at the inspiration that the blind persons are. I am not inspired, but I am amazed at
some of the things that human beings do. One can only hope that these outstanding persons don't start constructing their self-image in the mirrors of the journalists and their readers.”
James S. Nyman (Lincoln, Nebraska USA)
**49. “This brings up a recent situation, in the *oh, I couldn't do that if I was blind* category. One morning a couple of weeks ago, I sat in an office lobby waiting for an appointment. A woman strikes up a conversation about television, when I have finished speaking she says, "I can't imagine what it
would be like not to be able to actually watch TV" or something to that effect. I proceed to say "yes, I do watch TV, movies too" and then I described how I have friends do descriptive for me if I can't figure out
what's going on. Apparently, she had not heard a word I had said as she launched into a treatise on all the many things that would be impossible if one were blind. I then spend the next fifteen minutes talking about the techniques I use to get things done, still she wasn't listening. Then, she
said, "Well although you can't see you have very pretty eyes." I didn't respond to this, for if I had it would have been a string of unrepeatable words. This woman is an example of many people in our society (and indeed in many societies) that fail to see the word person in blind person, I gave it
my best trying to educate this woman, it's up to her how she wishes to use it. And I guess that's all one can really do.”
Paul Wick (Sacramento, CA USA)
**50. “I have to say that I am surprised at the attitudes some have expressed in Update 1 of this most recent Provoker. My grandmother used to say, "If you walk around with a big enough chip on your shoulder, sooner or later, someone's bound to accidentally bump into you and knock it off." Some here
seem to have some pretty big chips.
Everyone here should think about one thing. People who are sighted have no concept of how we live, or the things we experience. I was legally blind since birth, but was able to ride a bike and other "normal" childhood activities. I did not experience a sharp decline in my vision until the age
of 28. Prior to this, despite the fact that I was legally blind for my entire life, I still had no idea how I would cope if I lost much or all of my remaining vision. Things such as Braille and using a long white cane were as foreign to me as a moon rock. I suppose my point is, if *I*
couldn't imagine it, having lived with legal blindness my whole life, how could any fully-sighted person imagine what it is like to be blind?
Recently, I was practicing at my home with the other four members of my band. I do not use my cane at home, and I had gone upstairs to grab a beer from the fridge. I didn't hear one of my friends coming down the hall, and I bumped into him as I was coming out of the kitchen. He apologized and
said that he forgot I couldn't see. I was certainly not offended by this; in fact, it just underscores the fact that he thinks of me as his friend, as a fellow musician, but not as his blind friend or a blind musician.
As for the obviously patronizing comments from people, why shorten your life span by getting in an uproar over them? Either these people will encounter you in your daily life and will realize that pressing an elevator button is not a superhuman feat performed by Captain Blindness, or they will
always think, "That poor blind guy, I can't imagine that happening to me.” If we all get snippy with these folks every time they say something to us, they'll eventually quit talking at all, and everyone will fall into this second group. Actions speak louder than words; show people that you are
competent and sooner or later most of them will probably believe it.”
David L. Thurmond
FROM ME: “Interesting how the line of acceptability wavers from person to person; where a chip is a chip or… to someone gets their block knocked off.”
**51. “I enjoy working with about 28 students around the north and north west of Tasmania, Australia. I enjoy your Thought Provoker section and the comments.
My beef is the number of times a staff member will say "Hello" to a student during a mobility lesson ( would this happen if he/she was sighted?) and then follow it up with "Guess who?" I have commented on this scenario many times at staff PD times and informally, but some people are just thick. Is it because they feel they need to show they are nice and always believe they need to say hello to students with a vision impairment or do they want to check that the student is clever and knows their voice, that is a test every time they see the student, or what? Anyway, I'll go on correcting them and hope the message gets through one day. How do others feel? I had a young high schooler say how this question of "Guess who” is a pain and annoys the daylights out of her.”
**52. “I get those comments, compliments a lot. Sometimes it makes you feel pretty good, "Hey,
I'm equal, I'm on the same level, my eyes don't work, but what the Hey,
they forget, I fit in." Other times, I want to respond, "How does blind
look?" It just makes you wonder how they either think it is supposed to
look, or are you supposed to act a certain way just because you are blind,
not carrying out every day things in your life, holding a job, and working
side by side with your peers, colleagues, and coworkers/ I wonder sometimes
what really goes through their minds. As I said, I'll do more on this one. I
haven't disappeared, it's just been crazy around the office for the past two
weeks, and getting crazier. I'll make it though. It's getting crazy enough
around here, it's hard to see straight. Oh, wait a minute. I'd be doing good
if I could see sideways, Just kidding guys, take care and have a great day,
and for those of you In Hot hot, hot, Alabama, stay cool. See Y'all later.”
**53. “OK, now this is one that really jumps out at me and grabs my attention. I am afraid that most sighted people are guilty of what I call "Assumption of incapability".
That is to say, they assume that we're incapable; therefore, when we do something no more amazing than eat with silverware or cross the street they are totally in awe. Don't get me wrong, I am not in any way slamming sighted people. They honestly believe they are encouraging us with their complements.
But being told I am amazing because I can walk from one side of the building to the other is a little frustrating.
I was still down at school when this interesting little encounter occurred. A couple friends and I walked into a local pizza restaurant and stood in line
to be seated. Suddenly, a guy who evidently recognized me from one of our mutual classes came up to me and said, "Hi! I'm in your ten o'clock psych class.
It's so good to see you getting out." I admit I was speechless. My friends of course were shocked and proceeded to make jokes about it, not in this guy's hearing of course. They at least understood what a backhanded complement this guy had given me albeit inadvertently.
The most common response I usually get to a story like this is, "Oh, well, he didn't realize." To which I say, "Why? Why didn't he realize? Why is it
so hard for someone to realize that someone with a disability carries on a normal life just as other people do?"
Wendy McCurley, (Texas USA)
**54. “After rereading this PROVOKER and some of the responses I did some more thinking about it. I had said last time that the best thing is probably to smile and go about your business excepting the so called compliment for what it is worth but it probably better to respond in some form or
other. My responses vary depending on the person however, more than anything else. When it was a drunken aunt of a gentleman friend of my mothers carrying on about how amazing it was that I would go to college and get good grades I sarcastically replied "What do you think I'd do you
need a degree to get a good job. Besides everyone goes to college if they want to make something of themselves. It's not so special." When it was my friend from a list I belonged to making a comment about a visual scene on Star Trek Voyager episode and forgetting I hadn't realized what had
happened in the scene I'll gently remind him I'm blind and he'll explain it to me with the comment "I forgot you were blind, sorry about that." And that will be the end of it. Then there's the middle of the road action. A woman in the college cafeteria was going on about how amazed she was that
I was functioning so well getting around and doing my work and such. I had been having a real rotten day and I thought I'd love to tell her off but I decided there were more effective ways to handle it than wasting my breath. I had my lunch went back to my study Carroll and typed out an essay
called "I'm not Brave I'm normal" I submitted it to the student newspaper as a poem for their feature section and in one of his finer moments of brilliants the editor moved it to the editorial opinion page deciding that it was a letter to the editor. It was brilliant because it reached
more people there and it got a lot of discussion going between me and my classmates. I wrote a similar essay a year later when a professor I'd been having problems with asked me to write an essay about something importune to me and I wrote a piece called "etiquette on dealing with the blind." He
said it raised some pretty valid points that he hadn't considered.”
Sue Ellen Melo (USA)
**55. “People with disfiguring injuries that took their sight are one category of people who can look blind. Another category of people that can look blind are those that lost their sight shortly after birth. That category of people when they were younger would put their hands up to their
eyes. They'd use the knuckle to press against the eyelids. When I was younger I was told this was a blindism. Later I found out the truth. I had sight for six months into my life. I was aware of its loss, and as part of the depression and grieving process over that loss I found out
that putting pressure against the eyelids would have produced a fireworks effect on the brain from the diminishing sight. Eventually even that didn't work anymore. So that's why I do look blind.”
FROM ME: “Who else out there feels similar?”
**56. “In thinking further about this PROVOKER, it occurred to me that we all make these types of compliments in one way or another.
We make them to someone with "amazing" math skills, music abilities or prodigies in golf (there is a 3 year old who hits holes in ones on a professional golf course). Three years ago, I would have made the same comment concerning the computer! The thing scared the life out of me and
anyone who could use the blasted thing was truly amazing!
I've even had that comment (well, a like one) from some blind friend who call me "truly amazing....gee thanks, guys.....because I am hard of hearing. I've been HOH all my life so it is 'old hat' to me. To me, such statements reflect a person's own "fear" if you want to call it that, of being unable
to cope should they become blind.
People just don't recognize the human capacity to adapt to the curve balls. When our daughter required tube feedings and various medical procedures done at home, people said essentially the same sorts of things and our response were, "you cope with the curve balls and you adjust your swing so you can hit
the home run. Granted that is a visual metaphor but it gets the point across.”
Debra B. Streeter, M.Ed.
Victoria, Texas USA
**57. “What is in a compliment! I had men painting our house one day when my wife came home with some bare root miniature rose bushes that she had just been given. It was a hot July day and I knew these bushes needed planted immediately if they were to live. Taking my hand spade and clippers I went
to the spot I had decided on and set to work. Watching me a little while one worker said, "One would never know you were supposedly blind!" I took a deep slow breath to dispel any anger and while working was able to help this man understand more about blindness. I like to think he had a
different feeling about the blind when he left. Another time I had written to my brother about some of the ways the sighted put the blind down. He was surprised and asked me some pointed questions about blindness and my feelings. I answered as well as I could and he responded with, "well I just never think of you as being blind; I never knew how you might feel about such things. I guess I need to remember!"
He spoke honestly and to me it was a good compliment! Another time a friend and I were tapping our way down the road and a lad of about 10 called out, "hey, are you blind! At first we tried to ignore but he again called. We decided to use this as a little friendly training session and we had a nice conversation with him, even surprising him when we guessed his age and what school he went to. I like to think he left with a better knowledge of who the blind are and what they can do!
I feel that usually these compliments are really meant to be a compliment. I also think they say it because they feel that if they were to lose their sight that they could not do as well as we are! Just my thoughts!”
Ernie Jones (Walla Walla, Washington USA)
**58. “I too have heard this "You do that so well we forget you're blind" thing.
Since I'm a partial, I don't resent it as much as I might if I were a total.
Usually, my first thought is that I've done a pretty good job of using what I have. However, there have been times when I wish my friends would remember that my vision is low; especially when crossing a busy street with a short light.”
**59. “The phrase "You don't look blind" is indeed meant as a compliment. That is often said to my blind son. Since I teach blind students, I do understand what it means. Some blind individuals have self-stem habits, such as eye poking, rocking, etc. Others look off away from the speaker. These
individuals look blind. When a blind person looks at the speaker and doesn't practice self-stem activities, he is not pointing out his blindness. So, when you hear the phrase, "You don't look blind," take it as it's meant, a compliment.”
Betsy Hunnicutt (AER List)
**60. “I’ve read the first update. I noticed several writers using the “You don’t look blind scenario like it happened to them. Even though it is on one level truly meant to be a compliment of a positive nature, I know it is unfortunately based on a wrong assumption. Yet I know from where they are coming from. I have a brother and he looks blind. I love him, but he just didn’t get the right upbringing about his blindness. He went to a school for the blind and lived there most of his early years, until after high school. I don’t think they worked with the kids about sitting up straight or not rocking or looking at who they are talking with or use the cane good or use a fork and knife and spoon good and pour his own coffee and all that. He doesn’t do well with these things and he’s pretty smart too. He doesn’t comb his hair or wear clean clothes, they always have spots.
So I can say I know what many people in the world think when they think of a blindmen. But, he works, he’s not a beggar and that is the worst it can be for a blindman. ”
Maryland Rees ((Indiana USA)
**61. “I am always told I do not look blind and that I have pretty eyes. I am also told you see much more than do you appear to have or you must really being good or you could not get around like you do, etc. The fact is that I have islands of vision, some peripheral, a good memory and the ability to
interpret information and make decisions about what is going on. I have about one percent of vision in the better eye and a field of about five degrees of field and I do not run into most garbage cans especially not on garbage days even without the help of the cane.”
Marianne Haas (AERnet List)
**62. “As all of us know, there are many so-called compliments from sighted people that we blind people have to deal with. The one in question "you don't look blind" is one that most of us had to hear and interpret. In fact, we will have to do so till we reach our final destination some time in the unknown
future. Although this one bothered me before, these days I take it in my stride. As many of you said in your responses, people who say this, do so because they feel uncomfortable in the presence of blind people.
However, there are other so-called compliments that make me cringe inside. Such a "compliment" is: "You are doing so well", or "You are doing fine.” Of course it would have to be interpreted according to the context the compliment is given. Last Sunday I was invited to have lunch with a couple
in the complex in which I live. I attend their church, because I can walk there and need not be dependent on someone to give me a lift to church. I was asked many personal questions and I did not know how to avoid them, so I answered them as well as I could. Those were questions like: How many
brothers and sisters do you have? Are you the only one who is affected .......... you know .......? How did your parents feel about having you as their child? Etc. etc.
Then the food was dished up and grace was said. When we were having our meal, I was watched - no, the woman especially was staring at me. How did I know that? Her stare was so intense that I could feel it. Of course I could also hear seeing that she was asking questions all the time. Then the
"compliment" came: "You are doing very well, Janie. I am curious to see how you will manage the rice with the fork." Needless to say, this "compliment" made me feel humiliated and the food became tasteless. How would the rest of you cope in such a situation?
Please allow me to end my lengthy response with a compliment to all of you straight from my heart and filled with sincerity. All of us are very brave and we are being taught the meaning of endurance throughout life. Hang in there! I lift my glass to all of you!”
Janie Fourie (Pretoria South Africa
FROM ME: “Okay, I’ve not seen these words yet, ‘There will always be some level of misunderstanding between the sighted and the blind. So accept it, prepare for it, be strong.’ What do you think?”
**62. “One of the best types of compliments I think there is, are those that you weren’t meant to hear. Here’s an example. I’m totally blind and use a long white cane. One day I was walking in the down town area, when from behind me I over heard, “There goes a confident step.” The tone was okay. It was a man saying it to a woman. Thinking back on it makes me feel good.”
Robert Woods (USA)
**63. “’The way how society tried us, is the way how they believe about us. The way how we behave, is how we think about ourselves.’
I am glad to hear that most of us realize that society underestimate the abilities and capabilities of the blind. Yes, they have hood intentions with their complements, but if we do not understand the price of doing nothing about it, it can be dangerous. It is proof that the less expectation you have to a group of people, the less they will perform. The less expectation you have to the blind, the less capable and less opportunities we will have. I know that we have advance in society. But I also know, as
well as you do, that many professionals in the field of blindness, teachers, social workers, politicians, researchers and employers have a miss conception about blindness. The results are: Lack of opportunity, education and training (which bring many people "looking like blind"), poor social skills,
low expectation among the blind and finally high unemployment rate of blind
I agree that you should not be angry about it. That you should not react negatively as well. BUT, it is a problem also if we don't react. We muss take this comments and actions by society seriously and work collectively on changing what it means to be blind.
Alone, we cannot accomplish what is needed. You might have a job already or you might be comfortable about your life. However, if people keep making those comments, its because they need education and because there is a lot of blind people who did not have the opportunity of good training and "look blind". We need to work together and change what it means to be blind.
This electronic method is a very good media of accomplishing some education.
Let's also build and formalize our localities with actions that collectively will change society misconception about the blind. Don't take me wrong, I know that the individual actions are important and crucial. But collective actions are as important and as crucial also.”
Carlos Servan (Lincoln Nebraska USA)
FROM ME: ”Reading through a list of responses found in a THOUGHT PROVOKER is one way of getting a feel for what the blind community is feeling. Seeing the trends in thought and/or suggestions for the righting of a wrong can tell allot. Having this electronic medium to solicit, collect and distribute and influence is indeed one of histories greatest innovations and happenings for changing what it means to be blind. What do you think?”
**64. “I fly at least once a year and it is during the pre-boarding that I hear "You don't look/act blind." Well, gee, how am I supposed to look or act? Although I still have some sight left, I still need the extra time in boarding and getting settled in for the flight. So for the past two years, I always have
my bus ID card ready which states that I'm "Legally Blind," along with my state ID card to show the airline personnel. I've had some ask what the difference was between being blind and legally blind, so I had a chance to educate them on that difference.
One question that drove me nuts was "What's it like being blind?" Well, what's it like to see? The road goes both ways. We all need some type of education in something. And if we don't ask or say things, we will never learn a thing.
That's my two cents worth. Now if only I can learn more about this PC. Lol”
Angelica (Phoenix, Arizona USA)
**65. “This truly is a brilliant "thought provoker" and I admit it has been persistently rumbling around in my thoughts these last few weeks. As a sighted person, it has caused me to evaluate my own thoughts and
preconceptions in general. The last time I said someone was "amazing" was a woman I saw on a television report. She was born without arms or hands yet she is a successful and mother and no, that was not the "amazing" part. What I did find "remarkable" however was when she plopped up on the counter,
cooked a meal, ate her food, washed dishes, applied makeup and drove to work, all using only her toes and feet. I hope if I had been born into those circumstances I would have acquired similar adaptive techniques. But as things stand now I could not begin to accomplish the things she does, the way
she does them. I don't know if she would be offended at my "amazement" or not. It certainly would not be intended to offend. I believe that most times sighted people make ignorant or shallow comments, it is not intended to be hurtful or demeaning. I think it says a lot about the person making the
comment and that it is mostly a reaction to their own fear that says they would fall apart and be helpless if they lost their vision. And perhaps they would - at least at first! They would need education and a change of attitude to deal with it successfully, right? Truly some of the behaviors I
have read about here by the sighted community are shameful and horrifying! But isn't that true of life in general? There always seem to be some people who are, well the word idiots comes to mind! (smile) Okay, I'll be more gracious. Let's say uneducated instead. (But don't they always seem to be
the loud ones??)
The other thing that strikes me is this: I think most of us would agree that education is the answer to many issues. So when someone does say something like how amazing you are for being able to tie your shoes or brush your teeth, you can at least know that you have helped to correct a simpleminded,
negative stereotype in that persons mind, and the more they see you competently deal with life, the more their preconceived notions will vanish. Next time they see a blind person handle a situation they might not be so surprised! As for me, well I have never thought it was amazing someone who
could not see was still able to dial a phone or use an elevator or have a loving relationship. But when you cross a busy intersection unassisted, well forgive me, but that impresses me! Because to tell you the truth, I am always a bit nervous crossing a busy street! But after learning so much here
I have decided next time I am at a busy cross way I am going to ask the closest blind person to walk with me so maybe I can learn some tips for doing it with out my heart pounding!”
Marvelyne (Ocala, Florida USA
FROM ME: “By what this lady speaks of above, it makes me think of ‘modeling’ or ‘seeing is believing.’ Modeling by us and those around us see what we can do and that fosters belief in the observer. What do you think?”
**65. “I have been receiving these types of compliments my whole life--I was born partially blind. My mom had arranged for some kind of teacher, not sure what she
was called except that she worked with children with disabilities, to come to our home and work with me.
This teacher was so surprised by my abilities and my mom has told me she would make comments about how well I was doing. I don't think she, or anyone else that
has ever said anything to me, meant me any harm. I think they want to make it known that they think it is neat how well I get along but don't know how to do it
and hide any surprise they may feel. Many people are not raised to be accepting and respectful. So when
one of us does something they don't think we should be able to do they don't know how to hide this surprise.
Now sure there are people who are an exception, aren’t always. I guess we just need to do what someone else mentioned, smile and go on our way. In my
experience there isn't much you can say to them. The thing I have found out by going to the university is
that there are many professors that don't think I belong there. I do my work to the best of my ability
and I hope for the best, that I was able to set a good example and that maybe they will change their view of people with visual impairments and other disabilities.
Most importantly, I never let anyone's compliment or words upset me because that is only going to make them more apt to keep their same opinions and say the same
thing to someone else some day.”
Wendalyn (university student, Nebraska)
FROM ME: “What do you think, if you jump on someone for a wrongly based compliment, what does that do to the person who said it? Changes their notion, makes them reluctant to make another compliment, doesn’t change a thing or what?”
**66. “This will be brief. There is clearly misunderstanding and fear, but more often implied negation. When my supervisor mentioned in a training situation that "he really gets around this building, you would never know he was blind" and other comments, what I hear is an assumption that blindness and
blind people are so limited and without ability, that in general one does not and shouldn't expect us to do everyday things. No matter that we do, although we may do them differently. That "isn't it amazing..." phrase not only says it is not normal for a blind person to functions also based on
that fear of blindness, fear of the unknown and fear that "it could happen to me". The fear, lack of information and stereotypical negation combine resulting in a hollow acknowledgement, or an acknowledgement that is magnified way beyond reason. It is not the blindness, just the attitudes.”
Edwin Kunz (Austin, Texas USA)
**67. “I agree... "you don't look blind" is meant as a compliment, but it's an ignorant and innocent compliment. In my dealings with Sue Charness Talent Agency for People with Disabilities, I have learned a great deal about people dealing with their disability. Actors and actresses who are visually
impaired often seek assistance from Sue Charness, President, as of course, their agent, and also as their advocate. Various advertising agencies and film companies approach myself as a Certified Transcriber who attends at the premises to assist the visually impaired. Sometimes I am approached directly
by a visually impaired talented individual, as theatre actors, etc., and people in radio and film commercials, (and students and professionals in choirs as I have Music Certification); and other times I am approached by Agencies and film companies. Talented visually impaired people abound.
Unfortunately, our own built-in 'sighted' prejudices rear their ugly heads when a casting director will specifically request 'a blind individual who has 'good eyes' who doesn't look blind' or a 'mentally challenged individual' who doesn't look that way' ... The upside, I believe, is that
directors are including the disabled, and show more and more interest in this--we need writers and directors to involve the disabled talented individuals. More and more there is an awareness and more understanding of people who have disabilities. My goal as 'interpreter' for the blind in the
entertainment industry, and my general hope for people who get into the entertainment field through Sue Charness, or any other 'vehicle' is that disabled are depicted in all media, that they are included as all people should be included, and in this way, people become more and more
knowledgeable and aware, and over time, less and less will we hear silly statements or (so-called compliments) 'you don't look blind'. In fact, you look just fine to me!”
Julyanne M. (AERnet List)
FROM ME: “Above the lady reports that directors when looking for a blind person to play in a film looks for a person who essentially doesn’t look blind (good eyes and all that). So what does this say for what Hollywood thinks or thinks we think? Could Hollywood help us and if so how?”
**68. “This is response to Maree from Australia who instructs blind students in mobility training. If you have brought up the subject at staff meetings of how annoying the "guess who" game is that they pull on your blind students while out on a lesson, I suggest a more straightforward strategy. If this happened while I was out walking with my student, I would speak up and say to the prankster that it is truly helpful if you identify yourself when
speaking, but that it would be preferable not to interrupt the mobility session. It models assertiveness for the student and puts the behavior back on
the person who is doing it. I feel that people need to know that they can't just cross lines with inappropriate comments or game playing. I know people
come up to me and ask questions about the blind student I work with as if he weren't even there. I tell them to ask him and he'll tell you if he wants
you to know!”
Suzanne Lange (Chico California USA)
**69. “Hmm. Well, I think I'm less bothered by "You don't look blind", although I myself haven't heard that one too often in recent years. Well actually, come to think of it, I've sometimes gotten into trouble from people because I'm apparently too confident about where I'm going and what I'm doing. I live in Manhattan, and so there are many types of people around here, including these who are not so nice or just downright crazy. So one day when I was walking toward home, I knew the light on 24th Street was just about ready to change. So I rushed across the street, and heard someone say "You ain't blind! You're faking' it!" I figure he was a little wacked, so I just went on my merry way. Point is, I try to take things on a case by case basis; I have to do that anyway because I'm an attorney. But there are some things I find difficult to forgive or forget. For instance, when I graduated law school, I got a standing ovation. Why? Certainly not because I graduated at the top of my class. I'd had a rough time throughout much of my first half of law school due to some
pretty serious personal problems, and so never fully recovered academically to the point where I constantly got A's and B's as I used to in college and
earlier. So I was at best a middling student happy to get out of there in one piece, thank you very much. No, the fact is that I was the first totally blind student ever to graduate from this particular law school. My parents actually took their video camera with them to tape this travesty, including the extremely pissy look on my face. Unfortunately as good as my parents are about a lot of things related to blindness, they took this kind of thing
as a compliment, where I viewed it as an extreme insult. Now I'm not sure if my reaction means I have a chip on my shoulder or not, but I do sometimes
despair that we may have a very long time before people regard graduating from any school situation as amazing or courageous. We all get scared too, so
none of us are particularly brave or special in my view. Anyway, as imperfectly as I've stated my case, I'll ring off because there's much to do.”
John D. Coveleski (New York, New York USA)
FROM ME: “this guy said something that made me think this- ‘the more competent you are, the more un-blind you look.’ I personally have experienced this. Also, the more problems you have functioning, the more offers of help you get; I guess because you act or look more blind, need more help. What do you think?”
**70. “I don't know if anyone remembers or saw this, but back a few years ago on a guest appearance of Arsinial Hall Bill Cosbey did a very provoking routine about the blind. It went something like this. "Do you think when he comes home from work a blind man says to his wife, "Honey guess what, I met a sighted person at the office today. And did you ever notice how careful a blind person is when he crosses the street. How he doesn't step out in the street when he sees a car coming while this sighted person who can see the blind person and the stop sign or even a car in front of him will keep barreling through." He went on to sight other things. While I don't think MR. Cosbey meant to make the point that the blind are better people I do think what he said was interesting and should make people think, what makes us so remarkable that we bare singling out.”
SueEllen Melo (Albuquerque, New Mexico USA)
FROM ME: “There was a time when making fun of the blind, like in stand-up comity, was not acceptable.
Or am I dreaming this one? And now do they make jokes about blindness? What kind and how does it make you feel?”.
**71. “I've received very similar compliments as others have given. "You do so well for...uh...not seeing," "you told me you don't see at all, but I think you must see a little bit," "I couldn't do that if I couldn't see," "You do so well it's just amazing," "I know you can do that for
yourself but let me help you..." "oh, I forgot you were blind," etc. But so far, no one who has said those things has been a close friend, hired me for a position I've applied for, let me care for their children or
pets, trusted me to get from point a to point b without them, or really, truly believed I could be as capable as they. I know those comments are meant as compliments but there's almost always some amount of doubt behind them. I mean, if a white sighted person said, to a black sighted
person "oh, I forgot you were black, it doesn't sound to me as a compliment. There is some degree of negative judgment behind it or a lack of respect, sense of equality or feeling of total acceptance.
I laugh when someone implies that I can see a little bit. I'm tempted to pluck out my artificial eyes to show them, but I'd never really do that.
One time, when I was telling someone about my daughter, they said "Well you must be able to see some if you raised a daughter and your husband was blind, too." And many people used to say that my former husband wasn't being truthful about his blindness, that he could see quite a lot
or he wouldn't get around as well as he did, mow our lawn, carry a heavy bag of groceries right from the store into our home, use the snow-blower
or shovel in winter, sometimes doing a better job than most of our neighbors. Some even said he was carrying a cane for show, so that people would "think he was totally blind," but oooo and aaaahh over how
amazing he was because he liked attention. Yes, he did like getting attention, probably since he didn't get enough when he was young, but he did all those normal things being totally blind, with some light
He never saw colors and used to get impatient with me when I was always asking people what color things were after I lost the small amount of vision I had.
I think people mean well but usually they're feeling uncomfortable about blindness or they wouldn't say those things. I don't usually blow away about the comments, but I feel they've told me more than they meant to about how they really feel about blindness.
The compliments I really believe are those I've been given by those who don't know that I'm blind--such as over the phone or the Internet. I've noticed that when some do find out, their whole tone of voice quite often changes.
The ones who dish out one weird comment after another are those I don't waste much time on since they've already made their minds up. My husband and I were at a restaurant the other night and the woman who waited on us was really overbearing for the entire time we were there. She tried to
tell me what I should order, and seemed impatient when Jim insisted on reading the menu so I could make my own decision. When she brought any items, she did the clock thing. When she brought our soup she did the good old "be careful! the bowl and your soup are hot!" I said I hoped
so. She didn't say it to Jim. When she brought the main course she did the hot plate thing again and asked Jim if he was going to help me with my food. He responded reasonably. When we got up to leave, we chose to visit the restroom and I was checking the door to see if it was labeled
WOMEN in a way I could feel and she jumped up from her position at the counter, grabbed the knob and turned it and practically pushed me in. When I grabbed the door, shut it quickly and locked it, I heard her ask Jim if one of them should come in to help. She was impossible!! She
was a control freak and was that way to everyone, her workers especially. I think the idea of someone being as competent as her while blind was just too much of a threat to her need to dominate. A blind person could not be allowed to be her equal or even appear to be. It was quite
unpleasant though we laughed when we left the restaurant. She doesn't need any more of our business.
One of the neat things about these thought-provokers is that we can share experiences and realize we're not alone in them. Then it's easier to just laugh about the silliness of some things people say and do.”
Laurie Merryfield (Washington USA)
**72. “Compliments can be taken so many ways, but I think as we all age we endure and develop different for all of us as individuals. It is important, however on a daily basis , to do our best to educate family, friends and whomever we come across in our paths.. Janie from south Africa posted
here an interesting thought about someone watching you while eating. I to have had that feeling and have no problem speaking out as to how the " clock" works on a plate and how I have no problem using a knife to push my peas, rice and whatever up onto a fork. First we need to laugh at the
experiences as Janie did and then move on, be it with a little education, such as "I usually ask someone to describe my plate as you would a clock or I always push my rice with my knife because that is best for me." I will finish by saying one day in a big restaurant where I was for a conference
and being only one of two blind persons there, a waitress whispered," my mom is blind, so let me please describe your plate.”
Lee a. stone (Hudson,New York, U.S. a.)
**73. “Blindness sure can put us into an awkward position. This compliment thing is a prime example. Here we are, someone is either feeling good and wants to make you feel good too and they make a statement that sounds good on the surface, but is based on an ignorant belief. So what do you do? You let it go or you try and educate the person. Unfortunately educating in this setting too often doesn’t work. A friend could take a correction, but more often a stranger wouldn’t; the friend knows where it is you are coming from. So learn to bear it right along with all the other awkward situations that can arise; it all a part of being blind. (Sorry, I don’t think we can change the whole world.)”
Perry Cole (USA)
**74. “I run in to that. My response is, Well You don't look sighted. I like to catch them off guard. I have church members come up to me asking for a ride home. It's like they don't see the cane. I tell them that there is a law against blind people driving. I also tell them that I would like to
see my next birthday. I am to young to die..”
A BISM Student (Blind Industries and Services of Maryland
Baltimore, Maryland 21223
**75. “I already responded to this PROVOKER, but this week I had a thought that is related to the subject of compliments. All my life, arbitrary people--strangers, new acquaintances, etc.--have made the comment, "You are so brave/strong/courageous/determined". Similar comments have also been
directed at my parents at times. So I was thinking, Is it true that the blind are stronger or braver than the sighted in daily life? Is our life so much harder and tougher than the sighted life that we deserve such praises? As a teenager who has been blind since birth, I am more than a little
uncertain about this. Upon first meeting me or soon thereafter, inevitably a sighted person will ask me if it is very frightening or difficult to be blind. Usually I tell them that it is only scary to be blind if I am denied
the ability to use alternative techniques. But I think that coinciding with comments about being "amazing" are remarks about our bravery, strength, and ability to deal with challenge. What do you think, readers? Are we as blind folks any hardier than the rest?”
Arielle (Scottsdale, Arizona USA)
**76. “This is something that has been said to me over the years. Since I am a "high partial" I often travel without a cane in an area that I know very well. This is true in Laramie, Wyoming, and more true in a town like Jackson, Wyoming. In fact, I did well until I would do something like twist
my ankle in a pot hole that would develop over time, or ran into some detour or construction signs on roads or sidewalks I wasn't expecting. That's when I realized the severity of my day blindness, or how bad my lack of depth perception really is. Like many of you on this list, I also hear the
comments from time to time, "You don't look blind." or "You do that so well, we forget you are blind!" I believe that education is the key though we do get tired of it after a while.”
Bonnie Ainsworth (NFBnet Wyoming USA)
**77. “Personally, I wish people would just keep their mouths shut abut matters they know nothing about. Of course all these people meant what they said in a complimentary way, but since blindness is not something any of them are 'educated' in, opening their mouths can cause more pain than
good. I had an incident that runs along this same lines recently. I asked my
sister if I could borrow a Harry Potter children's book from her eleven year old son (actually I emailed her son to make the request). But my sister, who I've never been close to, made the response. She told my
mother, who telephoned me and told me, that she felt I wouldn't be able to read the print. It would be much to small for me. first off, it was a simple yes or no request. But putting that aside, the related point
is, my sister has no idea what size print I can or can't manage. She just assumed that because I have an eyesight problem I couldn't read print whatsoever (I have a CCTV), which my sister claimed she didn't
know I had. Again whatever, she knows nothing about visual problems, mine particularly, and she shouldn't have said anything. People, like my sister, are much too concerned about the disabilities of
others. When I use the word 'concerned', again referring to my own first hand situation with this sibling, I mean obsessed. They should just teat us like everyone else, not keep pointing out that we're
handicapped - whether its well meant or otherwise. I tell you, it'd be a much nicer world on the whole if it could be that way. And in my own case, I might even like my sister if she'd calm down and get off her
high horse about me being disabled.”
Patricia Hubschman (Levittown, New York, USA)
**78. “I sure have gotten my share of "we forget you're blind.” Although people say that or act it out, one of the biggest complements of that sort which stands out to me is from one summer when I attended a week-long seminar at St. Vladimir's Seminary, Scarsdale, NY. I signed up, paid my money and showed up, not telling anyone I would be blind. It was more of a spiritual growth thing, not academic in the strictest sense, so, saw no need to ask for Brailled programs, texts, etc. (I guess I knew it would be mainly
a lecture series.)
Anyway, there I was, and, how, wow, blind! People got over their shock pretty quickly, or concealed it, or maybe they weren't shocked at all (but I have a hard time believing that) because the Eastern Orthodox Church isn't one notorious for lots of blind people, and a symposium or this sort would be even less likely to have "us". OK, here comes the complement.
My roommates were really helpful, and also curious, and as the week went on and we got to know each other, much sharing about lots of topics occurred.
On the final day, there was a special morning liturgy--more elaborate and inclusive than our daily chapel services had been. I came and found a place,
right next to one of my roommates. I must have come in a little late, or something, because I kind of squeezed in there, I remember; and, without thinking,
she held her service book up to share with me. It was an automatic action, and the fact that, during our week together, she'd "forgotten I was blind" spoke volumes to me. We met as total strangers, each unaware as to who would be our roommate and unprepared for "anything out of the ordinary."
Laura L. Collins
**79. "sounds like the psychiatrist who ran in to the other psychiatrist in the elevator. one said, @Good morning.@ The other said, 'I wonder what he meant by that?'"
Laurie F. Dow
FROM ME: “I too like to find jokes or little meaningful stories that can convey a similar meaning. Can anyone else come up with something like what this person did?”
**80. “I want to share a story that is a little different, and shows how non-equal we are to the sighted. But who'd want to be in this situation?
One night it was late and I called a friend, getting a wrong number. I apologized to the guy and was about to hang up and he said, "wait a minute.” Well it was quickly clear the he was looking to pickup a girl. Now, there is no way I would go for that but I thought I'd listen to him for a minute. He wanted me to come to his house.
"well, I wouldn't be coming alone." I said.
He acted annoyed and asked why not.
"I have a guide dog. He goes everywhere.”
"a guard dog?"
"no, a seeing eye dog."
"oh," he said, "I'm so sorry ma'am for bothering you. I shouldn't have done that."
Well I told him what I thought of him, no politeness about it. Even a sighted man, the kind I wouldn't want to be around anyway, assumed, before even meeting me, that I was substandard.
In most other situations that come up where there is a compliment, supposedly, involved, I try to respond in a way to educate the person and in a polite manner. Not always though. We are just as flawed as sighted people and some days we are just not in the mood to educate or protect feelings of others.
Can people accept that normalcy?”
Vicki Meizinger (Massachusetts. email@example.com)
FROM ME: “What a great story! Anyone else had an experience like this? Here is one I had- Standing at a bus stop, a pan-handler comes down the line of people waiting, gets to me, starts to give me his pitch, sees my long white cane, stops, says “Oh, excuse me!” And leaves.”
**81. “I was guilty of this once: David and I were playing scrabble (an adapted set) when I went to hand him a tile. He didn't reach for it. "Oh," I said, "I forgot you were blind." We had been going out, probably for about a month at the time. He took it as a compliment, probably because I really had forgotten. But then blindness was never an issue between us except when my landlady got upset that we were dating. (Not even my mother! Mom accepted David totally. His family didn't accept me, but that was another story.)”
Lori Stayer (Merrick, New York USA)
**82. “In this phrase I clip from you: distribute and influence is indeed one of histories greatest innovations and happenings for changing what it means to be blind. What do you think?”
I can tell you there is a group called Blind Forum that transfers your monologue over to the group and is shared. So that others can learn and read the input of all. So in this part I think it is great! Across the USA and other countries can here all of us talk openly! As for addressing the issues of a few nice words being said to the blind and visually impaired persons.
There is and has been a lot said. To which expresses a lot of valued feelings; both in the sighted and blind world. I will just say in my last experience, not that long ago. At work, I wear a head set for answering phones; while working on a computer. For the sighted on the list. This is so Jaws can talk in one ear and the customer can talk in the other ear and a pin size mike for me right in front of my mouth.
Well, there was a group from work that came over to watch myself work on the computer. This is after, I told them it was ok to use the word blind with myself.
"Gene, we are just amazed on how you can do the job with out a mouse, that jaws thing talking to you, customer talking to you and you talking to the customer and being blind. Along with going around the screen and just using the key board." Now, at this point I could have turn this into a negative or a positive in their remarks. I chose to keep it a positive flow in their compliment. As it was a learning experience for this business; in hiring for the first time a totally blind person for this job. I thank them all for the compliment; yet, noted you know when you loose something. Whether it is your eye sight or another part of your body. You pick up the slack by finding another way around it. To which they agreed and it open a door for great conversation of learning about blindness.
You are right in the group. A compliment can be a downer sometimes and kind of sounding irresponsible; Yet we have an opportunity to take this in one direction or the other. It is easy to blame the sighted for some of the compliments they give. Yet, at the same time there are some blind that make a job look hard to do and give out the "poor me I am blind". So I think even though at times when given a compliment from a sighted person. It is better to go in the positive direction. along with explaining if there is time the little difference between the sighted world and the blind world. We just have another way of getting the job done. I could go on in talking about this issue. Yet, though I think it has been covered from almost all angles. Enjoy life, keep on smiling, keep peace in the heart and be happy. Life is to short!
Gene Stone (Portland, Maine USA
**83. “Here's one for all of you........since I am an artist..........I sometimes get..."Funny, you don't look like an artist." And I think......so what's that supposed to mean? Now...does it matter ...whether I am sighted or blind?
Thought provoking, isn't it?”
Jane Kronheim (Harrisville, New Hampshire USA)
**84. “In responding to this thought provoker, I'll ask a couple of questions. Have you ever noticed that blind people can have very different levels of confidence and/or ability and very different styles of coping with the day-to-day challenges of not being able to see in a world that is organized for, and inhabited by, people who are able to see? For example, some blind people cross streets easily; others are more hesitant, asking or waiting for reassurance that
it is safe to proceed. Some blind people never hesitate about travelling to new places; others would never travel to a new place without being accompanied by someone who is sighted or without gathering a lot of advance information. Some blind people choose their own clothing to wear on a daily basis and purchase, care for, and organize their own clothing; others rely on someone else to choose their clothing, to organize and maintain it, and to tell them what to wear. Some blind people primarily use public transportation services; others rely primarily on paratransit services for persons with disabilities or rides from family and friends. Some blind people are gourmet cooks; others eat out because they can't or don't want to cook; still others live on TV dinners. My point is that, to me, blind does not necessarily mean confident or competent in any realm of human endeavor: it just means being unable to see. However, I have met blind people who run the gamut of personal characteristics -- some pleasant, some extremely unpleasant, some extremely competent,
some who appear to be unable to do much without assistance, etc. But then, over the past 40 some years, I have met a significant number of blind people. However, blind people are a small minority in this country, and most people never really know anyone who is blind. To most members of the public, the
term "blind" means being totally unable to see. However, it may also mean having whatever set of characteristics they associated with whatever blind persons they have seen in the movies, on the television, or on the street. To know whether "you don't look blind" is a compliment, you really need to know what the person saying that phrase associates with blindness. I am legally blind and use a guide dog. People often say I don't look blind, but I don't assume
it's a compliment -- I just assume they can tell that I have some vision that I am able to use and they don't understand that there are some "blind" people
who still have a little bit of eyesight. Of course, it may also mean a lot of other things.”
Jeanine Worden (Arlington, Virginia USA)
**85. “No way I can read all those responses. But I do think it's a compliment that the blind function so well.....so effectively that we often forget they are blind. It's sort of like you realize the umpires have called a good game if, at the end of the game, you hardly realized the umpires were out there. Also, the blind don't ask for a lot -- aren't always carping that they need this or that, lobbying, protesting. And I think that speaks well for them.
I never forget you are legally blind. But I only acknowledge that affirmatively in situations where I know your vision might be a problem.....like if we are walking in traffic, or at a gig something happens you don't catch, etc. But those occasions are few and far between.”
**86. “I don't usually respond twice in one "provoker," but I do have this to say:
It seems that often sighted people over compliment us and other blind people under compliment each other. We've discussed what might be behind the compliments of sighted persons, however, the lack of compliments from brother/sister blind persons is an interesting phenomenon, also. Are they simply trying to "balance things out/" Are they feeling some sense of competition wherein jealousy and/or envy might be behind the lack of compliments? Are they afraid that their compliment might be taken as patronizing as if it came from a sighted person? Do they have such a problem accepting genuine compliments from others that they cannot humble themselves to genuinely compliment another blind person? I've been working on figuring this one out.
I understand that the "you don't look like you're blind," or "I forgot you're blind," and other patronizing comments are just that, but if
someone says something helpful, does something well, for which ordinary compliments are a sign of kindness, why not give them--whether the person is blind or not?
And, as I've said before in these discussions, when someone says they're not special, that everything they do is ordinary, I don't believe it!
It may be true that no one is special just because they're blind. And what we do isn't out-of-the-ordinary just because we're blind. However, each living being is special and some of what some living beings say and do are very special and deserve to be recognized as that.
Compliments--being able to genuinely give them and receive them-have much to do with our developing a reasonable level of self-esteem and
encouraging others to do similarly for themselves.”
Lauren Merryfield (Washington, USA)
FROM ME: "I think this has a good message. What do you think?"
**87. “I use a guide dog and have been ask if you are BLIND how can you know how to look at someone who is speaking? Well it is hard to explain to the sighted that even though we may not look Blind it dose not change that fact that we are. But I must admit I do get rather tired trying to educate the sighted world . Most of the time I will smile and say well as a mater of fact to do not look Sighted to this blind person. But have a fun filled day as I know that I plan to.
A Smile will go along way.!!!!!!!!”
Wanda Burton (Benton, Arkansas USA)
**88. “I just lost the rest of my vision two months ago. I am already going out and doing what I want. I sing on five choirs when I tell people this, they say that I don't look blind. I also like to play the tambourine. they say that I am good with it. That can't tell that I'm blind. Or the way I talk, you don't sound blind. As if a blind person is to look and sound one way. I'm use to doing 18 things at a time. I worked with Autistic kids for 1r years. I just better know how to do 18 things at a time Plus I have a 9 year old sister. When people ask me about it, I just say I'm good like that.”
Jane Kronheim (Harrisville, New Hampshire USA)
**89. ""This THOUGHT PROVOKER reminds me of a situation, where I was in a Beauty shop and the Beautician asked if I wanted a magazine. I reminded her that I
couldn't read the magazines. I forgot her words because it was a long time
ago, but I was thinking, "I must not look blind if she had to ask me that.
I felt good about that. I think that guy in the story was trained well if
people forgot he was blind, he acted pretty normal."
Beth Kats (San Marcos, California USA)
**90. “"First of all let me tell you that I am a sighted teacher of visually impaired and have been for quite a number of years now. O.K. I'll admit it I'm old!!!!
I got into this through a very beloved mentor and friend of mine named Baynard Kendrick who is one of the founders of the BVA and someone who changed my
Life. So many of your responses have really started me thinking again about prejudice. Today the clinker came to me. I absolutely love the singer Andrea Bocelli. Man, that guy could sing me my grocery list and I'd buy a recording of it I love his voice so much. I belong to an email discussion group for him and occasionally the subject of his blindness comes up. Today one of the posts was from a lady in a panic. Why? Because they are letting him carry the Olympic torch in Australia this week . She's in a panic that he'll hurt himself. My God, this is a man who sky dives, skis, rides a bike etc. He has a doctorate in law and I think he can make his own decisions in life whether he's capable of doing something or not.
Why, why after all this time do people still have these prejudices? God, I wish I knew. Is it because in the mainstream of the sighted world most people's only access to the world of blindness is knowing an aged relative who has gone blind? Maybe. Is it because they picture themselves without sight and relate it to a time in their life when there was a blackout or position they were in that they could not see and blundered into something? Maybe. I do know this though. For every blind person who gets a compliment "You don't look blind." I thank God. It means there is one more doofus in the world who has received an education in the term "can do it!" Maybe it means that one less blind child will come to school not knowing how to dress himself/herself. One more blind child will be expected to do chores, eat with a knife and fork, ride a bike or skateboard, etc. Anyway....thanks for letting me blow. Maybe now I can go back and write a reasonable response to this lady. Thanks"
Mary Reese (Ontario, California USA)a)
**91. "I can identify with response #3 from Phyllis. When I was young and much less tactful, my response to "You're amazing!" was--"Too bad my name's not Grace!"
My husband and I were discussing the topic of me being amazing, just a couple of days ago. I am trying to build a small, home-based business, and have written and rewritten a feature story to propose to my local newspaper. My goal was some free publicity, exposure, hopefully leading to some business.
I'm sure many received that article (which appeared last Sunday) as just that; while others did the "isn't she amazing" thing.
Anyway, the conclusion we drew, was that strangers and casual acquaintances are usually the ones who make these comments, perhaps arriving at their conclusion of blind people's "super-humanity" as they compare what they witness to their preconceived notion or stereotype of what a blind person should be. Close friends and family members who are around me on a day to day basis, stopped thinking how amazing I am ages ago. They see my faults. They see what a lousy housekeeper I am, or the times I loose my patience with my kids, or that I still sometimes need help proofreading stuff, even though I do have
my own scanner--stuff like that. I think my husband, kids, close friends, etc. measure me against a different standard-their Mom as compared to their
friends' mom, my cooking as compared to their own or other friends' cooking; my intelligence, or interests, or skills as compared to theirs, their other
neighbors, etc. Sometimes I wish they'd think I'm amazing, but, usually it is a greater complement to be thought of as "normal!"
Laura Collins (Rapid City, South Dakota USA)
I am a sighted person who would like to be able to tell you what a blind
person is supposed to look like, but I've only seen actors portraying blind
people on television or in movies. I've never met or even seen a blind
person, but I can tell you that I'm pretty sure I'd recognize someone who was
without sight. After all, when someone is blindfolded, it's the same thing,
isn't it, as being blind. One cannot perceive what if anything is ahead, so
one must use other senses and common sense, right? If a person gets zapped
by a flashbulb, they are temporarily blinded, and if the electricity goes out
and one's house is engulfed in darkness, then that is similar to a blind
person's house twenty-four-seven, no? So I would think that if I saw a blind
person who was not very skilled at mobility and whatever else gets you all
around, then that person would obviously be exhibiting those blindisms I've
read about here, and the body movements would yell "watch out, blind person
coming through". If the person who was sightless was accustomed to and happy
with his or her blindness, then he or she would be a proud cane-swinging
example of how capable blind people can be if given education and
opportunity. So, in conclusion, I don't think I would ever tell a blind
person, if I should ever meet one in this secluded life of mine, that he or
she did not look blind. The person MUST have looked blind in order for the
comment even to be made, for surely people don't get on elevators and say
that to everyone who has ever been kind enough to push some buttons for them.
I think I would rather ask the person if they need any assistance in return,
because obviously I know that he can't see and I can and therefore he may be
in need of some orientation. I think I would just try to be nice, but
certainly not condescending or overbearing. and I am positive I would not
insult someone by praising a menial chore as if that is the best this person
can contribute to life. Geeze, I'd be insulted if someone admired the way I
pulled my car out of the driveway without hitting anything, me being a woman
and all. But, what do I know, I'm sighted, and having read the instructions
on how to deal with the sighted (an earlier contribution to this T.P.), I
suppose I should be grateful to be able to participate. This one time, I
would like to be signed,
**93. "OK, I am going to add to what I said in #55. First of all I want to address helping others to understand the terms. While legally blind is a term that is used and understood generally to mean a
person with some vision who meets the definition of blindness, (at least by some) legally blind is a term that covers all persons who are blind, whether or not they have any vision as long as they meet the statutory criteria of 20/200 visual acuity in best corrected eye or the less than 20 degree filed
parameter. It is unfortunate that the descriptor "legally" has been attached to sight, since this seems to reinforce value of vision over non vision, including techniques. While I am fine with the term "legally blind" I have become aware of its use as a step on the hierarchy of sight used to make a
distinction between those who are blind with and without vision. I have learned to emphasize that I am "blind" even though I may have some vision.
Maybe "seeing is believing". On this note I would say that this old saying says allot about what our society values. Maybe that is why when a competent persons who is blind does something normal, natural and consistent with their overall God given gifts it is seen by others who can see and assume
sight is needed as "amazing". This whole topic to me boils down to adjustment to blindness. that is, our society has an adjustment to blindness issue to deal with. It is not only the blind who need to adjust to
blindness. Society values vision as the norm. Use of non vision techniques are not accepted as normal and are therefore amazing. We need to do our best to inform society so that they can adjust.”
Edwin Cuns (Austin, Texas USA)
**94. " Many topics and questions were brought up in this thought provoker. How is a blind person supposed to appear in order to look blind? What sets blind
people aside that people are amazed how well we do such and such? What makes us different (superior or inferior) as blind people compared to the sighted
world? How could our attitudes about our own blindness reflect how we respond to comments from the public? How could our attitudes about our own blindness
or how we appear to the public reflect how people respond to our blindness and how they treat us or refer to us? Of course, there are probably many more
questions that could be asked of this thought provoker.
As many have pointed out, many sighted people who have never been exposed to a wide variety of blind people or have only been exposed to a few have
their ideas of how a blind person is supposed to appear, act, or have the capability or lack there of to do what sighted people do. Such was the case
with Resp. 46--when one of the tenants in her building commented on how she was not like the previous blind person who lived there and could not "figure
out their way out of a paper bag"; such is the case with Resp. 10, who was referred to by the waitress as a girl rather than a grown woman; and such is
the case with many of us who've been told by people that we don't look blind because we do so well walking out in public or crossing streets.
Whether someone tells me that I don't look blind or someone asks me whether or not I'm blind, I just simply tell them that I'm blind rather than shoot
back such sarcastic comments as "what am I supposed to look like as a blind person" or whatever. When someone comments on how amazed they are at how I
do what is seen as a simple task, I just smile at them. If they ask how I do such and such, I just simply explain my methods. In both cases, I'm not
hostile, as I'm thinking about the fact that they may not have ever been around blind people before, or the ones they knew weren't as capable as I am.
I don't ask myself or the person what their intent was by their question or comment, as that can be alienating to some who are curious. Don't get me
wrong. I used to be just as hostile about such *amazement*, admiration, and questions, but I found that all I was doing in being that way was alienating
people and pushing them away from me; thus, closing the door to possible friendships that could have developed. I've also learned that, when people comment
on their amazement and ask questions, it's quite possible that they, themselves, don't feel like they could adjust to being blind. They fear the unknown
of what it's like to be blind and hope that they never go blind, yet they know deep inside that it could happen to them. Their questions and comments
may be their way of looking for assurance should they or someone they are close to ever went blind. I not only think that how we respond to people is
based on our own attitudes, acceptance, or adjustment to our own blindness, but it also has to do with maturity and life experiences. Such is the case
with me formerly closing doors to possible friendships with sarcastic comments in response to well-meaning people's comments and inquiries. On the sighted
world's side, how they respond to us is based on their encounters, or lack there of, with blind people, so we have to learn to be more sensitive and understanding
of why they might act the way they do--treating us like we're children, talking very loud to us, etc.--rather than think of sighted people as screwy.
They're just ignorant and genuinely want to no more. Of course, there are the inevitable people who want to make more comments than listen to what you're
trying to explain, or refer you to boys or girls, but I've learned that you just have to overlook those things and move on because they don't want to understand
or just don't know how to grasp the point you're trying to make to them.
Now that I have responded from the philosophical view of how to discern what is a compliment and what isn't, and how to respond to it, I will relate
some of my own experiences, which illustrate my points. About eighteen years ago, my vision teacher took me out to eat after a presentation I was giving
on adaptive technology. After we ate and left the cafeteria, she complimented me on how I ate very well-mannered. It wasn't that she was ignorant about
blind people even though she worked with them. Rather, from what I can guess of her comment, the other blind people she had worked with previously were
sloppy. My stepdad and I would often go out to eat just to talk. Upon ordering our food, the waitress would ask him what I wanted to eat whereupon he
would start answering for me. I would chime in, though, not because I didn't like his help, rather so as to inform the waitress tactfully that I am able
to speak for myself. In this case, it wasn't that he thought I was in capable. Rather, he was never informed the social implications speaking up for
me could have as far as demonstrating to those who don't know me what blind people can do, simple or challenging.
On the flip-side, there were those who either just didn't know anything about blind people because they had never met one before or because of all that
they've heard or learned based on exposure to a blind person previous to me. One of many incidents when a *"oh you poor thing"* comment was made to me
was a few months ago. My husband and I boarded the city bus to go to Wal-Mart and an elder was sitting in front of us. They asked my husband whether
or not I was blind. Upon my answering that I was, they said, "oh, you poor thing" to which I replied, "no, it's not all that bad. At least I'm alive
and well, and that's all that matters. Things could be worse". My husband, then, bragged about how I cook, clean, sew by hand better than a sewing machine
could, etc. Hearing the elderly person's comment, I remembered that we were living in a town where the state school for the blind is located. Like that
elderly person, many that we've encountered over the two years we've lived here have never met disabled people as high-functioning as my husband and I,
and all the blind people they knew of or met were those who attended the school for the blind and remain mostly isolated from the public. Not only are
we representatives of disabled people (my husband has a spinal injury and uses a cane for stability), but we're representatives of minority groups. Not
only do we not fit the stereotypical disabled people, but we don't fit the stereotypical groups of minorities.
Another incident was within a couple days of moving to where we live now. my husband and I were at Wal-Mart when I charged our purchases to my credit
card. Upon getting ready to sign on the purchase slip, the cashier asked me whether or not I was able to sign. Taking the pen in and slip in my hand
and attempting to sign, the pen wouldn't work. The cashier swore up and down that the problem was because I didn't know how to sign despite my telling
her that the pen wouldn't work because the ink was too cold (the register was located by a constantly opening door and it was in the middle of winter of
below zero wind chills). Finally realizing how frustrated the cashier was becoming with me, I pulled out a pen out of my purse, which worked. I don't
remember all that happened afterwards, but I do know that the cashier felt like an absolute fool because I'd proven to her what I'd been telling her; needless
to say, she became more irritated by the fact that a blind person had proven her wrong, which, I figure she was intimidated by.
Another example of proving otherwise to sighted people was about six years ago, when I was looking to move in with my husband in his apartment. I went
to his place to check out the apartment complex whereupon all eyes were focused on me. Not only were some onlookers those who were attracted to me but
didn't realize that I was already hitched, but other observers were those who had had a bad experience with a former blind friend of mine who used to live
there two years previous. Believing that I would be as hostile and aggressive as she was, people kept their distance from me until they figured out that
I was totally opposite of my friend. In fact there were numerous occasions while we lived there before we moved to where we are now when I got to talking
to those who met my former friend while she lived there. Not only did I learn a lot about what she was saying and doing to alienate people, which she
never told me all of previous, but I dispelled their ideas of what blind people were liked based on their experiences with my former friend.
In these last incidents, not only had I broken their long-held ideas of blind people, but I could tell by their reactions or how they spoke to me without
outright telling me that they were thinking, "you're not like all the other blind people I have met". Likewise, my husband and I have been told that we're
not like all the minorities they've met previously; that we're so different from what they've always known or thought.
In addition to breaking the stereotypes through demonstration and educating, there were the times where I felt I was considered to be part of the group
who happens to be blind rather than being singled out as *that blind gal*. Like many, I have had people point when they're describing something or say,
"hey, look at that cool plane up there" as they point towards the sky. My husband has often asked me whether or not I want the light on when I'm reading
something. In those cases not only have they forgotten that I'm blind or consider my blindness as any kind of issue, but it makes me feel like I'm just
as much of a human being as they are. When I remind them that I'm blind, we just break out in total laughter. Yes, there are times when I like the light
on because it seems too dark in the room, but there are other times when the light hurts my eyes to the point I have to have it off; thus, my husband asking
me whether or not I want the light on being a valid question.
I've also had people ask me for directions to get to their destination, or classmates ask me for instructions on our assignments. Now, whether they're
thinking about blindness or not, I don't know, but it makes me feel good when someone feels like they might be able to depend on me for something. Such
was the case one time in college. One of my sighted classmates asked me for clarification on an assignment whereupon I explained. Many have asked me
for directions to their destination and have come back to me later to tell me that they made it to where they were going and that I was clear on my directions
even though I was pointing this way and that. There was one incident, though, when I did my usual pointing this way and that to give directions only to
be told by the person asking for directions that she was blind. I stopped and told her that I, too, was blind then went on to giving her the directions
with the old north and south game and telling her where she was exactly in relation to other landmarks around us. So many sighted people do not know their
four directions that to describe north, south, east and west is foreign to them; they only know directions through visual cues of pointing. Since most
of the people I encounter are sighted, I've learned to work from the sighted view and almost forget that I could run into a situation when I'm directing
a blind person, which happened in the situation just described. So, not only do sighted people forget that we're blind in some cases, but some of us blind
people who mainly associate with sighted people forget that there are also blind people out here. Such was the case with another situation following.
I was at a friend's apartment when I was relaying a comical story to them. Forgetting that I was among other blind people like me, I started illustrating
the body language that needed to be described instead. I stopped and started describing appropriately as I was going through the motions of the body language
I was describing. While the blind people around me took offense at me saying that I forgot what kind of people I was around, I couldn't help but laugh
at the mistake I made that's commonly made by sighted people.
In all these cases described above, not only have I learned to be more sensitive to sighted people's fears and ignorance, but I've learned to educate
more humbly compared to the way I used to be. I've made more sighted friends and acquaintances with my reformed views. Likewise, I've understood from
being primarily surrounded by sighted people how sighted people can forget that you're blind by the way I've forgotten at times that I'm talking to other
blind people when I'm with my blind friends.”
**95. I was just thinking about this response to this Thought Provoker.
I feel that what many people are saying is not meant as a "put down". Neither do I think their compliment is insincere. I think they wish to be politically
correct. Not everyone blind wants or like compliments on their ability to function in a sighted world. When I met Linda some 7 years ago, I did not know
she was blind. She did not act fearful of running into things, She did not constantly rub her eyes, as if she had something in her eye. All I knew was
there was this attractive dark hair woman, wearing a bomber jacket and dancing in the floor at the party. In all the years we have been together, she has
not made me feel shamed that I am sighted and she is not.
I believe that what people are saying is, they are impressed with the person and accept that they are blind. It is nice to get to know the person first
and then deal with their blindness. Often, some blind people will force the fact they are blind before you ever get a chance to know them.
John Minnesota USA