I wasn’t always blind. In fact, it’s a relatively recent development. I’ve been losing my vision gradually, thanks to a degenerative retinal disease which chomps up my retinal cells like Pacman. I was diagnosed at nineteen, but the doctor didn’t know how long it would take for me to go blind or how blind I’d get, which I found kind of confusing because I’d always thought blindness was an all or nothing deal, like virginity.
As it turns out, there are lots of different levels of blindness. You can be Absolutely Blind, where you see nada. You can be Almost Absolutely Blind, where you retain some light and shape perception. Or you can be legally blind, which is what I am—at least for the moment.
To qualify for being legally blind, your corrected vision has to be 20/200 or worse or you have to have really severe tunnel vision—essentially like looking through a peephole. So, you’ve got some vision, it’s just the kind you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy.
Being legally blind sucks for a lot of reasons. Mainly, it’s just a colossal pain in the ass. Try shopping for jeans when you can’t make out the sizes or the prices and the image of your ass in the mirror is really blurry. It takes forever.
But one of the worst parts of being blind is people’s reactions. People are terrified of blindness. I get it. I am too. It’s freaking scary. Confronting that scary thing makes people act weird. I also understand that it’s hard for fully-sighted people to understand what the practical implications are of not seeing, or not seeing worth a damn. So, I don’t fault you for acting like I dick. I have done it myself, plenty of times.
But, really, it’d be better if you didn’t act like a dick to a blind person because, seriously, we have enough problems. Here’s how to manage that.
Don’t assume we have superpowers:
When I found out I was going blind, I tried to find the silver lining and it popped to mind pretty quickly: “I’m going to develop other super senses!” I thought, “I’ll probably be able to hear a toilet flush three blocks away!”
This hasn’t happened.
My ears are good -- I recognize people by their footsteps which is a fun way to freak folks out – and I have a keen nose, which comes in helpful. But they’re not, like, bionic.
Don’t be mad when we uppercut you (or your drink):
Inadvertently beating people is an occupational hazard when you’re blind. I have elbowed dates in the ribs and knocked kids on their asses and given uppercuts to a lot of innocent jaws, all by accident. The damage I’ve done to glasses is immeasurable. Trust me, when we do this we feel worse than you do (all right, at least as bad). Try to mask the pain and minimize the expletives.
Don't move our crap:
Locating stuff like house keys and cell phones and toddlers is hard enough without some do-gooder moving those things around. It doesn’t have to be a big re-org, the kind my mother’s fond of, where she rearranges everything on my counter so it’s “much better,” leaving me searching for my salt shaker for an hour. Just pushing a cell phone from the corner to the center of the table can become Rubix Cube level torture.
Use precise, descriptive language:
When you notice we can’t find our cell phone and you want to point out its location, use descriptive language. Employing phrases such as "over there" or "right over there" or “right over there, next to you,” while pointing? Epic fail. Try tossing in some detailed clauses like "directly beside your left elbow" or "a few inches to your right, on top of the chair."
Ask how, specifically, you might lend a hand:
Helping out partially-sighted people can be tricky because it’s hard to know exactly what they can see and what they can’t. Even my husband is surprised sometimes when I miss something he thought was in my frame of vision, like the dishwasher door he left open which was not kind to my shinbone.
So if you’re not sure what might be helpful, ask. A friend of mine did awhile back and I told her that finding seats at the movies is a real drag because I can’t see squat in the dark. Now when we go to the movies, that lovely lady takes care of it, linking elbows with me so I don’t end up sitting on some unsuspecting moviegoer’s lap. Magic!
But -- and this is key -- don't forcibly help us:
No means no, people. Even when you think we’re being stupid. Even when you think we’re saying no just to be polite. If you’re agonized by the refusal, you can offer: “You sure?” But that’s it.
Do tell us we're smoking hot:
It may be an exaggeration, or even a bald-faced lie, but we can't know for sure. And really, who’s it going to hurt?