How To Find Out Who You Are Talking To, a Short Video

People just say “Hi” when they meet. They recognize each other’s faces, and connect with their eyes, smile and maybe nod too. All things you probably can’t see.

It’s socially awkward when you can’t respond; can’t do the conventional thing. Some people can recognize close friends by the way they hold themselves or how they walk. And  young blind people who still have excellent hearing can often recognize voices, but even for them a quarter second of “Hi” isn’t much to go on.

So what can you do? Well, you have to come up with a way to ask that you are comfortable with:

Here’s a section from my book When You Can’t Believe Your Eyes: Vision Loss and Personal Recovery, Chapter 10, “Getting Out On Your Own.” It’s called 


     “Someone walked by and said, ‘Hello Jennifer,’ in a very friendly voice, obviously knowing me. I had no idea who it was, so I said hello and pretended I knew,” says Jennifer from the focus group.” Those moments pass so fast. You need to have your response ready.”

     You could call out something like, “Please stop for a moment!” or “Who’s this please?” It takes chutzpah and quick-thinking! Most people don’t make the connection between “this person can’t see,” and “this person won’t recognize my face.”

     Your acquaintance may feel some “interaction stress” at first, so your greeting has to be extra-friendly and positive. It may be worth the effort. If you walk in the same park or get the same bus regularly, you may develop friendly acquaintances who stop for a chat. These casual relationships can be a real pleasure to both of you. 

     Interaction stress is the term indicating the discomfort everyone feels when faced with a person who they think is different. It can be lucky to have neighbors who are immigrants, or from a minority, who might empathize with someone who is different. My former neighbor was a Tibetan immigrant, who never called from across the yard, but came up to me and said, “It’s Deje!” before beginning to chat. 

     It’s important to get to know one or two neighbors, so you have someone to call on in an emergency. If your neighbor is taking out his trash can or his yappy dog, you can say “Is that Malik?” You can find out who it is and make the point that you can’t recognize him. Of course, not everyone lives in a friendly, safe neighborhood, and there are a few places where you could be a target. But a white cane mostly gives you special status and some protection.

     If you are in a store, or on your way to an appointment, you will be in Jennifer’s situation, with no context for guessing beyond the person’s voice in a half-second of speech.

     If you want to meet a friend outside your home, make sure to exchange cell phone numbers and arrange an exact meeting place—not a parking lot or soccer field. If your friend also has a vision impairment, you need to be extra-specific, maybe with a back-up plan. Pick somewhere close to an information or security desk, or where there are wait-staff, and make a direct and detailed request to one of them to look out for your friend.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *