Not Knowing Who You Are Talking to: The Worst Discomfort in Vision Loss

A very blurred figure is approaching up the stairs. It might be a woman. But do you know her?
A very blurred figure is approaching up the stairs. It might be a woman. But do you know her?

The situation is very unequal. You hear footsteps coming – steps like all other steps.  A voice says “Hi Bill!” Is it a friendly neighbor or someone you went to school with?  Is it the boss or the receptionist? There isn’t a perfect solution for this, and asking who you are talking to can be embarrassing.

Here are some quick tips to start with and then more details:

-You may not feel ready to talk about your eye problems, in which case you may prefer to just say “Hi!” in return.

-If you’re interested in finding out who greeted you, ask around later to see if anyone met you the other day.

-If you are a chatty extrovert, you can stop the greeter and ask who it is. This is a good solution if you have the chutzpah.  But it’s not easy because by the time you’ve got your mouth open the greeter has already passed you.

-You can take the initiative whenever you are talking to a neighbor or in company to explain that such a short greeting doesn’t do it for you. You need the full name and a bit of background such as: “I’m Mary Smith. We met at a barbecue last summer. It was at Frankie’s house.”

What to Say:

“Who are you – and how do we know each other? I can’t see you clearly.”

“You know, I can’t recognize you – who is it?”

“It’s great you said ‘Hi’. Please tell me who you are, so I can respond!”

“Hey! I kind of recognize your voice, but I can’t put a name to it. Who are you?”

We all have this huge jotting pad at the back of the brain called the occipital lobe. It usually stores visual memories including faces by the thousand. But how do you recognize a face you can’t see? People who have grown up with blindness often have strong auditory recall of voices  (like sighted people with faces), and They don’t have much of a problem. But for most of us with sight loss, uncertainty about who we are talking to is a big issue. And age-related hearing loss may ramp up the difficulty even more.

A sighted person can recognize your face and body from many steps away. She can process your features, skin and hair color, link them to your name and be all ready to greet you by name. But you can’t respond with her name!

It’s different at home.  The way your spouse or housemate closes the front door, drops her bag and clears her throat are all easy to identify because you only have a few housemates, but out in the big world it could be anyone – and unlike someone with sight, you have no lead-up time to remember who it is. Of course, there’s the voice, and if it’s a friend or someone with a definite accent you may know instantly who it is, but the two syllables of “Hi Bill” don’t give you a lot to go on!

If you can still see the shape, you may be able to recognize her or the shape combined with the way she moves. But if not, it all comes down to that one second sound-bite.

What’s your solution for this? Please let us all know what you’ve found that works

Put your story or your tip in the comment box so we can all benefit.

2 thoughts on “Not Knowing Who You Are Talking to: The Worst Discomfort in Vision Loss

  1. If I’m in my neighborhood or getting on a bus and someone says hi if I can’t identify them I simply say “Hi, who am I talking to?”. If I have the chance to let them know quietly, I’ll ask that they say “Hi Marja, it’s Joe”. I now know Joe because he says hi Marja in a Mickey Mouse voice! Always makes me smile.

    1. It’s great that your bus friend says Hi in a special voice. It seems to show that he has thought about it .

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