My old friend Karen and I were having a catch-up lunch together. I was happily telling her about a trip I’d been on. Karen was watching the waitress beside me who was handing me a napkin without saying anything and rolling her eyes when I didn’t take it as if I was an idiot. Suddenly Karen said “she’s blind!” Karen apologized at once, but even so it took me a week and a phone conversation to get over it.
How could Karen have handled this better? Go to the end of this post for Talking Tips
If your partner, parent or old friend is new to losing her sight, you may be trying to cope with big changes in the way your relationship works. You might feel that you are protecting her (or him) from the stupidity of the outside world. And at this early point your mother or brother or girlfriend might feel comforted by your remark. She might feel safe inside your protective zone. She may still think of herself as part of the seeing world and prefer to have you explain her eye problem because she isn’t ready to do it yet.
You may always feel this anger and desire to protect him or her from the world outside, but in time you recognize that speaking of anyone past infancy as “he” or “she” when that person is right here now is not respectful! What your loved one needs from you above all is support with his self esteem as he grapples with how to rediscover his ego and his sense of who he is.
Here is another story. This one is from our elder daughter. If you are close to someone with a vision impairment you will soon have a dozen more stories like this. Self-conscious teens and young adults can be more hurt by this kind of behavior than seniors like me, and less able to confront the issue.
Our elder daughter was volunteering with The Carroll Center’s summer camp for teens with vision loss. She was in a canoe with two of the campers and one other volunteer – a young man. The campers were learning how to steer and paddle, so the canoe was zig-zagging down the river. Someone in another boat yelled at them and the other volunteer yelled back “They’re blind!” Our daughter felt horrible about it but didn’t know what to do and did nothing.
In the restaurant:
“I think the waitress wants to hand you a napkin.”
In the canoe,
“That loud mouth in the other canoe was complaining because we’re not steering straight – what a jerk!”
You see how explaining to whoever has the vision loss instantly puts them in the picture. You tell the young person or old friend what is happening. The waitress and the loudmouth are where they belong – on the outside. Your friend with vision problems is treated with respect and can make his own decision about how to respond.
What have you said when a stranger is misjudging your friend? It’s not easy!