Along with STOP, ASK helps us slow down the moment of meeting someone who’s blind or visually impaired. We ask because we don’t know what we see, not merely to confirm our presuppositions. Hence, when we see someone refrain from going with the flow of folks crossing the road, we can ask if they need any help getting to the other side. It could very well be that he or she is getting a feel for the traffic flow.
Now that right-turn-on-red has been the law of the land these past thirty years, hearing whether a car is idling in the turn lane is as important as knowing that traffic is zooming by in front of us.
Maybe one of us is at a curb and unknowingly a few feet down from the bus bench. We may not be wanting to cross the street at all, but we aren’t sure where to wait for the bus, especially if we’re new in town. Perhaps, then, a better inquiry than, “How can I help you?” might be “Can I help you find something or get somewhere?” Of course, being casual with small talk beforehand is a good ice breaker, too.
With that intro, you recognize the obvious: we’ve already traveled to that curb, sidewalk, or office door on our own. It’s a matter of getting re-oriented, re-set or better informed. Yes, it’s an extra step, yet don’t we all do this when engaging one another on a campus or in a small town with a courteous “Good morning,” or “Hi.”? For us to hear your assurance in asking will help us gain a sense of confidence rather than inadequacy when approached by people in general.
Asking the “help” or “if” questions allows us to be more honest. We don’t always know where the bus stop is, how to get to a nearby doctor’s office, how to get past that diamond intersection, or why the adaptive traffic signal didn’t trigger the hand to lower at the crosswalk.
Of course, we all may want to take these considerations to heart. We all — blind or sighted—get caught up in our iPhones, earbuds, music, and private worlds so much that noticing the differences between passers-by gets to be hard to do. I’m guilty as charged. I will board the bus, slide into a cab or a friend’s car and immediately drift into introvert mode—listening to the music, typing on my laptop or other gizmo, texting or calling whoever. Yes, we certainly live in a culture that, in transit, has grown more and more impersonal.
Expanding the Ask Beyond That First Meeting
Perhaps, in hindsight, personability is one reason that led me to choose Concordia University-Seward, Nebraska as where I’d go after high school. In 1991, when I enrolled, it was still Concordia College, but today it has the same comfortable feel. You are a name and a face before you’re a number or a grade to be entered in the system. After I gained my footing and started traveling around town, there was nowhere I’d want to be more. Yes, everyone recognized my blindness on sight. After all, it’s hard to miss the white cane I carry. Yet, as people feel free to converse in the open or greet one another in passing, so it became true for me, too.
So often, we who are blind or visually impaired are taught to think that you who have sight have more or better answers because of your ability to see. For us it follows that when we’re told you don’t know something or don’t understand our question, we hear, “I don’t care,” or “I’m too busy.” We’re trained to be deferential instead of being proactive and bold in asking questions ourselves.
One of the biggest benefits of asking/conversing is also one of the biggest challenges. It helps remove the fear factor. By nature, we are afraid to walk in another’s cowboy boots or flip-flops. If we aren’t blind or deaf or quadriplegic, we struggle to imagine ourselves living under those kind of conditions. So, we imagine that our whole way of life will be unquestionably altered by said disabilities. When we ask we might find out:
- Things aren’t so different for someone with a physical disability from your own experience.
- Our capabilities may be as well-tuned in areas of study or survival as yours.
- There’s no shame in someone with a disability outperforming someone who is supposedly “normal.” The Lord apportions His gifts as He sees fit, regardless of disability or health.
- How someone who’s blind, visually impaired, or otherwise physically disabled may alter performance of work, leadership, or parenting. It does not necessarily lessen its quality or effectiveness.
- Physical disability does not equate to lacking mental cognition or perception.
And because someone has one disability, such as blindness, it doesn’t mean they are hard of hearing. Vice-versa, it doesn’t mean that we gain a sharper hearing or sixth sense that makes us mysteriously more able to do something not requiring sight.
In a later post, I will address the hero mystique about those who “overcome” their blindness or other disability. We don’t perform challenging tasks, win wrestling matches or chess games, become lead I.T. specialists despite our blindness. Rather, being blind, we do these things being blind, accommodating ourselves in whatever way to support and befriend our neighbors in need, clients, students, and families.
Asking and conversing allows us to maintain our sense of dignity with backstories that go far beyond your meeting us on the street corner.