Tuesday Tips: Be Noticeable.

I was in grad school when I began helping Pastor Dave Andrus get Lutheran Blind Mission and its affiliated outreach centers off the ground. In March 2000, Pastor called a few of us together for a conference to discuss the direction we planned to go. He knew I’d be traveling alone in Chicago’s Midway Airport and rendezvousing with someone I’d never met. So, his advice to me: Keep your cane unfolded where it can be seen.

What? As far back as I could remember, folks had tried telling me to make my blindness as unnoticeable as possible. Do things that made people think I’ve got it all figured out and am looking confident despite my lack of sight.

But Pastor’s suggestion made a lot of sense and, in the end, worked out perfectly. The skycap who was helping my friend, Harvey, find me knew who I was the moment she saw my unfolded cane. After Harvey and I met up, we only had to wait for the gate agent to come over and lead us to the plane when preboarding began.

That interaction has stuck with me ever since. When meeting with a paratransit driver who doesn’t know you or isn’t familiar with your neighborhood, let the dispatcher know something visible about yourself, perhaps the color of the shirt you’re wearing, that you will have your cane outstretched with you, or your guide dog will be sitting at your left side. This may alleviate those inevitable moments of miscommunication which could lead you to missing your ride. Of course, paratransit drivers are trained to know most of the areas of a city where they operate. Besides that, some transportation services allow for their dispatchers to call your number if the driver can’t find you. But what about riding Uber or a cab? Many of those services only communicate via text and are privately owned.

If you call an Uber, you have a smart phone or are with someone else who does. When the app lets you know who your driver will be and what he/she is driving, slide to the message icon, tap it, and type a brief description of yourself and any identifiers-cane, guide dog, the color of your coat or duffle. And request the driver say your name as he approaches you. Of course, the whole process of meeting someone who’s blind might be new to him. So, you may need to show how to do sighted guide or give specific directions-right, left, around front-so that he doesn’t give that less specific “over here” or “there” while pointing in the intended direction.

Making yourself noticeable says more than just “I’m here.” It tells whoever your meeting that you are comfortable in your own skin being blind. Having a confident posture facing the road or parking lot alert will convey a more welcoming message which says that the driver or friend or neighbor doesn’t have to tiptoe on egg shells when approaching you. Since you don’t see your blindness or low-vision as a hindrance, they don’t either. And if they do? The matter isn’t yours to rectify in the moment. After all, negative perceptions of us who have varying degrees of vision loss including total blindness are so endemic that many people don’t even know they hold them until we address them with gentleness and respect.

So be noticeable, not to cause a scene but to make yourself recognizable amid the scenery around you.

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