This weeks’ post is going to be a controversial one. For those who don’t know, I was born sighted, and still had some usable vision until 2013. I’ve met many people with Visual Impairments, varying greatly on the spectrum of blindness, and during this time Ive picked up on the bad habits instilled within blind people. Those who were born blind, or, had some vision in their early years but it deteriorated.
I will admit that I know I shouldn’t judge people, for their mannerisms, or ways of coping with their eye condition, but I feel that these are the reasons why the public have such a disconnection with the blind community, and underestimate the capabilities of blind / Visually Impaired people.
- Head spinning, rocking and hand flapping.For those who don’t know blind people do this to gain spacial awareness, and get stimulation from their environment. As a person with sight would scan a room with their eyes and take in information: therefore creating stimulation for their eyes and brain, totally blind people cannot do this, so may resort to doing those blindisms mentioned above.
I can understand fully why a blind person may do this, but it’s evident that it’s not necessary for them to do this; parents and schools, especially special education schools should be educating blind people about the non verbal world of body language and the non verbal world of motor skills overflow.These mannerisms are socially awkward because the public as a whole do not do this. It’s dizzying to sit chatting to a blind person who sits or stands continuously nodding their head from side to side, or rocking frantically. I’m not saying it’s right but the public who have never interacted with a blind person before, and then came across him/her doing this, could confuse them and even in some circumstances put them off talking to that blind person.
Teaching blind children about being aware and the concept of body language, would be positive as they will have more social inclusion from their peers, and future interactions, instead of being excluded for their strange mannerisms.
- poking/ rubbing their eyes.
This is where blind people forcibly stick their finger in their eye(s), or rub them vigorously. It is a type of nervous/ comforting mannerism that some blind people do when they are nervous or bored. It’s a psychological habit rather than a medically necessary thing to do.
Being around a blind person who does this can be quite distressing to a sighted person. Not only does it look painful but eyes are commonly known to make people squeamish. Watching a blind person do this may make the sighted person uncomfortable, and they may not interact with that person again.
- Walking like a zombie Its common for a blind person to walk with their hand slightly outstretched infant of them when they are not walking around with their cane or guide dog. This is normal, and a safety precaution for ensuring they do not injure themselves when walking around unaided.
What is not expected is where a blind person has their hands and arms outstretched to their fullest length as they walk around somewhere familiar / unfamiliar. I’ve fallen victim to this way of walking and been touched, even when I gave a verbal warning i was there.
Another way of walking is the zombie style walk, whereby the blind person has their arms outstretched fully, their wrists bent, and dragging their feet across the ground.
If you have ever seen a blind person do these types of walks you’ll know how creepy it looks, and you have to swiftly manoeuvre out of their way as not to be tangled with a blind person, or, touched inappropriately.
There is a big difference between slightly extending your hand, and walking round flailing your arms about.Again this needs to be discouraged by parents and the education system so the blind person can understand how to be safe
without looking or acting strange.
- Blind people who insist “I can’t do it because i’m blind”.This is a major problem in the blind community because it encourages and reinforces the public to step in and lend a hand, because clearly that blind person can’t do anything for themselves.
I’ve noticed this behaviour predominately in people who had been wrapped in cotton wool by their parents, and not allowed to do things on their own and make mistakes. Equally, and most ironically i’ve noticed this statement coming from a blind person who used to be sighted, and had unfortunately lost their sight. These people are generally lazy and refuse to do things on their own,waiting for the assistance of others, and if that offer of help is not given, that person is the first to jump in with :I can’t see you know!”
There is a difference between phoning The hospital and asking to be put through to a receptionist as you cannot read the NHS number on the top of your letter, and not getting yourself a glass of water in a place you know because “I can’t see”.
When people first lose sight whether that be 5% or 95%, the world around us does become more difficult, a bit stressful and even sometimes a little scary. but as humans we are programmed to adapt, and learning to adjust to our new situation and environment. When blind people have been blind all their life, or for over a year, they should have learnt basic skills in the form of rehabilitation, even the possibility of having psychological support. There isn’t an excuse for being less independent than you want, so you shouldn’t allow yourself to become a stereotype of the blind person who cannot do anything on their own.
- Not looking at the person you are interacting with.The person may be totally blind or Even Visually Impaired, but I have noticed a lot over the years that those who have lost their sight completely, tend not to look at the person they are talking to. In some instances even their body is turned away from the person too. It is extremely strange and socially awkward because humans are wired to communicate by looking at one another, so if your head, body or both is facing away from the other person, it can come across as disinterest on your part.
This particular blindism confuses me the most; just because you cannot see the person you are talking to doesn’t mean you can’t hear the direction of the sound. Blind people really need to understand that it’s not about physically looking with their eyes at the person, because in the majority of cases the other person will either notice you cannot see, or will dismiss it and still look at your face. For you then to have your body and head turned away looks uninviting and rude.Again I think more needs to be done to educate the public that even if the person cannot see you, they will try and look in your general direction to indicate they are listening and communicating. Likewise, and most importantly, children (and adults) need to be told to turn around to face you, even if thats by giving verbal communication “I’m at your 2 O’Clock”.
From what i’ve gathered over time, the blind person doesn’t notice that they are off centre, but even if they did, it should be encouraged for them to turn to face you. A gentle explanation will go a long way, into keeping the communication fluid, and less awkward.
- Blind people who would rather be guided than using their cane. This is where the blind person does not take their cane out with them, or keeps it out of sight, preferring to be guided instead.
There does seem to be a stigma within the blind community that if you have some sight, you shouldn’t use your cane: Some VIPs prefer not to use a cane as they don’t want to become a target of prejudice/ seen as vulnerable.
I myself refused to use a cane until my sight got so bad I could barely see in front of my own nose.
I’ve even noticed this with totally blind people, asking to be guided rather than using their cane. This is where I don’t get it. A cane is a blind or Visually Impaired persons’ aid to get them around safely and swiftly, but it’s also a sign to sighted people that they need to be aware you have limited or no vision. It’s a sign for the sighted person just as well as an aid for the blind person. It’s OK to do this once in a while, but not on a frequent basis. i’ve noticed that throughout my life as a Visually Impaired person.
Being guided as you use your cane (known as assertive guiding), or walking closely beside your friend/ family member/ partner, is far more safe than purely being guided alone. Using a cane gives you the independence to get around,. Not relying on another to be your guide,or having no real knowledge of where you are.I find it funny that I’ve done a full 360 as a Visually Impaired person, refusing to use a cane through fear of being a target or being judged. And now I’m an advocate for it! But I truly believe more education needs to be given to the public on blindness: what it means to use a cane / guide dog, and how it gives us the independence and freedom we want to get around, just like everyone else.
Disclosure*** These are my own thoughts and opinions on what i’ve experienced and noticed over the years as a Visually Impaired/ blind person. I feel there is not enough education for the public surrounding disabilities in general and action needs to be taken to not only explain how having a disability doesn’t make you incapable of doing things, but we might take a different route to get to the same destination.
I also believe fully that blind children need to be discouraged from part taking in blind mannerisms, and be taught properly how to use their spacial awareness. Everyone uses body language to communicate even whether you realise it or not, and blind children should be taught about it, and learn to listen out for other signs of body language that people don’t always realise they are giving off. For example when a person is smiling as they talk, you can hear it in their voice. Being blind doesn’t mean children should be excluded from learning visual cues or intonation, so they too can be included in conversations, and act in socially appropriate ways.
I know it sounds terrible but the fact of the matter is, that was a society we conform to the social norms in order to fit in. As well as to understand the world around us better. I don’t think any children with a disability shouldn’t have the same concepts and fundamentals as everyone else. We all want to be liked and accepted. Even if that means socially conforming, especially when it has no medical resonance to the person. We should try and expel these awkward behaviours so people aren’t looked over and ignored.