Yesterday, for the first time in almost 40 years parts of the US experienced a total solar eclipse. So as millions of excited people gathered within the path of totality it made me think about perceptions; from the way, we perceive ourselves to how we are perceived by others.
Just as the moon eclipses the light of the sun casting shadows and even total darkness on certain parts of the earth, eyesight or lack of eyesight can eclipse the wholeness of an individual depending on our perspective.
Often blind people have insight and clarity enabling us to see to the heart, mind, and soul of a person because we aren’t distracted by light-given sight. On the other hand, when we see a person use a white cane, guide dog, or other mobility devices, this can sometimes color our viewpoint which in turn can block us from truly seeing the whole person versus their disability.
Even during the day stars are always present, we just can’t see them because of the sun’s glare. People are sort of like this in that while we may use different tools to survive or just to live our lives, with or without our tools we are always here, we are whole.
When I lost my eyesight I quickly learned that thriving within the sighted world meant overcoming obstacles. Believe it or not, while living with sight loss isn’t easy the most difficult challenges come in the form of misconceptions. Listed below are a few I’ve encountered:
Blindness is a complete lack of sight, total darkness – FALSE
The majority of people considered blind have some functional vision i.e. light perception, shapes/shadows, lack of peripheral or central vision, cloudy, obstructed vision, etc.
People who use white canes or guide dogs are totally blind – FALSE
The range of sight loss is enormous and it differs from person to person. Many legally blind people who use mobility aids may ‘appear’ to see. The aids are needed for navigating safely and independently.
Legal blindness is when a person can’t see after taking off corrective lenses – FALSE
Legal blindness refers to a specific measurement required for a person to receive government benefits.
Legal blindness does not define or describe the functional vision.
When a person is legally blind, day-to-day living is impacted and their eyesight cannot be corrected by lenses, medicine or surgery.
There are legally blind people who do not use mobility aids or self-identify, this is their right.
There is a clear contrast between blind and sighted people – FALSE
Many blind people do not ‘look’ like they cannot see.
Many blind people walk confidently and are well put together.
Many blind people are highly skilled in a number of areas including, law, healthcare, technology, art, science, sports, politics, teaching, etc.
Blind people cannot use smartphones, tablets, or computers – FALSE
Many blind people are extremely technologically savvy.
While this list isn’t all-inclusive many of us have encountered situations where our lack of eyesight is questioned. If there were one takeaway I would want people to understand it would be this: when meeting a person who uses a mobility device or self-identifies as having a hidden disability take it at face value.
Many times things are not as they might appear and just because we may not understand the situation does not change the fact that everyone—including people with disabilities—are entitled to be treated with dignity and respect.
“But you don’t look blind” Many of us blind/VI ladies hear this quite often, especially if we are stylish and walk confidently with our white canes or guide dogs. But here’s the thing, if someone told you they had cancer to say “you don’t look like you have cancer” would be considered rude. The same holds true for blindness and many other disabilities. Fact is there are many fashionable and attractive women who happen to be blind. The thing that sets us apart is we refuse to let our lack of eyesight prevent us from living life on our terms.
I think it’s important for all of us to remember things aren’t always as they might appear.
“Everybody, including people with disabilities, makes assumptions. Problems arise when we are not open to learning our assumption was wrong.”
I am posed standing in this photo (a collage of three images) with my white cane. My outfit is a black tee, black leggings, black crisscross heels, gray long hooded vest.
Another tri-collage where I’m standing with my white cane against my counter in the living room. This time I’m wearing all white (jeans, cami, open shirt) with beige block-heeled lace-up sandals. A silver cuff bracelet, statement necklace, and earrings complete the look.
This morning when I was walking Mollie (my furkid), a small group of people walked by on their way to their daily destination. I knew who they were by the sounds they made so I turned towards them, smiled and waved “good morning,” to which the one young lady waved in return.
After our brief interchange I began thinking about communication and how our disabilities can play a pivotal role in how we connect with one another. It also occurred to me that I probably never would have given this aspect of communication another thought had I not lost my vision however I am grateful for this bit of enlightenment.
If you’re introverted you understand how uncomfortable social situations can be when you meet new people. I can tell you from first-hand experience there have been times I literally would have preferred the floor to open and swallow me whole as opposed to putting myself out there – it’s a downright scary predicament.
Body language and eye contact speaks so loudly but when you can’t see it becomes a whisper at best, and mute in the worst case scenario. The same could also be said of audibly communicating without sign language or speaking directly to a person who is deaf, blind, nonverbal or a combination of these three.
Lost in the translation
I’ve always been fascinated with the complexity of communication and how people understand one another. When we all speak the same language and share common characteristics, for example culture, the odds of our understanding what we are communicating greatly increases.
However when we encounter a person who doesn’t speak our language what do we typically do in an attempt to get our point across? Out of habit I do this even when I’m talking with my friends and that is, pantomiming or gesturing wildly. But what about the person in this same situation who has no arms? Just something to think about.
Communication in the digital age has significantly increased the likelihood of being misunderstood not only because of the oodles of acronyms on all social platforms, but even the way we look, speak or write can have a major impact on what we are trying to convey. Just turn on the TV or look on the web and there are many instances of someone saying something that was intended to mean something else entirely.
The Method of Delivery
Intention is at the heart of communication. What is the objective you hope to achieve?
I began this post by talking about the group of what I think are young people (this is just a guess because I can’t see them) who happen to be deaf/mute. Though I do not know sign language, the universal gesture of hello, a simple wave of the hand along with a friendly smile, is my way of saying “hi, how are you, have a great day.” When I get a reciprocal response I’m assured that my message was received and understood.
When I’m getting ready to go to an event or just a simple outing I take great care in how I’m going to present myself. I do this for two reasons: 1) I need to feel good about how I look and 2) I want to project an “I care” attitude to others.
Why should I care what other people think of how I look? Because how I dress is partly a reflection of how I feel about people.
Being unkempt would certainly be an indication that I don’t care about myself but it also says that I don’t have much respect for those around me. When I used to take public transportation and would see regulars getting on the bus to go to work looking a hot mess, I got irritated.
Though there is a segment of the population who really don’t care how they portray themselves, for the rest of us, people do notice. Now I’m not suggesting that you break out the Sunday’s Best, rather I am proposing putting a little thought into the message you want to transmit through your appearance.
In the pictures included with today’s post I’m communicating my *Ahem* vitality (admittedly I am not a colorful person but I have my moments) by wearing a vivid orange top with white capris and orange slingbacks. I topped the look with my white Nike ball cap and a few accessories then I was good to hang out with one of my gal pals on a recent Saturday afternoon.
The sheer, lined, crepe top is almost halter-like with braided straps and button keyhole closure at the back of the neck. Since the top is flowy I opted to wear it untucked over the rhinestone-embellished (at the outer hem) capris.
The toe of my slingbacks is orange, accented by thin purple straps. I also wore a black and silver pendent necklace, silver cuff bracelet and silver drop earrings.
Bright colors and whites immediately lift my spirits and make me feel more energetic. If you want to get noticed or lighten your mood, just add a pop of color, be it a top, bottoms, dress, shoes, or accessories.
So what are you communicating today? You can respond by leaving a comment or emailing me directly at email@example.com.
Have a fabulous weekend!!
“I nod to a passing stranger, and the stranger nods back, and two human beings go off, feeling a little less anonymous.” ~Robert Brault,