Walking with a cane verses using a guide dog, braille verses audio or whether to befriend or date blind or sighted people are topics that are heavily debated in the blind community. For me, it came down to circumstances. I chose a guide dog and screen readers because it suited my lifestyle better, but the issue of blind verses sighted was a bit more complicated.
The irony of sight, is that although you can see everything, you can choose what to look at, you can blend in and it is in fact possible for others not to notice your presence at all. My anonymity however, disappeared the day I started using a cane and later a guide dog. Being with blind people, is therefore the only time, I don’t feel like I’m constantly being watched, I can trip or bump into something without anyone seeing or caring and it’s nice being able to relax completely in your surroundings, something I don’t do very often with sighted people, because I am afraid I’ll do something that looks weird and everyone will have noticed.
As a blind person, you are constantly explaining yourself. Why do you put your finger in the cup when you make coffee, how do blind people pass objects to one another, why do you walk with your arm/hand in front of your face, how do you know where to go, Why don’t you just leave your bag here… I get it, it’s fascinating, it’s important that those questions are asked and answered and that people are educated, but for the blind person, it can be exhausting. It feels like you are constantly being reminded of your differences and so I spend time with other blind people because they get me without explanation.
It’s a fact that I have more close relationships with other blind people. I don’t think I necessarily made a conscious choice to cultivate these relationships or to prioritise them, I think that it simply started happening as a result of who I am coupled with the realities of my life.
I am not ashamed of my disability, but I do accept that a day in my life, is not the same as for most people… Cups and glasses that break and crack is a common occurrence in my house, messing coffee and sugar on the kitchen counter or floor is definitely not unheard of either. Crawling around on the floor looking for dropped objects with my hands, using my phone to figure out what colour shirt I’m wearing, walking into the coffee table, switching on lights and then forgetting to switch them off for hours or days, these are all normal situations in my life. I furthermore find it hard to keep up with sighted people… It takes me a few seconds to locate the edge of the curb with my foot and figuring out which side of the escalator moves up or down takes a while. I need a minute to figure out where I am once I get out of a car and finding door handles or chairs, takes time and I probably look silly feeling around with my hands, occasionally touching unsuspecting body parts in the process… I usually end up feeling like I’m frustrating the sighted person with me and so I let them take over. I let them guide me and assist me. Every time this happens, I also lose a little part of myself as I trade my beliefs and independence for friendship. I go home wondering if they realised when they befriended me, with just how many strings attached my friendship comes. They start to feel responsible for me, they must always remember to offer their arms, tell me to step up or down, duck my head or step over the cracks or obstacles in front of me. With time, the novelty wears off and it becomes less fun to guide me around and invites to places dwindle down and disappear altogether. It becomes awkward, they feel the need to justify why we no longer hang out, and I wish they would just stop. They are essentially good people it’s just that apart from my fantastic personality, I have very little to offer because I can’t drive and need to be picked up, then I need to be guided and often I also miss things like facial expressions or those conversations that happen between people’s eyes so all those need to be explained to me.
There are people who eventually stop recognising the differences between us and our relationships become as natural as any relationship I have with a blind person, but it doesn’t always happen over night and because I am a flawed human, I often keep them at arm’s-length, just waiting for the other shoe to drop instead of embracing the friendship they so willingly offer, My only defence that I’ve been hurt before so fool me once and all that…
So where am I on the sighted verses blind debate might you wonder? The answer is, that when it comes to friendships, I have no preference… Sight or the lack thereof, has no bearing on the way someone treats you, the way they make you feel and who you are when you are with them. As long as you are not just a project and the other pe rson is not just a pair of eyes, it shouldn’t matter that you don’t both have the same visual acuity. Dating on the other hand is an entirely different story.