Asking for Help and Finding Advocacy
Often times, when I am hanging out with friends I try to be “normal,” but often I encounter those awkward moments where someone one or something reminds me that I have a visual impairment.
Struggling to read the menu
A common experience and easy example is when I ask the restaurant staff about an item on the menu. More often than not their response is to point to the small print, smile, and say: “It says it right there.” Despite how regularly this experience occurs, I have yet to figure out how to address it in a tactful way.
In my head, a voice says: “Oh, I’m legally blind, I have a disease called Stargardt's and it’s difficult for me to see small font.”
Or when I am feeling particularly spunky, and not in the mood to disclose, that voice sounds more like: “I know it’s right there, but I asked you. Can you please tell me? It’s part of your job." Usually what ends up coming out is a combination of the two responses.
Asking for help
This is such a frustrating experience when it happens because it already takes a level of vulnerability to ask for assistance. Then when I do and receive a dismissive response it makes me feel uncomfortable. In addition to how I feel, I realized that my friends feel frustrated. I have been out several times with my friends and this has happened, and their responses vary. Some of my friends get really upset and tell the staff member themselves, others interject and read me the items on the menu, and some of my friends debrief with me about how this has made me feel.
Finding ways around it
To minimize the embarrassment and possibility of an uncomfortable situation I try to review the menu prior to going to a restaurant so that I have an idea what I would like to order. In other cases, I ask the waiter for recommendations.
Less judgment for the visually impaired
One of the ironic things about having an invisible disability is that I appear “normal” and I think at times waiters think that I am just trying to be “lazy” or that I don’t want to read the menu. This is problematic for several reasons. There are many reasons people may be asking for assistance with reading something as “simple” as a menu, such as low literacy, English not being a person’s native language, or the individual lives with a visual impairment. Therefore, if someone asks for assistance I hope that more people switch from a space of judgment to a place of kindness and support and simply help the individual. People should not feel shame when seeking assistance of any kind.
Large font menus
I recently went to Cracker Barrel and they had a large font menu; I was so happy. I felt like this menu created a sense of inclusion and fostered independence for me because I was able to read the items off the menu without needing assistance. Since I was given the opportunity to share my experience living with a visual impairment via writing articles, I have begun to think of ways to make life more accessible.
Advocating for the visually impaired
Moving forward I plan to ask each restaurant that I go to if they have a large print menu. If they do not have a large print menu I plan to give them a letter that will bring awareness to all the benefits of having a large print menu accessible for customers. Like Gandhi said, "You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” So with that in mind if I want things to be more accessible I need to advocate because no one knows how to help you unless you tell them. At least that’s the way eye see it.
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