Last updated: September 2019
Have you ever experienced that awkward moment where someone waves, or attempts to get your attention and you completely miss it? For myself, and a lot of other people with visual impairments this is a common occurrence. For those of you lucky enough to have not experienced the awkwardness, I will share a recent example.
An awkward encounter on the street
One day I was walking down the street, headphones were in, I was listening to my music – completely in my zone. My friend, Mel, and her husband, Reg, walking towards me from down the street. They were about 50 feet away walking my direction. Reg began to wave to me, but it was at a distance that I could not see him. Therefore, when we met face-to-face, and I embraced them with hugs, I was oblivious to the fact that Reg had been waving the whole time they had approached me. A few weeks later my friend shared the conversation her and her husband had after that interaction. It went something like this:
I'm not disregarding her - she's legally blind
Reg: Hey, isn’t that your friend? (begins to wave)
Mel: Yes it is!
Reg : (interpreting my lack of waving as disregard) So, she doesn’t speak when y’all are in public?
Mel: Reg, she’s legally blind.
Reg: You buried the lead, you should’ve led with that!
Mel: Well it’s not my story to tell. I thought you knew.
The tricky part about having an invisible disability
While I can laugh at it, situations like this happen to me more often than not. However, I experience a lot of internal conflict in how to address it. Do I lead with letting every person I meet know that I have a visual impairment? Should I just wave to everyone who yells my name, smile, and act like I know who they are? To be honest, depending on the setting I do one of the above listed or sometimes a combination. As discussed in my previous articles the tricky part about having an invisible disability is that no one sees it but everyone who interacts with me is impacted in some capacity.
Sharing with others that I'm legally blind
Lately, during my initial introductions, I share with people that I am legally blind. I even will elaborate on the parameters of my vision, for example: it is difficult for me to see things far away and small print close up. However, some people are not as mature in turn, and instead of being respectful of my disclosure I have to field the pop quiz questions such as: “Can you see me?”, “What color am I wearing?”, and “How many fingers do I have up?” Whenever the pop quiz happens, I instantly feel a combination of annoyance and embarrassment, which sometimes leads me to respond with this weird laugh in an effort to brush it off.
Greeting one another with more awareness of visual impairments
One of my best friends in college had a remedy for this. Whenever she would see me on campus she would wave and say “Hey Christine! It’s Taylor.” This was extremely helpful. Unfortunately, she has been the only one to adopt this method. However, I hope that as more people become aware of visual impairments more individuals will adopt this method and it will become a social norm rather than an exception in how we greet each other… at least that’s the way eye see it.
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