Words have power. Lenny Bruce and George Carlin knew it. Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy used it. The old lady who asked me, “Whatcha gonna do with that white stick, sonny, hit me over the head?” abused it.
So what does the person who yelled, “Watch out!” say as I proceed, unheeding, toward the danger? Does he yell, “Hey, blind man, I said ‘Watch out!” If it saves my life, I’m all for it. Or should he couch it in more sensitive terms? “Hey, mister who happens to be visually impaired, you are about to fall down that manhole?” Might he take a non-visual tack? “You, sir, walking that big, black, beautiful dog in the harness, you must avoid that construction zone?” By the time I’ve figured out who he’s talking to, I’ve fallen on my face.
I have no problem being referred to as blind. Years ago, I was afraid of that word. It embodied shame and denial. The author, Mara Faulkner, in her wonderful book, “Going Blind: A Memoir,” writes, “One day, a woman asked, ‘Is your daddy blind?’ Feeling as if she had insulted him or accused him of something obscene, I said indignantly, ‘No, he just can’t see too well.’” The word blind is powerful. In the wrong hands, it conjures up myths and stereotypes. It can oversimplify a very complex phenomenon. While political correctness can protect us from hurtful labels, it also reduces us to the undefined and, irony of ironies, invisible. For me, I prefer being called blind to being described as, “Now, take Jeff over there, he’s, well, um, uh, well…you know.”
So, for everyone out there wondering what to call me, I’ll give you a clue. Blind is OK. But, to really grab my attention, “Hey, handsome!” sure does the trick too.