I Am Not Contagious

The three guys loitering under the Metra bridge fall silent as I approach.  “Keep talking, fellas,” I say, “So I can tell where you are.”

Silence is how many strangers greet me.  Perhaps they are struck dumb by my dazzling smile.  More likely, they remain silent  out of fear.  Or confusion.  Or ignorance.  “I am not contagious,” I want to tell them.  “And my dog doesn’t bite.”

I remained oblivious of how to help the blind until I became one of them.  I learned much by trial and error.  Then I read the book, Business and Social Etiquette with Disabled People.  I wish I had learned these techniques early in vision loss.  I would have followed their scripts,  expressed my needs more clearly, asked for help more readily, and been more adept at helping others.

Still, it’s never too early or too late to learn a new trick.  “May I help you?” is always welcome.  So is the greeting, “Hi Jeff, it’s Rita,”  That way, I can return Rita’s greeting using her name.  While I can match many voices to names, I have yet to develop a photographic memory, or whatever you call the auditory equivalent.

Beyond suggesting  ways that others can help me, I have learned ways to help others.  I have learned methods more effective  than shouting to get my point across to a person hard of hearing.  I have learned that, yes, most people in wheelchairs appreciate when you crouch and converse at their level.  Emily Post said that manners is not knowing which fork to use at a dinner party, it’s knowing how to help another person feel at ease.  This is good stuff for me to learn.  I hope that by taking a little time and making a little effort, I become  a little more at ease with myself and helpful to others.

Note: The book, Business and social Etiquette with Disabled People: How to Get Along with Persons Who Have Impairments of Mobility, Vision, Hearing or Speech  is written by Chalda Maloff and is available from the NLS, under catalog number DB 29501

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6 Responses to I Am Not Contagious

  1. stpetric says:

    Thanks for this. I was very recently diagnosed with RP (indeed, there’s still some question about the diagnosis), and while my vision at this point is very good, the prospect of “switching sides” from the sighted to the blind world has made me much more conscious of my interactions with blind people. At the risk of generalizing to others on the basis of my own experience, my silence when encountering a blind person hasn’t been rooted in fear so much as in not wanting to be rude or not knowing whether an approach from me would be welcome. So it’s easier simply to shut up and stay out of the way! Thanks for the referral to Business and social Etiquette with Disabled People; I just ordered a cheap used copy from amazon.

  2. bethfinke says:

    Love that definition knowing how to help another person feel at ease

    • Jeff Flodin says:

      Thank you both for your comments. I certainly understand the tendency to “shut up and stay out of the way” when encountering a person I do not know how to help or if theat person wants or needs help. That’s when “May I help you?” comes in handy. Recently, I came upon a person in a manual wheelchair on an up slope. As I pulled abreast, I asked if I could lend a push. There was a long silence, into which I read that the person was sizing up this guy with the Seeing Eye dog and wondering if a push from this guy would be safer than going it alone. He finally said, “I’ve got it,” and I went on my way. But I was glad I offered.

      And to Beth, congratulations on your new Seeing Eye dog, Whitney, a.k.a. Whit. My best wishes for a long and happy partnership.

  3. Carl D. says:

    Hi Jeff, it’s Carl D.,”

    • Carl D. says:

      Your always on the button. “I Am Not Contagious – either” but, sometimes I get that feeling. I was walking with the help of a sighted guard at the VA med center in Great Lakes… She mentioned the halls were crowded with people and it was going to be a slow trip. I said “watch this”. Out came the cane from it’s carrying bag. As it extended – the folks in the wheel chairs and those eith canes started to move aside. As we approched the elevator others run to press buttons for us. I thanked her for the help in finding the elevator. I stepped in and was wisked to the third floor. The shame of it was – I had been hopinf for the basement.

      • Jeff Flodin says:

        Good to hear from you again, Carl D. Great storyabout your experience at Great Lakes. Showing people my white cane is a great communicator and brings results. For a long time, though, showing my white cane was exactly the message I did not want to give because I thought it showed weakness. even though I wanted and needed the help given and offered, the only thing I really wanted was to get my eyesight back and not need the cane at all. Pride is such an obstacle. Good for you and keep in touch, Carl.

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