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