Here’s a scene from the movie, Ray:
Bus Driver: Pardon me for asking, but how do you get around so good without a cane or a dog?
Ray Charles: How do you get around so good without a cane or a dog?
Touché, Brother Ray. Then Ray smiles, sits back, and patiently explains how he does it.
Like Ray, I am capable of reacting with annoyance. None of your business. Leave me alone, will ya?
And, like Ray, I take the time to explain. I do my part to stop the spread of ignorance. Like it or not, I am an educator. What I convey helps others understand blindness.
If I assume the public should instinctively know blind etiquette, then I ignore my own experience. For thirty-five sighted years, I had no clue and little curiosity about life as a blind person. Why would I?
As my eyesight dims, questions arise. How the heck will I get around? Read the paper?Shop for food? These days, I must be tolerant when others pose the very questions I ask myself.
Questions are natural from people who wish to understand, to help but don’t know how. If I fail to educate, I must tolerate those who assume to know how a blind man should cross the street. I must bear the consequences of the eager but ignorant helper.
People inhibit their natural curiosity. They don’t like to pry. All at the expense of connecting on a human level. Blindness brings separateness, and for me, isolation is not just lonely, it’s dangerous.
So, go ahead and ask me what it’s like to be blind. If I pause to debate whether you come from sincere empathy or morbid curiosity, I will lose the decisive moment. And the loss will be mine. And yours. And all of ours.