How to Seduce Someone Who Is Blind
The title to the contrary, this is a blog that can be read by the children. It has nothing to do with Monica Lewinsky or Stormy Daniels. It does have everything to do with how to truly impress someone who is blind.
A couple of years ago, I was invited to be a part of a small group that was forming a company to provide mediation trainings for attorneys. As a nonattorney who had fifteen years of experience mediating myself, it was flattering to be asked; however, I doubted that this was something I wanted to take on at the time but agreed to meet with the other members of the group and keep an open mind to possible participation.
In the end, I joined the group and was glad I did. It was a great group of people and working with them was one of the great experiences of my life.
But I’m telling this story for a completely unrelated reason.
It seems to me that people who are minorities, and the disabled are no exception, often struggle to explain the problems they confront in being included as part of the general population. It’s hard to communicate what it’s like to be an out to the ins. Frequently, when the focus is put on what is wrong, it can come off as complaining or whining.
Because this group did everything to make it easy for me to fit in, and did it effortlessly from the very beginning, I think telling their story is worthwhile. It’s a completely positive example without any lectures or any hectoring. There are just a lot of things my future colleagues did perfectly, without being coached.
So, what did they do so right? There were a lot of things.
1. From the very beginning, one of them always made sure to offer me a ride to every meeting. Now, if they hadn’t asked, I would have, but that they were thoughtful enough to think of it first said a lot about them.
2. When we arrived for our initial meeting, other than knowing we were at one of the principle’s offices, I had no idea of where we were or any sense of the geography of the room our meeting was going to take place in. However, as we entered the room, the man who had given me a ride simply said, “We’re going to be meeting in my conference room. There are some empty chairs to your immediate left.” Again, I would have asked for directions, but it was saying a lot about the people I might be working with that I didn’t need to.
3. When the group began to discuss how it would communicate, the conversation turned to the best way to get materials to everyone. Should we send things to your home or your office? What’s the best number to use? An older member or two weren’t especially comfortable with some features of more modern technology. All of this made for a natural transition into the most convenient way to get information to me.
Unlike most meetings like this I’ve been to in my life, no one just assumed I wanted everything in Braille, which I didn’t. Instead, someone just asked, “What would be the best way to get you information?” What a simple way to address the question. This opened the door to a very brief explanation of what would work and what wouldn’t for me and why. As a result, the circulation of documents throughout the life of our organization was never a problem for anybody.
4. As a result of this discussion, I received all documents prior to all meetings. While I wouldn’t have thrown a fit if this didn’t happen, there are few things that are more unintentionally demeaning to someone who is blind or visually-impaired than to be in a meeting when printed material is distributed or flashed on a power-point for everyone else in the room. Ensuring this is done beforehand conveniently avoids the problem. Without me ever asking, my colleagues were certain this never occurred. Consequently, I was able to be a full participant in everything we did.
5. At our second meeting, we invited a speaker who had run a business similar to the one we were contemplating to give us an overview of the issues we were likely to encounter. Of course, what did she do but begin by passing out handouts and using poster boards. Not wanting to distract from her presentation and figuring that I could probably get the gist of her message by concentrating on what she was saying, I chose not to say anything at the moment.
One of my colleagues saved me the need by waiting and, after a couple of minutes, ever so tactfully saying, “So, the major things we need to pay attention to are A, B, and C“ and then subtly summarizing the key points of the written materials. Again, if I felt that I was missing out on a lot of the presentation by not having access to the printed material, I would have said something, however, having someone else who was attune to the issue and prepared to address it so tactfully was a pleasant surprise.
6. As the business progressed, my partners were never reluctant to ask how someone who is blind would do something, such as use a calendar on our website. There was never any awkwardness or beating around the bush. Sometimes, this meant me saying, “No problem” and at others it led to a brief discussion as to how best to address the issue. Such conversations were just one more on the list of items our group needed to address as we got under way. They were nothing special.
7. When we took a break for lunch, the conversation between two of my partners turned to the recent cataract surgery one of them had undergone. This took place as naturally as though I weren’t at the table. This was absolutely amazing. Blind people know that, in the words of the pop song, you don’t tug on Superman’s cape; you don’t spit into the wind; and you don’t discuss anything to do with the eyes in front of someone who is blind. This isn’t a rule you’ll find in Emily Post’s Etiquette, but it ought to be. That it was being violated so naturally by my colleagues spoke volumes about the kind of people they were and the kind of working environment this was going to be.
If it sounds as though I’m singing a hymn to the people I worked with, that’s absolutely right. Each of us brought our own unique contribution to our endeavor, and we all appreciated that. I, however, had the bonus of dealing with people who just intuitively knew how to create the ideal environment for someone who is blind to work in, no rare gift.