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Over There

Editor’s note: As a college student, Cathy Anne Murtha wrote the following essay years ago, never dreaming that it would still be reprinted decades later. Her amusing take on some of the difficulties she’s encountered when receiving directions is a wonderful reminder to everyone of the importance of avoiding vision-based terms when giving directions to someone who is blind. Currently, Cathy is running a successful business, Access Technology Institute, which she founded to train people who are blind in the use of computers.As my guide dog and I stood in line at the checkout of the River City Market at CSUS [California State University, Sacramento], I asked the cashier what I considered a simple question. “Where are the napkins please?” Her response was hurried, but sincere, “Over there.”

Emerging from the light rail for the first time, I managed to catch the attention of a passerby. “Please sir, can you tell me where I might catch bus 63?” A kind voice offered a pleasant response before disappearing into the cacophony of the early afternoon, “You can catch it ‘over there’.”

So many things reside over there – napkins, bus stops, pencils, pens, clothing racks, department stores and even my shoes! A never ending supply of important and indispensable items and locales all reside in this place which is shrouded in mystery and intrigue.

I stand in perplexed silence after learning that something is over there. It is a place I have never been and have no hope of finding on my own.

My guide dog is quite skilled in finding chairs, stairs, elevators, escalators, helping me cross streets, and can even find me the Diet Pepsi display at Food Town; however, when I tell her to find “over there” her little bottom hits the floor and a small whimper tells me that she is as confused as I.

We will not be going “over there” today. Over there has caused me a bit of vexation, a lot of confusion and, on occasion, made my heart race.

I have discovered that “over there” can be a dangerous place. One day, while crossing a street, I heard a driver’s irritated voice shout out a warning of a truck bearing down on me from over there. Shadow artfully dodged the oncoming vehicle and pulled me to the safety of the curb. Our hearts were both racing as we took a few moments to compose ourselves.

Close encounters with over there can be frightening experiences.

Although many blind people have wondered as to the exact location of “over there,” few have dared to venture forth in an actual exploration of the mysterious place.

One day, while standing in line at the supermarket, I asked the clerk where I might find the aspirin. With a cheery smile in her voice, she informed me that the aspirin was located “over there.” With a weary sigh, I decided that I would take the extra step that would unravel the mystery, which had vexed my compatriots since the beginning of time.

Taking a deep breath, and attempting to look nonchalant, I smiled at the clerk, “Where,” I asked, “is over there?” I imagined the girl’s shocked expression. I felt her sharing condescending and concerned looks with her fellows in the store. The silence grew palpable as they mulled the possibility of allowing a blind person access to the forbidden land.

She had no choice; she would have to tell me how to find “over there!” I had won! Exhilaration swept through me as I waited in breathless anticipation.

A victorious smile crept to my lips, my hand tightened on the handle of Shadow’s harness; we would soon be going over there! The clerk’s voice reeked with resignation as the decision was made. “That way,” she said.

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