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Some Pet Peeves of Being Visually Impaired

  • A couple of months ago, I wrote a post, “What I Wish I Could See,” that focused on the major things in the lives of Club VIBES members that they wished they could see. This was pretty heavy-duty, serious stuff.

Today, I want to focus on something lighter, pet peeves, things that are just what you would guess – annoying, frustrating parts of everyday life that the sighted world probably doesn’t think of when it thinks of blindness. This is not meant to be a collection of woes. In soliciting suggestions from VIBES members, I asked them not to think of things where readers would say, “Oh, that’s awful” but rather to say, “I never thought of that before.” These are in no order of importance.

1. Buffets and cafeterias. Balancing a cafeteria tray when you can’t see the horizon is an extremely precarious proposition. Consumer warning: It is strongly recommended that you don’t close your eyes and try to do this for more than a couple of steps. And this doesn’t even address how you’re going to figure out what there is to eat as you go through the line.
2. Flat screen appliances. They might as well have the labels written in Mandarin Chinese because they’re absolutely impossible to use.
3. People with low affect. This is the technical term psychologists use for people who convey little emotion when they communicate. When talking with someone like this, you have virtually no idea whether they have just won the lottery or are contemplating suicide. 4. PowerPoint presentations.
5. The speaker who circulates printed handouts with their presentation, the twentieth-century equivalent of the PowerPoint.
6. Fight scenes in movies. Listening to several minutes of bang, pow, crash doesn’t contribute much to your enjoyment of the show.
7. Romance scenes in most contemporary movies. No explanation here other than that not many blind people go to X-rated shows.
8. Loud music in public places such as restaurants. When this happens, you’re not only visually impaired but three-quarters deaf as well.
9. People who don’t put things back where they got them. Something set back only a foot away from where it was originally might as well be on the moon. Well, maybe an exaggeration, but not by much.
10. Failing to push chairs back when leaving a table. It only takes a second, isn’t physically demanding, and makes it vastly easier for anyone who is blind to negotiate the environment around the table.
11. Inability to “work” a room. You can’t see that person you really want to talk to across the room, and, in many social occasions, everyone is walking around anyway, making them a moving target. So, you’re often left hoping the people you’d like to visit with seek you out.
12. Having well-intentioned Good Samaritans grab you by the arm and push you across the street. If you think this is trivial, try having a friend do this to you crossing a busy intersection with your eyes closed. It’s sufficiently terrifying and disorienting that the Marines are prohibited from doing it to recruits in boot camp.
13. Believing that someone who is visually impaired must be mentally challenged as well. Every blind person I’ve ever known has stories about being addressed as though they were a small child with a very low IQ.
14. Assuming you must be socially awkward. To quote directly from the VIBES member who suggested this: “As a teenager, it is very hard to make friends because others my age assume, I must be extremely socially awkward. While nonverbal communication is a challenge, this does not mean I can’t be a fun and reliable friend.” What makes this especially poignant is that this young woman is bright, funny, and delightful by any standard.
15. Believing that people are either totally blind or have “normal” vision. As I’ve written before, the large majority of people who are visually impaired can see something; it might not be very much, but they still have some usable vision. Consequently, some members of the public assume the person with low vision is faking and play Perry Mason, trying to find ways of tripping them up: “How many fingers am I holding up?”
16. Standing in line. It’s not really the standing that’s the problem, it’s knowing when the line is moving that’s the issue. Since people are typically only moving a step or two, they are making very little noise. If you guess wrong and move too far, you’re slamming into the person in front of you. If you don’t realize they’ve moved, you stand still leaving a couple of feet of empty space in front of you looking like a real doofus.
17. People who, rather than introduce themselves, begin a conversation by saying, “Can you guess who this is?” I remind myself in situations like this that I’m dealing with someone whose DNA should never be passed on to the next generation.
True story: A friend who still had some usable vision was stopped by three sisters she hadn’t seen in years. “Can you tell which one of us is Jane?” asked the oldest. My friend only hesitated a moment and said, “One of you always reminded me of Tammy Faye Baker, but I never can remember which one.” (Younger readers will have to ask a parent or grandparent to explain why this was such a great response.)
18. People who, rather than speaking, end a conversation by silently walking away. This leaves you standing alone and talking to yourself, looking for all the world as though you’re delusional and in need of institutionalization.

So, the next time you encounter someone who is visually impaired looking a little weird, remember it may either be because they are wrestling with a pet peeve or really are a dufus.

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