Several weeks ago I encountered an upsetting incident on our train. I had entered with my Seeing Eye Dog and sat down with her at my feet as usual. An elderly woman next to me suddenly started talking loudly about her neighbour’s grandson being diagnosed as blind, and how terrible that was.
She went on to tell us that there was no future for such a child, what a burden he would be with no prospects in his life. She was very upset for her neighbours who didn’t deserve such a grandchild. Sitting there I felt quite a useless human being. I was not able to interrupt this woman at all and just hoped, in time, she would stop.
As it happens, she suddenly stated that the boy would not even play any sports, would he? I had to concentrate then and replied “Oh, actually he can play cricket, goal ball, or swish; he can go tandem cycling, horse riding, sailing, swimming and play any sports that are part of the Paralympics.” There was finally silence and I realised I had shut her up.
Normally, I can speak quite easily with people, and I can dispel any negative attitudes with my knowledge of how we complete tasks, etc. But this woman did not allow me to say anything, and she had the attitude that she knew all about blindness.
I felt very disappointed and unhappy as I left the train. Her tirade had made me feel less than my usual happy and confident self.
Karen, in Perth
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Thank you, Karen, for writing about your unpleasant experience. It reminds me of some of my own encounters with people who aren’t well-educated about what living with blindness is really like.
I feel like they’re becoming less frequent over time, but whenever these encounters happen, I, like you, leave them feeling unsettled. They’re disquieting, I think, because we’re left wondering how many people look at us with pity as we pass in the street. How many people like the lady on the train never have their misconceptions challenged?
Your response to her misguided monologue was eloquent and measured. It’s easy to take these things very personally, and react aggressively as a result. I would encourage others in your situation to understand that absence of awareness doesn’t imply the presence of malice. If we correct people clearly, but kindly, I find they often respond very well, and become eager to learn.
I’m very interested in strategies others have used to deal with similar experiences. Tell us how you respond to encounters like the one Karen described, by submitting your own letter to the editor, or getting in touch via phone, Facebook or Twitter.