By Dawn M. Sanders
I’ve been debating on whether to write this blog/rant all week – it’s not the first time I’ve ranted about people’s reaction to me on first site – a woman with a visual impairment… In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised at all, if there’s another blog of the same title floating around out there – someone else sick and tired of exactly the same thing and I know there is, because I’ve read them. To hell with it, it’s bugging me, so here goes.
The other day it was a gorgeous sunny, slightly breezy autumn day and I needed to get out for fresh air and walk to my local One Stop shop. It was before the kids got out from the nearby primary school on the road down from where I live, so the shop wouldn’t be taken over by greedy young ones, buying sweets.
So, I got to the bottom of the hill and was about to cross the little side road that runs off the main road before I get to the shop and it started: “Are you going to the shop?” a guy asked and of course I knew what he meant, to say was, can you get there. “Yes, I’m going to the shop, I just walked down the road, so don’t you think I know where I’m going?” Oh of course, he mumbled, but that wasn’t going to be the end of it. Walking along, a guy was getting into his car or maybe getting out: “There’s a phone box in front of you.” “I know, that’s why I have a stick.” I said immediately back and then mumbled, idiot half under my breath! “Just trying to be helpful.” “helpful is when I need it/ask for it and I haven’t.” I went in, got what I went to the shop for and walked out, down the road up the gentle climb and crossed over to climb the steep hill where I live at the top. Just at the top of the hill from the car park of the flats where I live a guy next to a van said: “do you want me to walk you to your door?” “No, I walked out my front door, don’t you think I can get to it?” Now I was fully pissed off and thought to myself, for fuck sake! “I didn’t mean to upset you.” he said dimly. “Well, that’s a bit patronising, don’t you think?” he of course didn’t answer. I saw one more person doing some work of some kind, just before I got close to my flat. “It’s all cleared up and there’s no obstructions in your way.” That was fine. “Lovely day.” I said. It’s beautiful, Peter the site manager remarked and with that, I got to my front door, let myself in and closed the door on the many obstructive, patronising piss-offs I had just encountered three in fact – just walking to the shop, nothing complicated, nothing difficult or even mildly taxing. Yet, people still think, the second they set eyes on a lone female with a visual impairment it’s need, need, need, help help, pitty-pitty patronise. Of course men with a visual impairment get it, but not nearly as much, as society generously awards them, just that little bit more agency. I had a conversation with a past fellow entrepreneur some years ago about it and he said his partner was the one who always got the grabbing hand, when getting on a bus. Well, I am not one of those people who’ll just let it wash over them and ignore it, then complain about it later – just allowing it to happen without challenge or forthrightly making people think before they open their mouths whether they want to or not! People still view a visually impaired person as needy or clueless – forgetting or more-to-the-point, absent-mindedly, not realising the obvious – I just walked down a road, got up that morning, got dressed, spent years raising a kid (ooh uh, all on my own…) Oh of course they don’t know that, but if people actually talked to someone with a visible challenge, they actually might find out something like, I live, eat and function as they do, just with a rainbow coloured stick and without the all-prevailing, over-rated eye contact.
I once took the advice of a mate and when sitting at a table outside a favourite music joint and a guy said to me, I’m just over here if you need anything. “Why do I have to need something – what if I need a line of coke.” He laughed good humouredly and alas, got it – no I don’t even do the stuff, but he got it and high fisted me for putting him right.
Thing is, if you’re reading this and are thinking, ‘but people just wonna help’ then, ahum, you don’t ‘get it’ either – there’s more to anyone, visible challenges or not, then needing, needing, help. If anyone, especially of the opposite sex, catches me in the wrong mood o or, maybe the right one, depending on his presentation – I might just, as the gutsy gab I am, let him know I ‘need some, cuz I haven’t had any in three years… Then again, being British and of a mostly conservative-minded persuasion, his jaw would drop, as he’d probably think, ‘but your ‘um visually impaired – do you even know how? Oh, my days, and yes, the day will come and, the reason so many still think people with a visible challenge of any kind are objects of need, care or pity, is because there’s not enough people correcting them, putting them in their place or getting them to shut up and think first. Yeah, it puts me right off even going out sometimes and I know the same goes for other people with additional challenges, I’ve read hundreds of accounts, but do I need to get angry? Hell yes, it’s not my job to have endless buckets of patience or a resilience of steel. In fact, the older I get, the more I feel the right to demand respect – the same respect we all deserve as equal citizens and, as an egalitarian, not a pacifist, that’s not going to change and no apologies for the sarcasm when I’m accosted or obstructed… Rant over, for now.