"Does he take sugar?"
I am not going to complain
One thing I notice a lot now I am blind is how I am treated in stores and restaurants. It is not my plan to rant on bad experiences, I hope you might see this as a tool in your life to deal with a blind person or maybe any disabled person in the real world.
The title of this article comes from a long running BBC Radio 4 series for the disabled. It reflected the frustration of disabled who when venturing into public often found the people who went with them as care-givers were spoken too and the disabled talked about in the third person, as if physical impairment meant them incapable of any intelligent conversation or decision making.
When out for a meal with my wife, servers will often ask my wife what I will want for dinner. Some will often seem to be impatient when we are not ready to order by the time drinks arrive. If it is a regular haunt of ours it is easy, often I know what I want without my wife reading me the menu. In a new place though we need time for her to go through the things which seem good and then narrow down the list. Often we decide at the same time but sometimes we like different things. She feels it important to let me know all the details of the dish and I appreciate that without a server hovering because the managers service clock is ticking.
Please step back, I am not going to complain about slow service if I am the cause of the delay.
When alone it is often hard for me to go into restaurants and stores. On one occassion I went into a Starbucks which was unfamiliar to me. Receiving my Venti brewed coffee I asked the barista "Where will I find the milk and sugar?" I was hoping for a brief direction, and was disappointed with how brief, "Over there!" Obviously he must have waved his arm as he answered, So raising my cane a little I said "Sorry. I can't see where over there is." "By the door." He replied obviously tiring of me quickly and wanting to get to the next customer.
Moral of that story is obviously it is a bad impressionwhich sticks in my mind, and as a former manager once told me in Tesco, "Get a customers order right and they'll tell no-one,get it wrong and they will tell everyone they can."
The Manager was wrong. Now the GOOD experience
One day I was travelling alone and went into a Panera Bread cafe. I needed to go to the bathroom first and asked for directions from the assistant. She happily directed me. On my return she asked if I had an order. I had no white cane at the time, so told her of my poor vision and asked if she could tell me what sandwiches were available. She asked me what meats I preferred and we rapidly narrowed down my choice.
I also asked if she could direct me towards an empty table, she came around the counter and took my arm and took me to a table. Making up my coffee on the way. When my sandwich was ready the table clearer actually brought the sandwich over and asked if I needed anything else.
It was not just that they were attentive to my original requests. They sounded eager to help. They made the sale and I left a happy and refreshed customer.
Believe it or not, smile when you talk with a blind person. We cannot see your smile but we certainly can hear it. It is not that we have better hearing, we just have to listen a lot harder, without the clutter of visual tags we pick up your voice tones. It is like being on the telephone constantly, unless you are using a system like skype, you instinctively know what the person on the other end of the phone is thinking by the tones of their voice. When they are sad you know, when they are happy you know.
Small things matter
There a some small things which make interactions much better with a blind person.
Talk in a normal voice, with a smile. It is surprising how many people shout in the presence of a blind person. They also talk v e r y , v e r y, s l o w l y. Shouting and talking slowly doesn't make it easy dor me to understand. It soon becomes irritating and makes me feel like a child being reprimanded by a parent.
Signal your presence. If you are quiet, I might not know you are there. You don't need to talk if you don't want to, you can hum, sing or cough. Please don't wave as I have had people do, I can't see.
Another small thing you can do is signal you are leaving. When a person walks out of the room and I don't know, it sort of makes me feel silly if I carry on our conversation only to be told I have been talking to myself for who knows how long.
Just as bad is being seated in a dark restaurant by a person wearing black who runs on ahead through closely packed tables and booths to get me to the back of the restaurant. Often I am left standing not knowing where they have gone and not knowing my way back out. This is especially embarassing for me in a restaurant which is obviously busy.
I hope some of the insights might be of use. Some are just personal stories which have affected my life since becoming blind.
Oh! No he doesn't take sugar, three Splenda please.
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