What do I consider a valid or appropriate question to ask a blind person?
Wow, this is actually a pretty complicated topic. Some blind people are offended when people as questions ranging from “where’s your helper?” to “how do you get dressed in the morning?” to really anything you can think of if you can’t imagine living in a world without sight. Fun fact: blind or visually impaired people do what they have to in order to be an active member of society, just like you do.
Before I continue with this post and eventually get back to the topic at hand, I just wanted to point out that my answer is going to reflect the things I’ve experienced when studying abroad this summer. Likewise, most of my examples will draw from this experience because I was less offended, and therefore, less likely to give a snappy retort. My usual disclaimer applies here: I am only one voice. My opinion is not shared by the entire blind community, okay? Please refer to the title and subtitle of my blog. Gracie mile!
To start our discussion, let’s address the most obvious and grating question: “where is your helper?” “¿Por qué no tienes a alguien para acompañarte?” Do I consider this an obnoxious question? No. I consider it an unnecessary one. “Am I offended by the question?” Kind of. “Is it a valid question?” Umm. Well. That’s complicated for me — yes and no.
As I mentioned several times in prior posts, I decided to do some traveling yo sola when I studied in Spain mostly to prove to myself that I could. You can imagine the reactions. People would look at me and exclaim, “¡imposible! ¡Es muy peligroso!” Even some 9-ear-old told me that it was dangerous to be alone during my first night in Madrid. I was thinking, “dude, what do you know? You’re nine!” But he is absolutely right….
Instead of letting those strongly opinionated Spaniards affect my study abroad experience, I did whatever the hell I wanted, and I showed them that traveling solita is not impossible. Do I regret this? Only the traveling-around-Madrid-at-3-alone-because-that’s-stupid-for-everyone.
Also, I’d like to think that I brought back a more tolerant attitude towards people and their prying questions.
As I noted earlier, I learned a lot of valuable lessons from my time abroad that will shed a lot of light on my current viewpoint.
I first learned to not shove everyone into several broad categories, such as ignorant people, offensive people, and informed people, etc. Not everyone has the same background, and not everyone lives in a world of privilege, and not everyone has access to a good education. They look at me and say it’s impossible because they’ve never met someone like me. Honestly, I love Spanish people, but some of the people I’ve met are so ensconced in their pueblos they’ve never felt the need or desire to venture outside them. They love their established routine. Some people I’ve talked to like to compare me to their local blind person living in their respective pueblo. I personally get bored to tears because I’m not them and I have not had their opportunities, nor them mine, so it’s useless to compare us. What I can do, however, is make an impression and show them that I’m just a normal girl excited to be in Spain for the summer. And that’s exactly what I did.
The second thing I learned was to not overanalyze every intention. It was beautiful music to my ears when my host mom told me flat out that I wasn’t really that special. The context of that statement was that my host dad wanted to take me to Atocha in Madrid, and I just did not feel comfortable with that.
The other thing I learned was to not be offended by every question that came out of someone’s mouth. My Spanish friend’s best friend had, once again, never met another blind person, so she started asking me questions like, “so how do you get dressed?” and “Do you go clothes shopping by yourself?”
My favorite part of this conversation was that she was not afraid to ask me; neither did she begin with some Spanish variation of “well I don’t want to offend, but…” My second favorite part of this conversation was that since it was in Spanish, I really had to think about how to frame my response. It is for this reason I realized that this is actually a pretty valid question. A lot of people get offended by thethis question and explain that blind people label their clothes or organize them in some manner like it’s an obvious solution. Personally, I think this method is too much work. I only separate the really colorful skirts and leggings. But do I really walk around department stores by myself, scan price tags, take pictures of clothing in an attempt to identify the color, or whatever insufficient other thing? Absolutely not.
I explained that I use my sighted friends to a point, but I also know what I like. I put a lot of emphasis on how we all are dependent on people, sighted or no, and I think she walked away with a new appreciation of a different perspective.
Fun fact: I received a bunch of Spanish clothing as a gift from my host family’s friend, and I skyped my Spanish friend so that she could help me plan together an outfit — I knew nothing about Spanish styles. I always shy away from wearing really colorful skirts because I have to put a lot of effort in finding the perfect matching blouse with something that hopefully complements the skirt’s main color scheme and pattern. That’s not what my best friend taught me about clothes, and to this day, she and her mom still influence my classy and elegant style whenever I choose to not roll out of bed and throw on something. I personally favor black pencil skirts because they are elegant, professional, versatile, and they look good on me.
Now that I’ve succeeded in rambling about study abroad for several unnecessary paragraphs, can you see where this post is going?
What do I consider a valid and appropriate question? First, I judge the intent of the question. Most people are curious, and they do not have the imagination to think outside the box. Or they don’t realize they do some of the same things I do, but to a lesser degree. Second, I choose my battles when it comes to being offended. I think years of crying over every insult, whether deliberate or unintended, has helped me realize what’s important. I may think a lot of people ask baffling questions, but that’s because I live my life every day, so all this stuff is second nature to me. Try to look at it from my perspective. I feel baffled that you understand all those squiggly lines called letters, and I didn’t understand why you’re restricted by one-way-streets when driving. But I understand now. Fun fact: I’ve tried for years to learn how to produce print, but I’ve never been able to overcome that particular challenge. I think I just haven’t made the necessary effort.
That being said, in my view, a question is valid if the person asking genuinely wants to know the answer. If you are asking me this question because you are looking for an “inspiration porn” response, don’t bother. If you’re asking me a rhetorical question that implies an assumption, don’t bother. You’re already assuming that X is true, and if X is not true, then your question doesn’t have an answer. Nothing I say is going to change your preconceived notion of me.
I’m delighted to answer your questions because I want you to see me as a person. But please, treat me as a person first, and at least wait until you get to know me a little. I don’t want our first conversation to be something like, “hi. You’re blind. Can I ask you all these questions?” If your questions are downright inappropriate, and you wouldn’t even dream of asking a perfect stranger/professional this question, then don’t ask me.
Note: If a group of drunk guys is yelling at you all the way down the street and suggesting that you should have an assistant, keep walking. Don’t even give them more seconds of your time to feel bad for the poor blind girl. To my sighted friends, if someone wants to stop you and tell you how much they appreciate you hanging out with your blind friend, do not give them a chance, and don’t even bother explaining that hanging out with your friend isn’t, in fact, charity. They’re probably drunk, and if they’re not, you have parties to attend and things to do — none of which include trying to change their mind.
Thanks for reading this incredibly long and disorganized blog post. I apologize for answering this question in such a round-about manner. I figured this isn’t a formal piece, so *shrugs*