Today I have a guest blog post from Liz Dexter. Liz and her husband, Matthew, have been friends since before I developed WMD and a great support while I have been adjusting. It was interesting to hear of her recent experience and how it affected her response to people with VI and other hidden disabilities, which is why I am so pleased to have her guest blog.
This week, I got a glimpse (and a blurry one, at that) of what it might be like to be visually impaired. For me, it was temporary, but I did learn a lot from the experience.
I was off to pick up my new glasses. Fine, an everyday occurrence, except a) my prescription had changed quite dramatically (just a facet of getting older, no panic ensued), and b) I am pretty well incapable of seeing without my glasses and get a bit anxious when I have to sit with them off for any amount of time at all (yes, I have an understanding hairdresser!).
At the opticians
The service I’d had from the optician was excellent, and I’d had a good phone conversation with them when I checked whether all my pairs were available (I’d taken advantage of a cheaper offering; I’ve had bad service from expensive opticians, so my experience was not a facet of going budget, but I did take the opportunity to buy several pairs).
I arrived with a friend in tow, as I knew in advance that I might be a bit anxious during and wobbly afterwards. Unfortunately, the chap who served me was not that experienced.
Here’s an interesting fact: I took his difficulty in realising I needed to have the pairs of glasses placed into my hands and his almost giggle when I explained how I really could NOT see anything without the glasses (I have a -9 prescription in both eyes) as evidence of thoughtlessness. My friend, who could of course see what was going on, noticed that he was nervous, and his half-laugh was definitely a nervous one.
Now, I imagine that one’s other senses do develop when you’re doing without one of them, but if you’re suddenly without your visual sense, for example, it’s now obvious that subtle clues will be missed – just like they are on the phone or in text messages.
This is something to remember when encountering people with health issues: they may be new and they may not have adjusted – and actually, who says you have to adjust if you’ve spent years having one thing then don’t have it any more? (for example, I still can’t remember my name, over 6 months after getting married, so would I do any better were I to be dealing with limited eyesight for six months?)
Oh, but there are so many OBSTACLES. And yes, they need to be dealt with calmly and are not “challenges” as such, and people do deal, etc., but really, in the short space from the optician’s to the coffee shop, I encountered paving with crossing and crisscrossing lines, which then interacted with a set of steps such that even with full vision, I’d have been tripping over.
As it was, recently recovered from feeling extremely nauseous at the fitting (and, it has to be said, having slightly wonky glasses as well as a very different new prescription), I was clinging on to my friend for dear life, linked with her elbow where needed, her hand lightly under my elbow when I was more confident.
So many tables are shin-height. So many glass counters are reflecty and difficult to pinpoint. And the explaining – as I wobbled around peering at the menu and shouting dramatically “I can read it now, even the small writing!” we had to explain that I had new glasses. Ah yes, said the nice lady behind the counter. But would it be as easy to explain away behaviour lined to a complex medical condition (or another “invisible” issue like depression or ME, of course)?
I am lucky: a lift home from my friend’s mum after some hasty texting in the cafe and a worry that I wouldn’t manage the bus (my friend takes things at just the right level, and for that I was grateful, making sure I knew which case my old glasses were in and giggling together about the Karl Largerfeld label on the box), and some sitting down at home and I was fine the next morning. And when I returned to have my wonky glasses refitted, I again got excellent service from a dispensing optician.
But I did learn a lot, namely:
- You might well misinterpret actions and intentions when your senses are impaired in some way. So this may happen with people you’re talking to, and it’s best to be as clear and understanding, and check both intent and action have been understood (in a non-patronising way).
- The environment is not easy for anyone with any physical impairment. A small gap between a baby buggy and a sharp-cornered table is impossible when you’re not sure you’re not going to wobble, so be aware of others around you when out and about and make sure you’re not making it harder for them, before you think about actively trying to make it easier by offering a hand under the elbow.
- And, of course, something which Bridget puts forward very graciously in her posts on this blog, when you’re helping someone, be led by the person you are trying to help, and when you’re being helped, make sure you make your needs clear. My friend resisted the temptation to jump out of the car and guide me to my front door, but she did hover to make sure I got in. But on the helpee’s side, I made sure I let her know that I appreciated her offer but I’d be fine if she could watch me to the door.
It’s all about courtesy, communication and putting yourself in the other person’s shoes, really, isn’t it – which should be rules for living, whoever you are.
Liz Dexter is an editor, transcriber and writer, as well as being a reader and runner in her spare time. She blogs on language, business and software at Libroediting and reviews books at Adventures in Reading, Writing and Working from Home, and her books can be found (under her nom de plume) at Liz Broomfield Books.