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the mixed up blind girls and boys

Alexis went to the doctor this afternoon. While she was waiting on transit to come home, someone asked her where her dog was and then said, "Oh, you must be the other little girl."

First of all, Alexis is several inches taller than I am, and her hair is short and curly. Mine is long and straight. Why do people assume that a blind person is a blind person is a blind person? When I was in college, I was actually mistaken for a Black person because we were both blind! I'm waiting for the day that I'm mixed up with a man! Besides the fact that this irritates me because it demonstrates that all people see is my disability (and maybe it communicates to some readers that I despise my disability), it irritates me because it demonstrates to me that I as a person simply don't exist. This is something that angers me so much lately that I don't really know how to describe the anger. When people ask about Meghan, I find myself becoming very hostile, even when I really don't mind the question. Something inside me is screaming, "What about ME? I'm remembering an incident from sometime in 1996... A couple was transporting me and my husband to church, and one of them made a comment about my dog enjoying the cool weather. That something inside me screamed, "Do you care how WE enjoy the weather?" Sometimes I wonder whether people would speak to me at all if I didn't have a dog... Oh, if I didn't take Meg with me, they would ask about her. But if I had never had a dog, would I just be a shadow, a nobody, "the blind girl?"

Someone made a comment last week when I was discussing my seminary plans. She said that I was very impulsive. This was a very painful thing to hear, and I've spent a good deal of time since then wondering how impulsive I am--wondering it so much that it's scaring the people who are close to me. I've certainly done some impulsive things in my lifetime, like most people I know. However, there are other significant factors worth considering. I tend to mull things over in my mind for quite a long time and then reveal them after a long time of private consideration; and when I decide to act, I have decided and I do it. It probably does appear impulsive because by the time I get to the point of announcing my decision, I have been planning privately for a long time.

There is also the matter discussed above. People don't know me. They might think they do; but they don't take time to really know me or ask about what's happening in my life on a regular basis. Perhaps they assume that I will share it because I'm part of a class or Bible study group and the group seems close-knit; but relationships form through chatter that occurs after the study time is over. If I am not included in that chatter, I don't feel that or if I am only included as an aside, I am truly a part of the group. If I don't feel that I am truly a part of the group, then I am not likely to share many details of my personal life; and in this case, my actions will seem impulsive because the group is left out of my decision process. Yes, it was my choice not to share details with the group; but it is also the group's responsibility to foster relationships with me. Community works both ways; and I am tired of being the lone initiator, especially when people make it hard by over-focusing on my disability and my dog.

Now for the second gripe... I am aware that I look and sound young. But there really does have to be a point in life when I earn a bit of respect as an adult. kl1964 told me about an incident that occurred when he was returning from a professional conference. The airline assistance person was paged over the radio and responded, "I have to help a blind boy." I had a very demeaning experience in Knoxville in March. While I wasn't called a child, I was treated very much like a child by the security gate attendant.

My mom's suggested remedy for this problem is that I have my hair cut short. There is only one problem. I don't WANT my hair cut short, and I don't really believe that it would do enough to counter the problem. Part of the problem is that for many people disability simply lowers a person's status to that of a child. Another part of the problem is the fact that American culture as a whole is just plain familiar now. People assume that it is ok to treat a person like a friend or child when little is known about them, and sometimes it is offensive to the other person. Calling a stranger "sweetie" or "dear" or "hon" really is not appropriate, even if it's the norm for an area of the country. Those are terms of endearment; and the quickest way to upset a professional is to familiarize her that way. Professionals need dignity, and so do people with disabilities. I'm not a "little girl." I'm a lady, a person, etc. "Girl" might suffice--I'm aware that in some areas of the country, people use "girls" to refer to women at the office. But I am most certainly not a "little girl." When I'm traveling, I am as likely to be presenting at a conference or giving a concert as I am to be visiting; and I don't like people asking in that syrupy voice if I'm visiting. Please, if you must, ask if I'm on vacation as you would ask of any other seatmate who is an adult!


( 10 comments — Leave a comment )
Jul. 19th, 2006 11:43 am (UTC)
I've had that happen to me. When I was in Charlottesville, there was a couple, both of whom were blind/vi. The guy had a service dog for another disability. And yet, there were people who, when they saw me alone with Glaze, would call me by the woman's name. Since I didn't have much interraction with them (our conversations basically consisted of them yelling to me, "Hey Wendy, it's safe to cross the street"), I never bothered to correct them.

In Richmond, I have another blind friend. We started the Rehab Counseling Masters program at the same time. We actually do kind of look a little alike. And our last names are similar. So the campus book store was forever confusing us and charging our books to the wrong vouchers from the state VR agency. This didn't quite annoy me as much simply because I could kind of see how it occurred. But it was a real pain.

One of the law schools I almost attended had a blind first-year student last year whose name was Angela. She had a guide dog, too. I know that if I'd gone there, there would have been a great deal of confusion. It was one of the turn-offs for that particular school. But I would have gone if it had really been the best school.

I'm completely with you on the "little girl" thing. I still get this...though not quite as much now that I am a bit older, and not as much in a bigger city. It really makes me want to scream.

Jul. 19th, 2006 01:16 pm (UTC)
mixed up people
I don't mind being mixed up when there's some sense to it... I had a roommate who was a couple of inches taller but who looked similar to me in facial structure and hair style. I didn't mind people mixing us up, even though I had a dog and she didn't. It's the stupid ones that I mind, like the people who look nothing like me and never are seen with me, etc. Once I was mistaken for a student whose name was Christy and who had transferred out a year earlier. The only thing similar about us was our blindness and our height.
Jul. 19th, 2006 01:57 pm (UTC)
I don't have time at the moment to respond at length, but I wanted you to know that I sympathize. I encounter a different set of annoyances being hearing impaired, than you do being visually impaired, but they're probably all instigated by the same morons. I'll have to post on it one of these days. :)
Jul. 19th, 2006 03:06 pm (UTC)
your potential post
I'll look forward to reading your perspective on this.
Jul. 19th, 2006 02:40 pm (UTC)
It is really annoying.
There was this girl in college with me who people mistook me for. It actually pissed me off because we looked nothing alike, and our social skills were miles apart, and for me to be compared to her made me feel like less of a person.
Blindness itself isn't even the same in people, and the general public doesn't understand that at all.
I actually have talked to other people with dogs who say that people forget about them as people too. That's probably one of the only apprehensions I have about getting a dog.
Jul. 19th, 2006 05:12 pm (UTC)
I wish I could say that the incident at the airport was a one-time thing, but it wasn't. Even if they don't say blind boy, or little girl, the general attitude is there. And, since there are other blind people where I work, I have lost count of how many times I've been called by names other than mine. I'm ashamed to say that my graciousness in these situations has been worn down over the years. Oftentimes now when someone calls me by the wrong name, I won't respond at all. I know it's rude, but honestly I don't know what else to do. It can be very disheartening. I can't remember how many times I've heard that first impressions are oh so important in this world. I don't disagree with that. but so many times I feel like first impressions are etched in stone about me within a split second. And it doesn't matter how good I look, how expensive my clothes are, how articulate I am, they don't see any of that because all they can think of is "blind", and I'm at an instant, and sometimes insurmountable-feeling, disadvantage.
Jul. 19th, 2006 06:38 pm (UTC)
There were two other girls in high school with me. One was several inches taller, much much skinner, and she had some other cognitive/other difficulties. The other girl was skinnier than me, though not as skinny as the first girl, or as tall, and black. I was constantly, constantly, being mistaken for them both. Our blindness was from completely different things, well the oldest girl and me. And the younger one... well she was black, and by that time in our lives, we weren't even that close.
Grumble grumble.

Then in college, there was a girl who was shorter than me by a couple inches, and a grad student. We lived on opposite sides of the campus. I don't think we looked that similar, but still, people confused us.
I hear all of your irritations about this. I feel more of the wanting to be taken for who I am as a person, right now, moreso I think than the dignity, but I can completely see that coming up with me at some point, probably sooner than later.
Lately, I just keep asking myself, what about me? Do you even care or want to know about me?

Sometiems, I've found that having a dog has helped me actually have decent conversations that led away from the dog into other things, conversations I would probably have never had otherwise. But then there are times when people talk to the dog, and don't even talk to me. I'm waiting for the day, and cringing at the thought, when I will go off at the rudeness of talking to the dog, and in my mind, treating the dog with more respect than me.
Okay now I'm going off to rant. I might just post this in my LJ, cuz now I"m getting peed off.
Jul. 19th, 2006 05:46 pm (UTC)
agreed agreed agreed!!!!!!!
I completely understand where you're coming from! I have been experiencing a great deal of this dimeaning treatment lately myself so I hear ya!!! It is so incredibly agravating!!
Jul. 19th, 2006 07:02 pm (UTC)
I'm not trying to defend the ignorance of moronic people, but animals do, for some odd reason, make good conversations starters. I'm fairly reserved in public, and rarely start conversations with people, nor them with me. And I don't necessarily always like it that way, so I've thought, on occassion, that perhaps my having a pet would help ... especially a cute dog.

Anyhow, someone confusing you for a blind black girl has to be be about the most ignorant thing I've ever heard.
Jul. 21st, 2006 12:21 pm (UTC)
Well, I think all the other factors you mention about your being treated like a child are far more important than your long hair or any aspect of your appearance. You may look young, but, your being 34, I cannot believe tha tyou would truly look like a child. Besides, I have long hair, too that my mother thinks makes me look younger, but I'm almost always referred to as a woman, not a girl.

As for being confused with others based on your blindness, I have that, too. People quite often ask me where my dog is, confusing me with a former client at training home who does have a guide dog.
( 10 comments — Leave a comment )


Sarah Blake LaRose
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