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On an email list I'm on, we have been talking about encounters we have with the public regarding dog guides. I don't talk about this often--I tend to capitulate to everyone else's feelings and assume that it is my responsibility to be nice and educate people about my dog, even when it is not so comfortable or convenient for me. The down side of this is that I don't really have the freedom to have a quiet conversation with a friend in a public place or sit somewhere and have a deep thought or an emotional moment in peace. These things get interrupted by people who want to know my dog's name but not mine. Sometimes even at church, I leave without people learning my name. As I an walking out the door, I will hear someone say, "Bye, Loretta." And I know that it is directed at the being at my side who cannot return the farewell with anything more than a wag of the tail. I wonder if the wag of the tail is equivalent to a spoken farewell. I wonder, when people say, "She must be your best friend," what they would say if I said that my best friend is a human--or that I have four "best friends" (one canine and three feline).

Today Alexis and I went to breakfast with a lady from church. And wow! I think we just about hit all the high points! As we were settling the dogs, a man came up and started doing the generic beautiful dog comments and asking questions. I gave him some generic answer and explained that we were trying to get the dogs settled and could he please avoid making eye contact with the dogs, who were making eye contact back and wriggling like there was no tomorrow.

He went away, the dogs settled down, and we started our conversation. A lady came up and said, "Excuse me..." We stopped our conversation, and she informed us that her church in the next town was having a blessing and healing of the animals... I said, "We already have a church. Thank you." This was not enough. She went on about how we might like to come. I said, "Actually, we have responsibilities at our church. She finally went away, and I joked to our church friend that perhaps I should take my mean cat to the blessing/healing and have them pray the aggressive streak out of her.

The best one was yet to come... At least this man waited for a break in the conversation and had something useful to talk to me about... However, I found some of his comments amusing. Our friend was conversing with Alexis, and the man took the opportunity to engage me from the next table. "Are those Seeing Eye dogs?" I said yes and braced myself for a third encounter within a 20-minute span. He then asked if I was legally blind. Just what should I say to that question? "No, they gave me a Seeing Eye dog because I am old/, smart, extra-privileged, a dog fancier? Ok... I answered him truthfully. He then told me that he works for the county elections division and asked if I vote? I started to wonder if he was running for some office and whether he thought he would get on my good side by talking about my dog.

Nope. He wanted to know whether I "demonstrate voting machines." Apparently we have accessible voting machines in this town. I have never seen one. My schedule is a bit crazy with theology books and papers; but if he wants me to be a guinea pig for an accessible voting machine, maybe I can work it in...

I did manage to finish my latte; and I did enjoy conversing with Sandra..

For most of my life, various people have felt quite free to correct my social skills--everything from addressing the manner in which I eat to pointing out that I have interrupted someone or imposed on someone else's time. I often wonder why such attention is not paid to the development of sighted people's social skills. It is stated blatantly in literature that sighted people learn social skills by observing. Perhaps this is true regarding some things; however, having worked with children of various ages and having spoken with professors at the seminary about social dynamics in various settings, my observation is that these assumptions are quite faulty. Much more attention needs to be given to the overall development of social skills of people--not only those with disabilities. It should not be abnormal that I feel upset when my meals and conversations are interrupted because strangers are curious about my personal life. After all, it would be considered rude for me to engage in the same behavior. Why is it necessary for me to excuse it from someone else when that same stranger would be perfectly within his/her right to correct me? It is necessary because forgiveness and politeness are preferable; but it is still not ok for people to do this to one another. At some point, someone needs to begin to educate people that this behavior is impolite. Otherwise, society degenerates into a free-for-all.


( 7 comments — Leave a comment )
Oct. 4th, 2007 03:41 pm (UTC)
You know, I'm grateful for these posts of yours. I don't see blind people with guide dogs very often, but on the rare occasion I have happened across one, I've always approached them, asking about their dog and themselves - just being friendly. Sighted people can see a nod or smile of acknowledgement when they are standing in line at the grocery store, or some such thing. My thought was that since the blind person can't see my smile or nod, they probably feel ignored & isolated. If I ever see one again, however, I'm not sure what I'd do.

If they happen to be with someone else, I will probably just continue on about my business and leave them in peace. But if they're alone (with their dog) should I leave them to their thoughts and risk intrusion, or should I say hello? But if I say hello, they may not realize I'm talking to them unless I say something about their dog. (after all, I could be addressing someone else nearby that they can't see)

I realize most of your complaints center around having social outings interupted (most rather rudely), but you've also mentioned wanting to be left to your thoughts on more than one occasion. Sighted people not only have an advantage in being able to read each other's body language, but also being able to see that someone is about to approach them, so they can adjust their body language accordingly.

For example, if I walk into a store and don't want to be approached or quizzed by an over zealous salesperson, when I see them walking toward me I will frown, dress myself in a very obvious "don't you even THINK about bothering me" attitude, and I will change my direction so that we are no longer on an intercept course with each other. Blind people don't have that advantage, so how can we know whether it's ok to approach someone or not? I don't like knowing that there may be someone out there feeling lonely and isolated simply because people may not be comfortable approaching them because of their blindness.

*sigh* I wish there were a definitive "how-to" manual out there to answer questions like these.
Oct. 4th, 2007 04:07 pm (UTC)
good point
Good point about the issue of approaching people in general... If you make a habit of speaking to people you don't know on a regular basis, I would suggest doing the same to a person with a disability but using the same general topics that you would with anyone else. I always appreciate it when people speak to me about topics of general interest, and in general I don't even mind the beautiful dog comments if they lead to a conversation that allows for some other topics as well. My difficulty is with feeling like I am serving as exhibit A on blindness with people who want to spend five minutes asking questions, never ask my name, and then walk away. It makes me feel like they really don't care about me as a person. On the other hand, if someone were to say, "That's a beautiful dog! I saw you here the other day--you seem to come here a lot at the same times I do," and then introduce themself, it would make me feel like they were observant and perhaps cared about talking to me.
Oct. 4th, 2007 07:59 pm (UTC)
This is a really excellent comment. It helps me understand the "sighted perspective."

Here are my thoughts as a blind guide dog handler:

If I'm with someone, it's probably best not to approach and ask questions about my guide. This isn't because I don't enjoy talking about her--it's just that I'm probably in the middle of a conversation, and sometimes, as 3kitties pointed out, it's nice to have those without interruptions.

If I'm alone, I don't generally mind if people come up and tell me I have a beautiful dog. This might be better than asking a question, because then the blind person can respond with more or less information, depending on what they'd prefer. The only time when I'm alone and I'm really annoyed by comments about my dog is if someone says something to me while I'm clearly engaged in something, like actually paying for my groceries (as opposed to standing in line).

But thanks again for posting what you're thinking when you find yourself in that situation.

Oct. 5th, 2007 07:14 am (UTC)
I've often told my friends, "If you don't speak, I don't see you!"
I'd much rather be approached with a simple Hello. Perhaps, though, it's be nice to get a complement on clothing, hair, etc., instead of always a remark about the dog. I kind of think it's like parents with a new baby. I know my sister-in-law likes to be recognized as herself rather than the "Mommy of twins". With dog handlers, it's the same--except for me personally, the quickest way to annoy me is to assume I treat my dog as my "baby".
When you need encouragement about what to say, think of what you would say if you saw the blind person with a cane instead of a dog. Definitely, don't stop talking to people! Please, don't stop reaching out--you never know when you might make a new friend!
Oct. 4th, 2007 07:17 pm (UTC)
Your post was great and I think can speak for how a lot of us feel when approached. The church that I used to go to and kinda still do, if I go without Mac they all ask "Where's your furry friend?" "Where's the dog?" I get so frustrated and saddened that no one seems to care about me over there when this is supposedly a "Church with a Heart". A few times I was even brave enough to ask someone..."Do you really care about me or just my dog?" and one time I asked someone "Do you know my name or just my dogs name". It may have made me look like a brat but it allowed me to blow off some steam that no one seems to care about.

Thank you for illustrating perfectly your feelings because as I'm sure a lot of us go through this on a too infrequent basis.
Oct. 5th, 2007 01:01 am (UTC)
Everything you say here is so true.

Often, people know me as "the girl with the dog". Some people know Caroline's name, but not mine. It's kind of an odd feeling, as if I don't really exist.

Someone once told me that my dog had been in a class with them. Just my dog? What about me?

Sometimes, I wish I could pass through a day without getting stopped so I can talk to someone about dead dogs. Yes! People always want to tell me about their dead dogs. Then, they go on to talk about my dog, and it just goes on and on and on, all about dogs, nothing but dogs.

I do love dogs. I wouldn't trade either of my girls for anything, but must I always talk about them? Aren't I a person in my own right?
Oct. 5th, 2007 01:04 am (UTC)
As for social skills, I've often thought that, where people with disabilities are concerned, the social skills of society fly out the window. People do all sorts of things that I've been taught are socially unacceptable, but it's fine for people to do these things to me. I wonder why that is.
( 7 comments — Leave a comment )


Sarah Blake LaRose
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