'Til the butter melts

Pursuing the cruising dream in 32' of sailing ketch

Being “That Person”

9 Comments

You know the one. The different one. The one that acts a little different, or has the odd posture.  The child with the learning challenges. The Woman in the wheelchair. The blind guy. You know…


Them. The differently abled.

For the last six weeks, I’ve had the unique opportunity to view – I hope temporarily – the world with one foot in the “THEM” camp.  I’ve been disabled.

It’s a fascinating place to be, actually.  

Since October 4th, I’ve been functionally blind in my right eye. That means that I can’t see out of it, but I do have some light and shadow sensitivity. And more importantly, I’ve had the expectation that eventually my eye will recover to near-normal function.  Maybe not perfect, but I’ll have two good eyes to get around with.

But what’s impressed me most about the whole experience is how isolating a disability is – even a very minor disability like partial loss of sight.  You become invisible. It’s not overt, and I’m sure it’s not even conscious, but it’s there, like a wet slap across the face. Every. Single. Day.

The recovery from a retinal detachment is a longish one, the healing is slow, and for the first week or so you have to keep your face down, nearly horizontal to the floor.  You can’t look strangers in the eye as you walk, you can’t really see where you’re walking, in fact, so you need someone with you to lead you – to hold your hand – whenever the route is unfamiliar. Crossing the street is frightening, the sound of traffic threatening.

And meeting friendly strangers? Frustrating beyond belief.

You see, I’m a social creature, as most humans are. When I meet someone, even passing on the street, I look for eye contact, for connection, and I say hello or good morning or SOMETHING to acknowledge that I exist and they exist and we are members of the same tribe, the same race. We connect, just for an instant.

But for a week in October and for the last 4 days, I can’t meet anyone’s eye – and so after the initial introduction, when Nicki explains my condition and I apologize for not looking them in the eye when as we talk, and after they reply with some variation on the theme of “Oh that’s no problem…” – I disappear.

No, it’s not deliberate. It’s not dismissive.  But how DO you address your comment to someone that can’t see you? How do you bring them into the conversation and hold them there, when they can’t see any of the non-verbal invitations to engage? When body-language is silenced, what do we hear?  Silence.  

It’s been a long week.

So here’s the invitation.  For me, obviously, but for you too, should the situation present itself:

How would YOU engage a disabled person in a conversation, and how would you KEEP them engaged? If their disability is visible, will you look them in the eye anyway? Will you meet them on their level? It’s hard. It’s uncomfortable. It’s scary. But can you do it?  Can you not worry about “staring” and keep seeing them?

I can’t speak for all disabled people, but I can say that I wouldn’t mind being stared at a little, accidentally.  

It’s better than being invisible.

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Author: s/v sionna

Living the dream in 32'. We left Maine on August 18th, 2016, and have gradually worked our way south until we felt warm enough. We've paused in Boot Key Harbor, and are now exploring the Keys until we leave the boat and return to Maine for a summer of employment. Follow our blog here, and follow our progress in map form by joining www.Farkwar.com!

9 thoughts on “Being “That Person”

  1. Thank you, Keith, for writing this – it’s so good to get this conversation going, and in such a positive, proactive way. My own experience of assorted mobility issues has also been that social isolation is one of the the most challenging aspects of the whole thing. And moving across the ability borderline, in one direction or the other, has been illuminating – thanks again, Keith, for articulating how that has gone for you. And here’s to a speedy recovery!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for checking in, Shemaya! And for your thoughts. Its certainly been a good experience for me, a “straight white male”. It’s allowed me to catch just a glimpse of the privilege I’ve lived in my whole life, but which is so hard to see when you’re in it! Blessings.

      Liked by 1 person

      • And what a nice job you’re doing, writing about it. Thank heavens “publishing” has become so much easier these days! I’m so glad you’re doing it.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Really enjoying your blog. I am still learning how to write while traveling. Not easy! You are a great writer! I look forwards to future episodes!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’ve been a rehab nurse, so wheelchairs and folks with missing limbs don’t seem as “different” to me as they do to others. I naturally communicate/help folks in wheelchairs. One of the hardest things is negotiating a wheelchair with leg rests in a very crowded area with people everywhere that want to get somewhere. I just get in front of the wheelchair, put my hands on my hips and say, “excuse me” over and over again in a voice that cannot be ignored and we muddle thru the crowd. Main thing in wheelchairs is to get down to their level, yes, that means bending your knees.

    I’m not as adept with blind folks I must say.

    The main feeling of beggars on the street is that they feel invisible. I encounter beggars in NYC rather frequently and when you live here you notice the same ones over and over again in the same spots. While I rarely give them money, I’ll sometimes give food, but I try to catch their eyes and give them acknowledgement when I can.

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    • A great perspective, Lee, thank you! The question of beggers/panhandlers I’ve yet to tackle. One stigma at a time is my plan.

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    • Hi Lee,
      It’s something about that eye contact thing – it means so much. It’s like when one person is pushing another person who is in a wheelchair, and other folks are generally very determined to only make eye contact with the person doing the pushing. Such an opportunity, in coming upon folks in those situations, to specifically include eye contact with the person who is receiving the help!

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  4. Yes, the “uncomfortability” of being uncomfortable with “difference”…..the not knowing ‘how to’ness…….
    I noticed this at a young age when a friend of mine had a cousin that would visit often. He had Down Syndrome. I didn’t know how to communicate with him…I didn’t know if I should TRY to communicate with him….What I didn’t realize is I didn’t know “how” for some reason when we are encountered with something that appears to be different – our behavior becomes different, as well. From then – when I notice that I’m changing my behavior/pulling back/avoiding something or someone – I stop and ask myself “Why?” And most always, it’s because I am unsure of what to do! The answer was always simple. Be love. Be kind. That always feels right. Just because the other (person/object/situation) looked different – didn’t mean I had to mirror change with my own behavior. Thanks for the “clear vision”!

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