Probably 95% of my friends are not blind, deaf, or disabled, although they are slowing down with age, the great disabler. Many wear hearing aids now, as I do; some even use canes, as I also do. But I wish that I had more regular interaction with others who have dealt with physical impairment for decades. I almost always benefit from conversations with these kindred spirits.
Mostly we laugh about shared frustrations, like trying to find our turn speaking in a group of sighted people. I’m convinced there are nonverbal cues about who has the next turn to offer an opinion. I shouldn’t complain, because I am hardly diffident. I get my oar in plenty. But I often find I begin to speak exactly when someone else has begun. In one of my regular groups, where I’m the only Deaf-Blindie, I have this experience half the time I open my mouth. No one in the group notices, which could be a message to me, either that I’m not terribly fascinating or that I’m too talkative.
Another experience we blind people laugh about is something we share with African-Americans and others of color—we all look alike. In my church there’s another blind woman. We’re similar in age, but different in every other aspect of appearance. Yet, often church members attribute something I’ve said to her, and vice versa. It’s pretty hilarious.
In these discussions with blind friends, I do encounter small differences in our experiences that set me to thinking. a blind digital guru, for instance, mentioned that he was tall, and I said, “I know. Bob told me.”
“How did he happen to tell you that?” the friend asked.
“I usually ask for physical descriptions of people,” I answered.
“Really,” he said. “Well, I guess that shouldn’t surprise me; you saw till you were 26. But born blind, I would never think to ask about someone’s appearance.”
Yet, one’s height, weight, choice of dress, and style reflect a lot of information about a person—even her lack of interest in appearance. The conversation made me think of other visual reflections of people that I don’t ask much about, like the home they’ve chosen, their decorative sense, their choice of automobile, the photos or art work they display. I learn practical aspects of their homes—where the bathroom is, or the sharp-edged coffee table after my shin is lurking. Such conversations prompt me to ask more questions about the visuals in people’s lives.
And always the encounters with others who are blind or disabled lead me to and from my comfort zone.