This post is inspired by the disability charity Scope’s #EndTheAwkward campaign and my good friend Jennie’s response to it. Check out her post for her solutions on ending awkwardness:
So what is this #EndTheAwkward campaign? It was set up by Scope to collect together and find ways to resolve those awkward moments that disabled people face in their daily lives. I think it’s a fantastic initiative because it allows people with different impairments to be honest about the things they find difficult. A lot of positives have come out of this campaign – positives that will hopefully help to make the world a better place.
Disabled people experience a lot of awkward moments. From being talked to in the 3rd person (the ‘Does he take sugar?’ syndrome), to the cringey comments that are all too often made about a person’s differences, those of us with disabilities often find ourselves in some squirmy situations. I want to tell you about some of the awkward
experiences I’ve had as a visually impaired person and how we can end the awkward.
‘So what do you think, Ben?’
‘I’m not Ben.’
The mix up. This has often happened to me when I’ve been at a party or anywhere else where there are lots of people to talk to. I identify people by their voice but not everyone sounds distinctive, especially if you don’t know the person well. Believe me, it’s embarrassing when you call someone by the wrong name. I’m fairly used to feeling stupid about it but it would be nice if it was a little less awkward…
The solution – When talking to someone who can’t see well, tell them who you are.
‘Yeah, I think it’s great. Sorry, I’m talking too much, aren’t I? So what do you think? … Ben? … Oh.’
Us blind people just love talking to thin air … NOT! I’ve often laughed at myself for this but in truth, it’s usually to disguise my awkwardness. I try not to imagine what others must think as they watch me talk to myself! When you can’t see, things get really confusing if you can’t work out if someone’s coming or going and it gets hellishly confusing with groups of people. The flip side of this awkward situation is that I end up not talking to a person who’s been standing next to me for ages. I know there must be lots of times when people have thought ‘Why isn’t she talking to me?’
Perhaps because I can’t see you, mate.
The solution – Simple. When talking to someone who can’t see well, tell them where you are. This doesn’t mean you have to stay with the person all the time, any excuse will do. Saying ‘I’m just going to get a drink / grab my phone / go and say hi to Ben’ is much better than walking off and leaving them to converse with empty space.
‘Is there somewhere for me to sit?’
‘Yeah, there’s a chair just here.’
‘There, to the right a bit.’
‘No, now go left. Straight in front of you.’
I get this a lot – the awkward trying to find things scenario. Having to feel around for something when you can’t see it isn’t fun, especially if I get things mixed up because I’m not being given clear instructions; on more than one occasion, I’ve almost ended up on someone’s lap because I’ve found a chair which turned out to be occupied. I imagine it’s pretty annoying for the person trying to help me as well, I can almost hear them thinking ‘Why doesn’t she know what here and there mean?’
The solution – ‘Here’ and ‘there’ are vague words to use with someone who can’t see because they’re not likely to know exactly where you’re referring to. Instead, try to give more specific instructions:
‘Take a few steps forward and then turn left.’
‘Your drink’s just in front of you.’
When you’re with someone who can’t see well, always tell them where things are – it makes everyone’s life easier!
‘You need to go left a bit.’
‘Thanks, I know where I’m go-‘
‘No, left a bit. Left, left!’
‘Let go of-‘
I get this a lot and I know I’m not the only one. There are lots of well-meaning folk who want to help, so they wade straight in and offer the benefit of their wisdom. Of course, they can see and I can’t, therefore I have no idea of where I’m going and the person feels that I need immediate rescue. And just to make sure I get the message, they’ll grab me and pull me in the right direction – or at least, where they think I want to go. I find this so awkward that I can’t stay calm in this situation. You see, the person who is trying to help doesn’t know where I’m wanting to go because they haven’t asked me. They’re taking me to where they think I want to go, which isn’t necessarily where I actually want to be. This means that sometimes they’re sending me in the wrong direction. It’s disorientating and it can take me a while to get my bearings again. Not only that – do you know how humiliating it is to be grabbed unexpectedly? Take it from me, being grabbed by a complete stranger is not a pleasant experience. It’s nice that there are so many people who are willing to help. If only they knew how to.
The solution – If you see someone who looks like they might need help, always ask before stepping in. That way, the person has chance to explain what kind of help they need and how you can be of assistance. By taking the time to ask first, your goodwill won’t go to waste.
To sum up then.
When you’re with someone with a visual impairment, tell them who you are, where you are, and where other things are. If you think they need help, always ask first. By doing these simple things, you’re helping to end the awkward.