By Christine Malec
Last weekend I answered my door to receive
a delivery. The man said I had to sign for it.
“I’m blind, can
you show me where to sign?” I asked.
There was a few beats of silence. “Oh, I
wouldn’t have known if you hadn’t told me,” he said with faint surprise.
I smiled automatically, but as I took the
stylus and signed on the digital line, I was trying to figure out exactly why
his remark made me feel so ill-at-ease.
He’d meant it as a compliment, but it
didn’t feel like one. He was trying to say I look “normal.” I’d been fretting
about whether it was okay to answer the door in my lounging around the house
clothes, but once he knew I was blind, it was like I was suddenly in a
different category of woman, which I guess is ok in one way, my ratty 20-year-old
shirt was less important. It reminded me of the time this absolutely sincere woman
on the street said, “Wow, you’re dressed really nicely for a blind woman!” Gauche,
but faultlessly genuine.
It’s not that I want people to know I’m
blind just by looking at me, or that I don’t want them to know, or that I have
any particular opinion about it at all. However, delivery guy’s attitude, which
wasn’t unique, made it seem that my blindness is something I would want to
conceal. For me, the subtext kind of felt like, “Don’t worry, your family
doesn’t need to hide you in the attic.”
Part of his confusion arose from the innate
human need to categorize the world. He was briefly stumped by someone who looked,
“normal,” but was in fact someone he felt must be quite different from himself.
It was a moment of dissonance for him, one that spread to include me as I
closed the door and tried to deconstruct my feelings.
I don’t mean to ridicule poor delivery guy;
I’m sure he’s a really nice person, and meant only kindness. It’s far from the
first time I’ve encountered this view of my blindness, but it’s been a while,
and I was struck by the layers of meaning in his remark, and my reaction to it.
On the whole, it didn’t make me feel better
about myself. Though it wasn’t his intention, it made me more—not less—conscious
of the barriers that exist for blind people in the world. If we’d chatted long
enough he’d probably have come to see me as just some lady: a person with
likes, dislikes, quirks, talents, weaknesses, and strengths. We didn’t though,
and I was left with a troubling perspective on some of the things that happen
when I’m just going through my day and “getting it done.”