Friday, February 29, 2008

Blink navigation

I am a very independant person and don't like having to ask for help. There are times however, when it is prudent to reach out for a little help. These times include finding yourself in an unfamiliar setting or in the middle of some sort of blockade/construction/reroute.

No matter how well you plan ahead, you have to expect the unexpected. There have been times when I've planned my days errands and bus route connections only to find that the bus has been rerouted or the stop moved. If the new route/stop is off of my familiar path, it is very easy to become disoriented or even lost. I've had construction/street repair workers stop what they are doing and help me navigate safely to a more familiar route up to a block away. Very helpful souls.

If I am standing at an intersection that is not controlled by a light or the light is out, I've had drivers roll down their window and yell "It's safe to cross now lady!" This option is greatly preferred to those who honk or wave and assume that I know they are referring to me! One time I was standing at an intersection where an officer was directing traffic after an accident had put the traffic lights out. It was noisy and I couldn't hear him, nor could I see him motioning to me to come across. After a few minutes, he litterally stopped traffic, ran over to me and personally helped me cross safely! Now that's what I call "serve and protect"!

If I go into a store where I am not familiar with the layout and/or where to find a specific item, then it is usually faster to find customer service or a cashier and ask for assistance. If I know I will need assistance, I try to go early in the morning before they get busy and have even phoned ahead in some cases. Generally, the staff are very obliging and more than willing to help a customer. I've had clerks who have spent 20 - 30 minutes helping me go through all the Hallmark "Shoebox" cards, look for the perfect gift or find specialty items at a grocery store.

Then there are the clerks who really make you wonder which of you is blind. Several years ago, I went into a local discount store and asked a cashier where to find a certain item. She pointed in the general direction and said "Over there" Hmm... that makes sense. I couldn't help myself and said; "Excuse me, could you point a little louder please?" (I assimed she would get my meaning)

She pointed again and said "OVER THERE" in a louder voice. I was obviously speaking to the employee of the month! One more try. "Excuse me, do you know what this white cane represents?" She thought for a second and said; "You can't see?" Ah there may be hope. "Exactly, now would you please tell me where to find the item I came in for - without pointing and saying over there!"

Even with my low vision I could see that the lightbulb in her brain was finally lit and she realized how stupidly she had treated me. She appologized and called another clerk to take me to get what I needed.

I know it is easy to get complacent in a sighted world but the reality is there are millions with or without white canes who don't always see clearly. Your job as a sighted and supposedly inteligent human being is to be observant and be willing to step up and offer relevant/useful info to those of us who need a little help from time to time.

Honking your horn, shouting or pointing is not useful information to the blind/blinks of this world. We are visually impaired and the majority of us are NOT deaf.

Ah the joys of being visually impaired!


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