Have you ever encountered a blind person and felt uncomfortable and didnâ€™t know how to act?
You are not alone. As a blind person, most of the people I meet donâ€™t know what to do when they meet me. They are somehow afraid of helping us. I became blind when I was 7 months old, so I have been blind almost all my life. I came to the U.S. from Oman in 2009 to complete my higher education as a computer science major at CSU.
Iâ€™m writing this article to help people understand better about blind people and give them a clear idea to work with blind people more effectively. Blind people are just normal individuals like everyone else. Interacting with blind students should not be an obstacle.
People are not aware of what they can do to help blind people, not because they donâ€™t want to help but because they are afraid of offending us. I asked my friend Christine Difato, a Ph.D student at the University of Exeter in the UK, about the most difficult challenges she has encountered as a blind individual. She replied by saying, â€œOne of the most difficult challenges for me, personally, is when a person is so concerned about making a mistake that they wonâ€™t approach me â€¦â€
It seems to me that sighted people already have their own assumptions as to what a world without vision must be like and sometimes the fear of offending us prevents them from interacting with us more effectively.
Another main problem that other blind students and I encounter is when we go somewhere with our aids. When we ask a question, people talk to the sighted person instead of us. I asked my friend Auda Hazeem about his experiences working as an aid for the blind and if the sighted people hold conversations with him instead of the blind person he is helping. Hazeem said, â€œThey almost always do. I nicely ask them to address the blind person directly as he or she can understand, answer and interact without me being in the middle of the interaction.â€
Being empathetic can help a lot to understand how to interact with a blind person. I asked a classmate about his viewpoint of blind people, he said: â€œHonestly the only blind person I have met was you â€¦ I kind of just was trying to picture what the world would be like for me if I couldnâ€™t see.â€
In this studentâ€™s case, he had never encountered a blind person before me, but he used empathy to interact comfortably with me. Empathy goes a long way when dealing with blind people.
I interviewed a student at CSU who has had over 20 years experience growing up with a blind sister. The advice she gave in the interview was to â€œremember their disability is that they canâ€™t see, but they can hear, they can think, they can walk, they can answer for themselves, they can read and that they are capable of most anything anyone else can do but in a different way.â€
A person interacting with blind people must make a serious effort to understand the nature of the challenges presented by visual impairment. Blind people represent a valuable human resource, which has been ignored by societies because of a lack of understanding and empathy. After all, we are just like you.
Noah Al Hadidi is a freshman computer science major.