Can You See Me?

by Yvonne B. Garris

As a person who is legally blind, I often wonder if the public even sees people with disabilities, specifically blindness. I say this because I have been on both sides of the sighted coin. I lost most of my sight back in 2004 due to illness. When I started working on becoming independent and walking with my white cane, it became painfully obvious to me how ignorant the public is when it comes to blindness.
I will start with the basics. When you see a person with a white cane, that means they are visually impaired. They may or may not have some sight. Never grab a person’s white cane; it is the equivalent of grabbing our eyes. Next, unless asked, please do not just come and grab and drag us. How would you like it if someone came up and grabbed you? Do not assume that we need help. Generally, people with disabilities strive to be independent, and many times we have our own ways of doing things. It is fine to offer help, but please do not be offended if we say no.
The main reason I am writing this article is to point out how easy it would be for companies to make small changes that would help the visually impaired. If more companies would consider universal design, that would be helpful to all people.
When I started traveling on my own, it amazed me how the world forgets the visually impaired and how easy it would be to include them. Things like audible pedestrian signals, or making the curb cutouts rough so the visually impaired can tell where the sidewalk ends and the street begins, are just small steps our cities could take. One of the best things that has come is the electronic signature guide; it gives me a small, slim block of space to put my signature in. When I need to sign a paper, I have no idea where I should sign, so please be aware that I may need help finding the line.
Granted, the visually impaired population is small. But it is growing, and companies need to start paying attention and finding ways to include this population. One idea is to have a visually impaired person help the company design their public spaces, or at least give ideas as to what is helpful to a person who is visually impaired. Who better to help design than the people that are going to be using the facility? If you do not know a person who is visually impaired, call your local blind association. I am more than happy to help, since that is part of my job.
The visually impaired population is not asking for the world. We are just asking to been seen as equals. With a few easy modifications, this can happen. Ours is not an invisible disability. You know that we are visually impaired because we have a white cane or a guide dog. Please learn these two symbols and help us overcome the barriers that should be easy to break down. So I ask again, do you see me? Because more than likely I do not see you. When you do not notice my white cane or guide dog, how do I know where “over there” is? Please, America, open your eyes and see me.