Chris Markiewicz's Blog
Every Monday – thoughts, observations and ideas that hold up a mirror to who & how we are

Oh, for a simpler life!

I went into a bank recently in order to pay a bill. It wasn’t my usual branch, so they didn’t know me. Also, I’d not filled in my payment slip as I didn’t have my reading specs with me.

I arrived at  the cashier’s window and, white cane in hand,  passed over the payment and slip and asked if she could fill in the details for me.

 “Any particular reason why  I should do that for you?” came the reply.

Now, I’ve learned over the years not to react in a stroppy or sarcastic way, so I simply pointed out  my cane to her and explained that I had difficulty seeing.

She immediately apologised and did the business for me.

When I related this story to Ingrid, my partner, that evening she made a very interesting point:

“Chris, you don’t look blind or visually impaired”

I realised that I’m probably often giving out a mixed message – one that I imagine is common among people with my particular condition (retinitis pigmentosa or “RP”). Because I can make eye contact with others, because my eyes look normal and because I am able to respond to their facial gestures – as long as they are centre of field – then people assume I can see well. I can look you in the eye, but I won’t see much else of you.

My guess is that my face and the eye contact I gave the cashier kind of “trumped” my white cane and she simply didn’t register it.

So, here I am occupying this twilight world which can invariably spawn such misunderstandings.

Some years ago, I recall helping a blind woman across the road. I told her that I was partially sighted. I fully expected her to respond by saying words to the effect that I was fortunate to have some vision where she had none. Yet, her response surprised me (at the time): “My goodness”, she said, “that must be awful”. It was only later that I realised she must be referring to the fact that I am caught between these two worlds of seeing and not seeing.

By the way, let me make clear that, of course having some sight is far better than none at all, yet that woman was able to identify the frustrations of treading this middle path.

Little wonder others can get confused with mixed messages that I send out and at times don’t even spot my white cane. It will have been so easy for me to react aggressively with the bank cashier or get on my high horse around her lack of sensitivity towards a disabled person. Given she was the one with all her faculties intact, I could have jumped to the judgment that she “should” have seen that I was disabled and helped me without question.

She may even have had RP herself without even being aware of it! In my “pre-diagnosis” years, I daresay I will have inadvertantly hacked off any number of people without realising it.

So, what’s the answer? Permanently wear dark glasses? Look vacantly into the distance in order to appear visually impaired?

NO, I’d feel awful doing that. I guess I need to remain patient and understand why the misunderstanding may have occurred (with thanks to Ingrid’s  observation). Then to explain and, I hope educate those who fall in to the “trap” while dealing with me.

And next time I go into a bank or similar situation I’ll phrase things a little differently:

“I have a visual impairment, would you be able to fill the slip in for me?”

Oh, for a simpler life!

See ya! (or at least, part of ya!).




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