A Comedy of Errors


Sometimes Blindness is in the Eye of the Beholder

“Does it smell, dear?” She was a sweet elderly lady, who seemed genuinely puzzled about why I was sniffing umbrella handles in the dollar store. In reality, of course, I was checking prices — but how was she to know?

At first glance, people don’t always realize I have a vision disability — actually, I’m legally blind. Though my glasses are large, I don’t carry a cane or have a dog — the universal trappings of “the blind.” I do not see well at any distance, but can see amazingly small details if I can get things close enough.

The umbrella incident wasn’t the first time my low vision caused confusion, and it won’t be the last. The average Canadian knows little about the varying degrees of blindness. I’ve been mistaken for having totally normal vision on numerous occasions, with a variety of entertaining, embarrassing or painful consequences.

Like the time a delivery man thought he’d save himself a few steps by tossing me a parcel. To his consternation, my split lip bled with copious abandon.

And my so-called friends have been known to entertain themselves at my expense on many occasions. My introduction to Mexican food occurred in a dimly forgettable little establishment in a very unforgettable way. I should have been suspicious when an otherwise greedy friend generously offered me her dill pickle. I now love jalapeno peppers, but it was definitely baptism by fire as I took that first big bite!

When I’m out shopping with friends, I usually note what they are wearing so that finding them later isn’t a problem. Trust me when I tell you this has not proved to be the failsafe system I’d like. Once at a Wal-Mart in Columbus, Ohio, I stayed close to a dark-haired girl in a red shirt for half an hour before I realized it was the wrong red-shirted girl. The right red-shirted girl was actually following me, vastly enjoying herself at my expense.

Once I was admiring the gorgeous fringed leather jacket on a manikin at Thrifty’s. The manikin turned out to be quite alive, and not at all impressed that I was pawing his coat! If I had been a man I’d probably have been punched out. As it was, he of the fringed leather stalked away snarling, leaving me skulking in utter humiliation.

I’ve fallen up stairs (and down them), walked into glass doors, and hugged people I don’t know. Once, in my childhood, I even hit a stroller with my bike — until my mother reads this, she will not have heard of this frightening event. Though the baby was unharmed, her parents gave me an earful.

Through it all, I continue to assert that white canes are for blind people, and since I’m not blind, I don’t need one. This is not denial — most of the time I really don’t. Though there are times I do wish people could know about my disability without the necessity of a long explanation.

One American company thinks it has the solution — it’s a three-inch pin sporting high-contrast print that proclaims to the world (or at least anyone who has normal vision and can read) that I am a “visually impaired person.” (A pin crafted by a woman in Port Elgin, Ontario, which features a “checkered eye” emblem rather than a blatant announcement, is just a little more subtle.)

Though there’s no question that sometimes people knowing about my low vision would make things easier, for now I think I’ll just keep it to myself and let people be surprised. Life might be more hazardous, but it’ll also be much more fun!

(Avril Rinn lives in London, Ontario.)

Share with us the lighter side of living with a disability! Send your contribution (700 words) to: The Lighter Side, ABILITIES, 489 College St., Ste. 501, Toronto, ON, M6G 1A5; fax to: (416) 923-9829; or e-mail: able@abilities.ca.


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