I don’t hide the fact that I’m partially sighted. But I don’t advertise it either. Most people don’t realise I have any sight issues at all until I tell them. There are a lot of reasons for this. First, I’m naturally qute shy and I grew up in an environment where you didn’t talk about your problems or your health issues, you hid them away and just got on with things. Not necessarily the best policy in general, but that’s another matter. Second, I don’t like to be pre-judged. I don’t want people to think of me first and foremost as the blind person. Especially in my career, where I want to establish myself for my own success, not be known as the person with the white stick who needs help crossing the road. I don’t mind people knowing, but I don’t want to be known FOR it. Thirdly, walking around with a white stick leads people to treat you differently. Being young, you tend to attract a lot of sympathy. People think “oh what a shame, there’s a blind girl and she’s only young.” People try to help you across the road. Which leads to probably the most crucial point. If you’re completely blind and have no sight at all, it’s much easier for people to understand your needs. You know roughly what they need help with and what they don’t. If you carry a white stick but at the same time you sit reading a book, it confuses people. They can’t work out who or what you are, what help you need from them, and in the worst case, they think you’r some kind of fraud. “I saw her getting books out of the library the other day, she can’t really be blind. I bet it’s just an excuse to get a free bus pass.”
When I first started losing my sight, I was very reluctant to use any kind of aid. I didn’t want to be branded a stereotypical blind person with sunglasses and a white stick. I need the sunglasses when I’m out and about and it’s even marginally sunny or bright. Actually O can see better with them all the time outside, but I don’t always bother. Then I was convinced into using a stick by the various health workers and so on who trained me, in the interests of my own safety. Apparently if I get knocked down by a car when I’m crossing the road, even if it is the driver’s fault entirely, I could get sued by the driver if I’m not using a white stick, because I’m an accident risk or something. Never understood that one…. I did start to use a stick, and felt very self conscious, especially in front of my friends. But I found it useful especially at night. That, however, led to a new dilemma. It felt stupid to be using a stick at night but not during the day. Not from my point of view, but from the point of view of other people. I kept thinking my beighbours must be wondering why on earth sometimes I’d happily walk down the street unaided and at other times I’d be there tapping with my stick. I started to become more self conscious, especially if I was out and about as the darkness started to fall and I’d have to get the stick out. Eventually I just stopped using it at all, especially as I got used to feeling with my foot for steps and learning the layouts of the various routes I typically take. I don’t often go to unfamiliar places in total darkness on my own. If I have to, then I walk very very slowly and feel for every step with my foot or use my hands to guide me alongside a wall or building. I’m still not very good at asking for help when I’m out with my friends at night. Those who know me very well will just offer their arm or ask if I need a hand, which is by far the best way. Otherwise it depends – sometimes I’ll ask them for help. Sometimes they’ll just set off and I’ll feel too nervous or self conscious to ask for help. If there’s someone with me, it’s easier as I can use them as a guide even if I’m not actually holding their arm. If it’s absolutely pitch black (to me, which is different from pitch black to most people) then I’ll probably ask for help. It’s something I need to work on, just asking straight away when it’s dark – or any time I need it – if someone will assist me. I don’t know why I have such a problem with it. I guess it’s just an admission of my vulnerability, and that’s a side of me I hate to show, except to very close friends.