As college decision day approaches, prospective students and their families have been touring my college, trying to decide what school will be the best fit for them. Often times, college is the first time people are exposed to a large, diverse population, and it can seem overwhelming. Naturally, people are inquisitive and like to ask questions, sometimes not thinking about how to phrase them.
As I have been walking on campus, I have had many families approach me or loudly talk about me using a blindness cane, sometimes in a very rude way. It can be difficult to answer these questions, especially when they have negative or offensive tones, but education is one of the best ways to combat ignorance. Here are some of the questions I have been asked over the last two weeks by visitors, and how I answered them. I have been requested to add a trigger warning for what may be considered ableist slurs/language and offensive terms.
Whoah! Are you totally blind?
No, I have low vision and poor peripheral vision, meaning I have trouble seeing what’s around me. I use my blindness cane to help me analyze my environment and as a cue to other people that I can’t see very well.
Can you see me?
For some reason, I often hear this when people are standing right in front of me. I usually respond with “sort of” or “yes.” If it is someone who is convinced I can’t see anything, I usually find some feature that I can mention to them, for example a blue shirt or green backpack.
Look kids, a blind girl!
I was walking with a friend when someone yelled that in our direction. We didn’t want to yell back that I had some vision, because that would waste time. Instead, my friend yelled back “check it out, a sighted person!”
What’s with the sunglasses inside?
I wear tinted glasses to help with light sensitivity and glare. No, they aren’t transition lenses, they always are this color. I do wear sunglasses at night, like the song.
What’s your major? Oh, that’s not a real major
I’m studying assistive technology, which is a fairly uncommon major but there are many different careers available, so I will not have an issue finding a job after graduation. I have learned to give an example of what I will do after college, so when I say my major, I add that I am “studying to create tools for people with disabilities.” Often times, people then think my major is really cool!
How come she can see but uses a cane?
Another friend was asked this by an employee while we were at a restaurant. My friend explained I have some sight, but still rely on the cane frequently. A different friend responded by saying “she runs into less walls this way” or “it’s easier to figure out where she is based on the taps of the cane.”
Why do you disableds think you can just parade around campus?
People with disabilities fought very hard to be able to attend college, and we deserve to be here, just like everyone else. However, reacting with anger is not good, so instead I smiled and said “Welcome to my college, I hope you enjoy your visit here today!”
I didn’t know blind people could go to college!
I’ve answered this a couple of ways. For people that seem pleasantly surprised, I say that there are laws that make this possible, and I am grateful for the opportunity. When someone seems surprised in general, I just say “here I am!” And when someone seems greatly upset that someone with low vision can attend college, I just smile and move as quickly as I can from the situation.
You’re taking education away from someone who can see!
I got into this college not because of what I have, but who I am as a student. It had nothing to do with my low vision- my essay to admissions wasn’t even about my eyesight, it was about volunteer work. I’m not here because I can’t see.
Hey, can you give us directions to…oh nevermind
I’ve had several people approach me for directions, look at the cane, and quickly try to move away. I actually know this campus extremely well, and would be happy to help you find your way to wherever you need to go.