Veronica With Four Eyes

Dealing With Paparazzi/Unwanted Attention: College O&M

Shortly before my second year of college, I received a few orientation and mobility lessons for learning how to navigate with low vision and a blindness cane. These lessons were helpful for learning general travel skills, but I noticed they didn’t get into specifics about navigating college campuses or using university resources available for students with vision loss. One lesson that would have been really helpful is how to deal with unwanted attention or harassment from other students related to me using a blindness cane, so I’ve created the College O&M series to share my most-used tips and strategies for learning about this topic and others. Here are my tips for handling campus paparazzi and unwanted attention that comes from me using a blindness cane with low vision, and how I handle unexpected questions from students and other bystanders.

Some background

I attend a large public university that has a large number of students with low vision and blindness, as well as several students that use blindness canes to navigate campus. However, for many students, I am the first person with a blindness cane or obvious visual impairment that they ever encounter, and some of them have walked up to me and said that I wasn’t using my blindness cane as they think I should be using it. I’ve even had students accuse me of faking my low vision because they saw me using a phone, though I took this as an opportunity to teach them about assistive technology.

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Should I just ignore it?

One of the questions I receive from younger students with visual impairments is if they should ignore people asking them questions about their sight loss, or if they should ignore people who make comments or take photos of them. I tell the students that this is up to them, and they do not owe anyone an explanation of their visual impairment, medical condition, or other private information. Since I run a public blog about visual impairment and assistive technology, I am very open about my condition and am fine with answering questions and engaging with people who are respectful and willing to learn.

If a student feels unsafe or threatened, there is no pressure to answer questions and students can report unsafe or suspicious behavior to campus security or Disability Services- I talk more about how I reported an incident later on in this post.

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Formulate responses for frequent questions

One of the things that helped me prepare for using a blindness cane in college was formulating responses for frequent questions that people might ask me, since my visual impairment was more obvious than before. It helped me to write down the most frequent questions and practice with reading and writing different answers so that when the time came, I could answer questions with confidence and accuracy. I highly recommend checking out my ongoing series “How I Respond To Questions/Comments” for examples of questions that people have asked me.

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Encourage people to do their own research

As much as I would love to tell people all about how I use my phone or operate the ice cream machine in the dining hall with low vision, I don’t have time to educate everyone. Instead of just telling people to look something up, I give them a brief explanation and tell them where they can learn more. For example, when a student randomly asked me in the dining hall how I would watch a movie with low vision, I said that I use audio description and suggested that they look up further information on the topic.

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Teach friends to be active bystanders

When I’m out with my friends and people start asking us questions about how I am able to do a certain task or how well I can see, my friends know how to answer these questions in simple terms and, if needed, help me move away from the person asking the questions if they are being rude. For example, when I was in a bagel shop with my friend S, the employee kept asking us if I really needed a blindness cane and how well I could see. S responded by saying I have some usable vision, and my blindness cane helps keep me from running into things. They also reassured the employee that I was perfectly capable of ordering and eating a bagel without assistance, and suggested that we go eat in another part of the building, which I later found out was because of the employee’s questions.

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If you feel uncomfortable, contact Disability Services

While I am lucky that a majority of my interactions with students on campus are positive, there have been a few negative interactions with others who feel that I do not know about my own condition. One of these people was a street preacher standing in the center of campus who screamed at me that if I just followed their advice, my visual impairment would be cured. They then tried to grab my cane while I was walking and get my attention while shouting various offensive statements about vision loss. I immediately reported the incident to campus security and Disability Services, as I felt that this visitor might target other students with vision loss and shout the same things at them.

In that incident, I chose not to engage with the visitor because I didn’t want them to get the idea that this was an acceptable way to talk to people, and they were clearly trying to get a reaction from me and other students around me- I wasn’t interested in becoming a viral video or having the person retaliate. Disability Services responded by banning this person from campus and I never saw them again.

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How to report photos taken without consent on social media

My friend X (who goes to a different college) had their photo taken without their consent of them in a campus building using their phone and holding their blindness cane. They found out about this after their roommate saw the photo and they asked me how to get the photo removed. The exact process will depend on the website, but almost all social media websites allow users to report an image or post by saying it is sensitive and an unauthorized photo or video. There’s also an option to report it as being abusive or harmful towards a protected class, which disability is considered, though we chose to go the first route.

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Other tips for handling paparazzi and unwanted attention

  • The majority of unwanted comments and attention usually take place the first two weeks of the fall semester, and after that I have very few experiences with students asking questions or staring
  • I don’t change my behavior to match what other people expect a blindness cane user to do/look like- I still use my phone, talk to friends, or look around while walking
  • One of the ways I improved my confidence about using a blindness cane on campus and worrying about people staring at me was to get custom colored blindness canes that I could match to my outfits- learn more in How To Order Custom Colors for Blindness Canes

I'm not their biggest fan, but they follow me anyway- here is how I deal with unwanted attention from using a blindness cane with low vision