Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Don't Be Embarrassed, Just Be Their Eyes

It was embarrassing. I was undone. I kept my composure but also kept my voice at a very low volume. I hoped no one could hear us. Most of all, I hoped no one was paying attention to what we were doing and that we weren't making a scene. The last thing I wanted was for people to see her being needy because in fact, she was definitely not needy.

What brought about the anecdote was an evening's adventure to Fisherman's Wharf with my second cousin - who had glaucoma. She had explained that she had it. My interpretation was that her vision was cloudy - period. She still continued to drive, according to her accounts. In fact, she did drive me to some locations and took me sightseeing when I visited The City in order to attend the Accepted Students Reception. But the idea that she had very little sight and that she could no longer read things for herself, even with the assistance of glasses, completely escaped me.

I was beside myself. I survived. I gossiped to my mother that I was completely mortified with embarrassment. Mother said little about the matter but asked probing questions. In hindsight, the questions were probably so that she could call Irene and blather what I'd said about the evening, thus distressing Irene. I don't know. What I do know is that Irene looked forward to our having more adventures, especially with the way I threw in the unexpected to create fun, excitement, and laughter.

That brings me to my point. Few people understand essentially any of the illnesses that impact our society until the illness becomes personal in some way. Even when it's personal, as it affects a relative, we still don't understand. We simply accept the relative as who they are with a little extra on the side. It takes their explaining the illness, the accommodations, how it impacts them, and how the world is now that it's altered by the illness. It takes our understanding by listening carefully and asking the right questions in order to understand. It takes our being responsible by acting according to the ramifications that are impacting the kin and being respectful of them. And it requires that we do as much as possible to educate ourselves to speak and act in an appropriate manner. That's why I'm talking to you about one aspect of low vision I want to lead you to a few resources that aid in understanding the disease and a few other resources that will help you gain the training to know what the person is experiencing so that you can be both their assistant as well as their friend.

It wasn't until I began doing volunteer and accommodation provider work for the low vision and blind community that any comprehension of what they experience became part of my understanding. It was absolutely appropriate for me to read the menu to Irene. Because she trusted me, it was entirely alright for me to help her select the correct dollar bills so that our tab could be paid and the appropriate tip left for our server.

We didn't talk about Irene's glaucoma. Instead, we talked about her experiences as an R.N., her teaching career, her students, her travels to foreign countries and what she experienced. She spoke of a sweetheart who took her on a trip. But that was the end of the reference. For me, he never had a name. She was excited for me because, aside from her, I was the second person in all of the family of our generations who had completed a bachelor's degree and then strove to earn an advanced degree in a profession. She wanted to help me prepare for the battles that lay ahead for a woman making her way through advanced studies.

The Resnick Lighthouse for the Blind had many trainings for their volunteers. The purpose was to help them comprehend the different types of diseases that impact individuals and cause them to have either low vision or to go blind. The trainings also involved appreciating what a day in the life of a person with no vision is like. There were exercises to assist in that awareness. A speaker who is blind shared what her life is like and was willing to answer any questions about her life that would help the group better understand the various circumstances that impact her life.

What the group gleaned from the exercises and the presentation is that a person with no vision or impaired sight is just like anyone else. The trouble was that the blind have a permanent mask over their eyes that blocks the vision and cannot be removed. All other concerns are essentially the same as any other person's.
We Lighthouse volunteers also had the opportunity to learn about using a cab, making transfers by use of a paddle (for those who use wheelchairs or do not have the use of their legs), how to listen for traffic signals (talking light and talking signs), and how to be sighted guides.

Things made a lot of sense after that education. There was no need to have been embarrassed on Fisherman's Wharf nor anywhere on account of Irene's glaucoma. It was merely a new way to appreciate her and the things that become part of one's life. Actually, no type of impairment is reason to be embarrassed either as the person with the condition nor as the friend, provider of services, nor relation. Depending on how determined the person is, you may find yourself panting in order to keep up with them!

Resources:

Sponsored link: Glaucoma, The Complete Guide: The Definitive Guide to Managing Your Condition and Saving Your Sight
Sponsored link: Understanding Glaucoma (Home Use)

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