Who’s on first?

I had an Abbott & Costello moment as I volunteered at a food pantry.  As I was unloading boxes and stacking the contents into sorted groups, the confusion began.

“Oh, we have too many of these and we need some over there,” was told to me.
Hard Reality #1, blind folks are not sure when a person is speaking to them. All too often, a person walks by and says, “Hello! How are you?” We begin to answer as the certain someone, the person was directing the greeting towards, then answers. The person and the blind person both feel awkward. “Oh, I was saying ‘Hi’ to you, too!” is a common response I’ve dealt with as of the last few years. In a way, it is a conditioned response for us to wait to be named or we clarify, “Are you speaking to me?” “Ah, no, I was saying ‘Hi’ to my friend.: is what we get back the majority of the time.
“I’m blind. Are you speaking to me: I asked.  “Yes, yes, half of this needs to go over there.”
Hard Reality #2 Words like “There”, “These”, “Those”, “Over there”, “That”, “Here”, “This”,and other ambiguous terms mean very little to blind people. We are not stupid. Now wait, some blind people are stupid but it has nothing to do with their blindness. Our eyes don’t work correctly. If a table exists five feet away, it might as well be forty feet away because we don’t know it exists unless we are told. A circus clown could be waving at us and unless the clown is squeezing their honking nose, we would never know.
I stop the person and explain that open term like “these” or “there” do not detail what is expected.
 “I am blind. I need you to be specific. Are you talking about the stacks of mash potatoes or the stacks of hash browns?”
“Yes.”
Attempting to clarify, “Both?” “No, these ones.”

Hard Reality #3 There are not a lot of blind people in public life. People with disabilities are like unicorns or mythical creatures. Crazy comparison? I’ll prove my point. An average person finds out I’m blind, 98% of the time they tell me about a blind person they saw once. How many times do you see a blind person shopping at a retail store. Thank you. I proved my argument. Rainbows are more frequent than blind people in public. Spotting a blind person is like seeing a rainbow. If the person is deaf AND blind, you got yourself a double rainbow there! Given the status of public transportation in certain geographic areas, getting around in the community has its challenges. Going to the store, work, doctor, or to volunteer can be problematic. Jennifer took off work so I could volunteer.

Buying into my assertion that the general public has rare opportunities to interact with people with disabilities, awkward circumstances can occur. I don’t fault able bodied individuals for not knowing the etiquette and not every person with a disability will interact in the same way.
In the now cancelled NBC show “Growing Up Fisher”, one of the priceless lines the lead character used when interacting with a person in the general public, “In case you are blind, I’m blind.” Ask my buddy Jason Rudd, telling someone that “I am blind” was very difficult. It is a Hard Reality that we, as people with disabilities, have trouble dealing with over time. We don’t want to be prejudged so I used to say, “I’m visually impaired” which Rudd pointed out means “zero” to the average person. “You have to tell them in words they understand. What does visually impaired mean? They don’t know. Say you are blind and work from there.” Good advice that I use. By the way, Mr. MaGoo was visually impaired.
“Ok, so there is another table and it is where?” I asked.
“The table is over there.” the person stated.
“Yeah, that doesn’t mean anything to me. I need to know where the table is located specifically,”” I restated.
“Next to the other tables.” the person explains.
Hard Reality #4 Like any other person, people with disabilities have anxiety and internal dialogues. My heart rate increased and I could feel myself begin to shut down. I am volunteering because I want to prove that I can still contribute and I’m just trying to fit in.
After a deep breath, “I am not understanding what you would like me to do.”
“There are too many of these and they need to be over there,” the individual “details” to me.
With my eye brows raised, “I am sorry but I’m blind. I need you to tell me where the table is – exactly.”
The person says, “Behind me.”
“How far behind you?” I inquire.
“A few feet,” the person replies.
“Ok, how many boxes need to go to the table behind you?” I ask.
“Oh, about half,” the person says.
Not wanting to give up, “Ok. you say half but do you mean half of what I have unboxed and stacked or half of ALL of the mash potatoes?”
“Oh, half of the mashed potatoes. Can you understand that?” the person asked to me.
Do you remember the old school Bruce Banner when he started to get mad and you could see he was about to turn into the Incredible Hulk? I was there but my shades masked the internal fire that blazed from my eyes.
“Do you want me to continue to unbox the mash potatoes?”
“If you want,” the person states.
“Ok, here’s my idea. I’ll unbox the rest of the mash potatoes and stack them. Once I do that, I’ll move half to the table behind you. Does that work?”
“I guess.” the person says as they walk away.
In my head, I pictured the images of Costello ripping the hat from his head while Abbott explained the name of the guy on First Base. I tore open the boxes of mash potatoes and stacked the individual boxes. My skin became less green.
Hard Reality #5 A huge majority of people who are blind are unemployed or under employed. There are many reasons. Now, I gave up on my dream to be a Driving School Instructor and I’ve set my sights on being a Social Worker. I applaud the people who are blind and have jobs. Being employed reinforces self worth and dignity. Contributing to the community, also, has superb value. While we can be seen as often as the Unicorn, people with disabilities are very real. We want to be included. We want that opportunity.
I would like to write further; however, a chupacabra is stopping by for lunch.

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