As soon as I needed it the most, my talking scale just quit working. Since a scale is essential to controlling my weight in between dialysis treatments, I ventured off to Walmart to purchase a cheap digital scale while I waited for the one I ordered online. Since becoming visually-impaired, and surrendering my driver’s license, I don’t drive anymore, and had to ask my parents to take me. My mom, in her cognitive dissonance, still thinks I am malingering after five surgeries on my eye. So, she drops me off in front of the store and proceeds to…just leave me there.
Initially, I thought okay, she knows I can’t see well.But she thinks I am faking, so I will just use my phone as a magnifier. No big deal. Problem solved right? Wrong. Because even after three years of living with a visual impairment, the anxiety that grips me in unfamiliar territories is crippling. I usually make it through the fear with labored breathing techniques. But this time felt different because with the fear comes disappointment and abandonment. Too much to process while looking for a scale. So I did what I usually do in this situation. I asked a sales associate for help.
According to the Americans with Disabilities Act, (ADA) retail establishments by law have to provide reasonable accomodations to patrons with disabilities. The store manager is commissioned by law with the task of assisting anyone with a disability. However, because of my free spirit (stubbornness) and desire to maintain my independence, I always hesitate to ask for help.
Perhaps that is the one thing spirit is teaching me in this seasonIn my journey, I have met a few people with various disabilities. Amputees, learning disorders, others who are visually impaired, and hearing impaired. The method of helping them is as varied as the impairment itself. I once had a client who was an amputee, and she would get offended when someone held the door open for her. She struggled with feelings of worthlessness because she was dependent on her family to care for her. I had a friend who was visually impaired for ten years and still depended on his adult daughter to care for him. However, on the contrary I knew a man who was visually and hearing impaired who ran an entire department at a major corporation while caring for his family. I personally held my own in a major city for myself and my son while navigating the novelty of my condition.
I had help. I had friends who were my physical eyes when I needed them. My village knew instinctively I suppose the right amount of help to give me. It was always just enough for me to complete the task i was facing, while maintaining my sense of independence. Thae acknowledgement of my independent spirit, coupled with the compassion for the transition I was undergoing was a tremendous blessing for me. Because eventually I learned how to do what I was asking others to help me with. When I initially lost my sight, I went through a grieving period. For months. it was a struggle for me to even get out of bed. I was “laying and waiting, I was waiting for God to heal me. for doctors to find a solution, or for my self-pity stage to pass. When I stopped waiting, I started learning. In one year, I have learned how to use accessibility software so effectively I am ready to return to work.
There is a delicate balance one must learn to walk in dealing with people with disabilities. It’s a sensitive subject. Whether that person was born disabled or like me, became disabled due to an illness or injury. It’s important to remember they are an important part of humanity and deserve respect and compassion. They may or may not know how they wish to be handled. They may still be grieving their previous life. They may be bitter, depressed, angry, or just plain sad. The most thoughtful thing you can do is just ask them how you can help. I had a friend once whose daughter had just given birth to his first grandchild. He sent me a text sharing the news. He knew I had trouble seeing, but in his excitement he wanted to share the the picture with me.
“Nikki. I’m torn,” he writes. “On one hand, I want to treat you like you are normal. On the other hand, I am sensitive to the fact that you may not be able to see it well. I don’t know what to do.”
My reply: “Thank you for being so thoughtful. Treat me like I am normal and I will let you know when what you are asking of me exceeds my abilities.”