A few weeks ago, a woman named Jasmine Chen wrote a sensational post about spilling her drink in a restaurant and instantly overhearing murmurs about how she was blind. The strangers around her automatically assumed she had spilled her drink because she couldn’t see it and not because she was distracted by an engaging conversation.
A few months prior to this, one of my blind Facebook friends got her sighted husband to conduct a personal research study. She asked him to sit in a public place and watch the people around him do simple tasks. She wanted to know how often sighted people make average mistakes like dropping things, tripping over nothing, or spilling drinks. The list he came up with was lengthy to the point of ridiculous, and he only watched for about fifteen minutes. He also stated that he would have seen many more flail moments if he hadn’t had to keep stopping to write them down.
Flail moments, like spilling a drink or dropping your phone, are natural byproducts of being human. They’re embarrassing and comical and completely normal. But only for sighties. As soon as a blind person has one of these moderately ungraceful moments, the world writes it off as a side effect of being blind. As if being uncoordinated is remotely connected to having sight.
If I trip over my own feet or stumble on a curb, I grit my teeth, power through the pain, and swiftly keep walking. My only thought is “holy crap, I hope no one saw that!” Because if anyone does see it, they swoop down on me like a mob of sighted saviors and fuss until I escape them. They assume I tripped because I am blind and incompetent, not because I was texting and not paying attention.
If one of my sighted friends trips and hurts themselves, they are annoyed at the people ignoring them because they’re on their phones. They appreciate acknowledgment of the injury, because there is no stigma attached.
Blind people flail in exactly the same way as sighted people. We might even flail a little less, because it gets made into such a big deal when we do. We drop our phones because they slip out of our hands, just like the rest of you. We trip over our own feet because, like you, we have better things to do than place every step with care. We spill the occasional drink because our minds are elsewhere and gravity likes to humiliate unsuspecting people. One day it will get you, too.
Be kind, and be aware.
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