Here is a question for you – Do you think you can tell the severity of someone’s disability just by looking at them?
Obviously there are certain indicators – wheelchair, white stick, Guide Dog, using Sign Language for the Deaf, missing limbs, etc – which will make the person’s disability obvious.
However, there are times when the disability is hidden – someone wearing hearing aids, for example.
Then you have the category I come under. I wear glasses (and if you are an optician you can tell my prescription just by looking at my lenses – even though they are a lot thinner than they would normally be) but you would never guess that I am Registered Partially Sighted under normal circumstances.
Trust me on that one – at one job interview I was asked a question about the last film I had seen. To say cinemas and I don’t mix is something of an understatement (I have only found one cinema I can cope with in Leicester but the screen I am most comfortable in happens to be the most expensive one). When I said I was Registered Partially Sighted the interviewer said “you don’t look it”.
There are certain instances where the exact severity of my sight problems become alarmingly obvious. However, I have tricks and ways around most situations which cause me problems. Put it this way – if I ask for your help with something I have reached the outer limits of my abilities.
Living in the “grey area” between being classed as “normal” and being classed as “disabled” (except when it comes to the legal definition) can make life interesting and annoying in equal measure. Interesting because of the reaction I get from people who think they have known me for a very long time when they find out about the challenges I face day to day (this can provide me with hours of amusement – I think it is what’s classified as “hiding in plain sight” – pun intended). Annoying because I find I have to qualify everything I say – particularly in reviews of places – by saying that I realise my sight is worse than most people. A perfect example is Birmingham New Street Station (I was quite amazed when I found out that one of my friends from Twitter had the same problems as me – How Long Will It Take??? has the results of that experience).
There is another thing which upsets me greatly about being in the famous “grey area”. I have found that my exact sight problems are very rarely covered when it comes to the “legal Statutory minimum” covered in laws regarding access to places. In fact, in some cases, I have found that the measures put in place to meet the criteria are the exact opposite of what would make life easier for me.
If you have read my personal blog you will know that I value experience over qualifications. There are occasions where the problem being discussed doesn’t appear in any textbook (this seems to be the story of my life sometimes) so practical experience can be more useful than theoretical knowledge.
I am an open book as far as my sight is concerned – ask me about it and I will tell you (unfortunately I cannot lend you my eyeballs so you can experience it for yourself) all I ask is that you listen with an open mind.
Just remember that not all disabilities are obvious – and the exact severity can also be hidden. The lady who has asked you to read the menu (attached to the wall behind you) might not only be literate and fluent in the English language – she might also be able to make her opinion of you known in more than one language if she so chooses. (Especially if that lady is me.)
Don’t judge by what you immediately see.