Last week I posted on my facebook status a question about which blog topics friends, family and readers wish me to cover. One topic brought up a HUGE level of discussion from blind and sighted friends alike:
When is it appropriate for a sighted person to say no to a request from a blind family member or friend? When is saying no selfish? When should the blind relative/friend take responsibility for themselves and be as independent as possible?
I took to Twitter and asked the question, and the level of responses was astounding. Ultimately, the answers went something like this (and I am inclined to agree):
1) A blind person should do whatever they can to be independent, but (just like sighted people) may find certain skills hard or challenging. Ultimately, making a concerted effort without resounding success is one thing; not even bothering to try in the first place is another.
2) A sighted relative/friend is within their rights to say no to requests if the requests are too frequent, unreasonable, or for a task that the blind person is clearly able to do for him/herself.
3) It IS selfish to say no if the task cannot reasonably be completed by the blind person. For example, if a blind person tries to get a restaurant’s menu online before going out for dinner and finds it inaccessible (embedded picture menus are very common), leaving them twisting in the wind and asking an overworked waiter to read them the menu while you’re sitting right there is unreasonable.
That having been said, it all depends on the friendship or family dynamic. Many sighted people are too quick to step in and do for us what they THINK we cannot do for ourselves; others have super-independent blind friends or relatives who insist on doing everything even if it’s not expected, reasonable, or even requested. My relationship with my friends and family has generally clear boundaries, not because of my blindness or their vision, but because all relationships are give and take and (I hope) communicative. For example: I fold laundry in my house (whenever I get to it); Ben folds the socks. Ben HATES folding clothes, and I don’t mind putting my mad organizational skills to work figuring out how to squeeze that last T-shirt into the dresser drawer. It takes me FOREVER to fold socks, and even then I can’t be sure they match; what takes me an hour with mixed results takes Ben five minutes. We’ve found it a generally fair tradeoff. When it comes to restaurants, if I can’t get the menu online ahead of time, any sighted companion who is dining with me will read me the headings (soups, sandwiches, pastas, wraps) so I can get an overview of the menu without having the whole thing read to me when all I want is pizza.
At the end of the day, it’s up to me, and others, as blind people to do whatever we can reasonably do for ourselves, and politely advocate when things are unnecessarily being done for us; it’s up to friends or relatives to tell us when our requests for assistance are unreasonable (too frequent, cutting in to personal time, without reciprocity). For every person and relationship, the specifics will be different (I love that my husband can cook, but I do some mean cooking myself; others might find cooking scary, challenging, or incomprehensible, and that’s OK). At the end of the day, communication on both sides of the blind/sighted continuum will make boundaries and expectations perfectly clear. So to my blind readers: do what you can, make an effort, ask for help when needed, but be generous with your thanks and mindful of time commitments. To my sighted readers, love us enough to tell us when we ARE being unreasonably “needy”, ask us what you can assist with or if our struggling with a task is necessary so that we can improve it. To everyone, sighted and blind, be quick to listen and slow to speak harshly, and keep an open mind.