October is Meet the Blind Month, a month the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) has established as a time for communities across the country to come together with blind members of the NFB and learn about blindness, blindness resources and more (www.nfb.org).
Here in Ruston it may seem like every month is Meet the Blind Month, as many of you have daily encounters with blind people. However, this month is unique in that several events around the community are happening to help blind members and our communities learn more about each other.
These events around Ruston include blind people going to schools in Lincoln Parish and reading Braille books to elementary students. Blind seniors will be attending local retirement communities to provide information on programs for blind and visually impaired seniors. A fashion show involving several local stores and boutiques and blind models will take place at 7 p.m. Oct. 22 at the Trinity Center (all proceeds will benefit the Junior Auxiliary of Ruston). All these events, and many more around the country, are designed to get the public out to meet the blind and maybe answer some questions they might have.
I thought I would share with you some questions I’ve been asked over the years. Some are great questions and others are pretty funny. However, I’ve always said that I would rather someone ask questions than simply speculate.
How do you identify your clothing so it matches? Many blind people find unique ways of identifying their clothes. If you really look in your closet you will notice that many of your shirts, pants, skirts, etc. have little details that are different. Many blind people use these little differences to identify their clothing. Other blind people put a Braille label inside the tag of their clothes that says what color that item is. I personally organize my closet by color, keeping all the red, pinks, yellows, etc. together. I’m not sure if this is a blind thing or my obsession with organization, either way it works.
When speaking to a group of third graders, one child asked me, “How do you eat? Do you just eat French fries all the time?” I couldn’t help but chuckle at this question. I do eat far too many French fries, but blind people eat everything there is to eat.
For many kids, and maybe some adults, it’s quite common to believe that blind people are far different from themselves. However, blind people do all the things you do, we just find different methods to do the same things.
How does a blind person grocery shop? This is a great question and one of the first questions I had about blindness. All blind people have to go grocery shopping, whether we like it or not.
Many blind people use someone who works at the store, like someone from customer service, to walk around with them and help them find items they need. It’s important to understand that the assistant shopper is not doing all the work, the blind person is there to explain exactly what is needed and feels everything before it goes into the cart. Now, some blind people can go to the grocery store without a shopper. Once they get to know a shopping center well, they learn where certain products are. It is easy to purchase some products, like milk and rice, without any help.
Now to end on another fun kid question. How does a blind kid play with his/her friends? This is a really important question, especially for kids. Blind kids are like all other kids. They love hanging out with their friends, playing on the playground, playing games and sports, reading books, dancing, singing and running around the neighborhood. All these things are possible for a blind child to do. Most blind kids do these things with their cane and that’s perfectly OK. Blind kids can, and should, do the same things as other kids.
So there you go, a few questions you may or may not have thought of. Remember it’s Meet the Blind Month, so participate in the various community events around town and meet a blind person or two.
Deja M. Powell is programs manager at the Professional Development and Research Institute on Blindness at Louisiana Tech University and a 2008 alumna of the Louisiana Center for the Blind in Ruston. She writes a monthly column for the Daily Leader.