"Hello," I hear a voice say to my wife and me as we pass the crowded foyer.
"Hi Ernie," the voice continues. "How are you?"
"I'm fine," I answer as I try to place a face with the voice. I hear many voices mingling together, adding to the confusion as I try to identify the
person. I realize I should know the voice and feel ashamed I can't remember, but without eyesight the mumble of many voices makes it hard to
identify the speaker.
Usually this is only a passing greeting as we thread our way through the crowd, but there are times this welcome brings us to a
stop and we chat a few moments. Sometimes I find I start talking about something that this person knows nothing about. Then I realize I am talking to the wrong person, who is probably trying to figure out just what I am saying.
Other times, if we chat a couple minutes, I may learn the other's identity just from what is being said or the person may give his or her name. But
more often then not I will later ask my wife, "Who was that?"
I try to not let this bother me. After all, how many people will start a conversation or greet another they know by saying, "This is John Brown."? Still, if I know who the voice belongs to I can better respond and show more interest in what he is saying than concentrating on trying to place the face and not hearing a word he says. Even a close friend's voice may not be clear when it is mingling with many other voices.
I will add that as time passes and people become more aware of the blind they are giving their name so I know who it is speaking to me.
There is one man who will never give his name but will ask, "Well how are the Johnsons?" or "How are the Smiths?" and immediately I know who is speaking because he is the only one to greet us this way.
One day while leaving a meeting my wife and I were stopped by a lady we had known for years. She spoke only to Dorothy and after a short pause asked, "Well how is Ernie?"
"Why don't you ask him?" Dorothy replied. "He is right here."
Without acknowledging me, the woman continued: "I once knew this old couple. She was as blind as a bat and he would lead her around by the hand. It was so cuuute."
She invited us over to dinner that evening, and I was relieved to hear my wife thank her but say we had other plans and perhaps another time.
It may not be easy to give your name when speaking to a blind person but please don't talk over them or about them. Rather, be sure to acknowledge them and include them in your conversation.
Also remember when speaking to a blind person you do not need to raise your voice. As a rule being blind does not make a person
deaf. In fact, it may help him depend more on his ears and thus his hearing may be sharper -- although I will add there are many people who
suffer both from eyesight loss and hearing loss.
Now a word to you who have just learned your eyesight is fading: Don't hide your impairment. If others don't know you cannot see
well, how can they take steps to be a help to you?
Only after I was forced to take an early retirement due to fading eyesight did I realized that some friends had considered me stuck up, because there were times I would walk right past them without acknowledging them. Only after they understood my blindness did they understand why I had appeared to ignore them.
Also don't allow yourself to be trapped in a long "self-pity party" either but continue doing the things you have always enjoyed doing.
Ernie Jones, a registered nurse who retired due to vision loss, can be reached at 529-9252 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.