Thoughts from the Road: Dealing with the General Public and Always Being “On”

A group of travelers moving through an airport. Motion blur.

When I speak around the United States (as also referenced in my commencement address post), I try to mention the fact that we are always disclosing about our disability. I do this constantly when traveling, as I meet many people in all kinds of situations. I vary the information that I provide depending on the situation. This is all my own judgment on the amount of information to disclose.

My last trip was a short vacation for some much needed relaxation and unplugging from the electronic world, which was quite nice. My wife and I have discussed one of my many mantras: “I am a representative of persons who are blind or visually impaired, and I need to carefully present myself, as to hopefully educate and open doors for others who are blind or visually impaired.” You never know who you will meet while traveling. I am sure I will share or introduce you all to some of these people over time. My wife gets sucked into my work, as she has to represent as well. She pretty much has no choice in the matter. However, she is amazing at it. I am pretty lucky to have met her, but that is a whole other story.

It is always interesting to see or hear about how “the public” acts around me. My wife is able to give me a little more input than I can always perceive. I can sometimes pick up on attitudes by a person’s tone of voice, inflection, or even by whom the person chooses to address. As most with a disability/blindness or visual impairment know, some people choose to speak to the “other” person, the one without the disability. This can be for many reasons, but it is quite offensive and frustrating. We have all had the, “What would he like to eat?” Instead of asking us directly, they ask the person with us.

I always come back and tell my wife the stories from the road, or at least the real outstanding ones. Like, at the Philadelphia airport, when I was checking in with an airline that I frequent and like, the ticket agent said, “You have to use the kiosk.” I replied, “I am blind or visually impaired, and I will need assistance to access the kiosk. Would you mind assisting me?” The representative replied, “You are in the wrong line.” I said, “Could you show me to the right line?” He yelled out, “Who is traveling with this guy?” I said, “Uh, sir, I am traveling on my own, as I do often on your airline.” He yelled again, “Who is traveling with this guy?” I said a little more sternly, “Sir, I am blind and will need assistance utilizing your kiosk. I am traveling alone, as I do on most occasions. Could you assist me or direct me to someone who can?” At this point, the agent gave in and began to help me with a lot of grumbling under his breath.

The agent later asked, “How will you get to your gate?” I replied, “Could you please call a sky cap to assist me?” He said, “You will have to sit in those red chairs.” I said, “Could you give me more specific direction, as I cannot see the red chairs.” He said, “They are right there.” A person in the area said, “I can show you where they are, they are not far behind us.” I thanked the person and the agent for helping. I was quite frustrated, but kept my cool.

I skipped over the part during the check-in process where I attempted to explain that there are a number of people who are blind or visually impaired. I told the man, “We are all people, and deserve to be treated as you would like to be treated.” Well, I am not sure this message was fully received, but I definitely took the time to explain.

Point being, in my travels, I make sure to present myself in a high manner, and I try to be as personable as possible. I explain to teens that most persons in the public don’t believe they have met someone who is blind or visually impaired. The general perception is that people with disabilities are not working and don’t want to work. We know this is not true, but I make sure to represent, and explain the work I do in our field. I always look for opportunities to network with people and open doors for others who are blind or visually impaired. I have met CEOs, human resource directors, government officials, and other business people when traveling. I always try to connect and provide a message, that persons who are blind or visually impaired are capable and amazing workers. At times, this can be a bit tiring, but I am used to it. My wife and I will travel together on occasion, and she remarked how tiring it is, to always be “on.” In my work and life, I always have to be somewhat on, from my point of view.

I will definitely address this more in future posts, as there is a lot more to this message. I am truly lucky to have the love and support of my beautiful wife, Jennifer. She is the greatest thing that has ever happened to me. She is definitely right about it being tough to always be on. Jennifer has to deal with many these situations, and we are a united front.

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People at airport photo courtesy of Shutterstock.