Young woman sitting on a wall with her guide dog

‘Are you blind, love?’ Why attitudes matter – #EndtheAwkward

Guest post from Elin Williams, a student from north Wales, who is visually impaired. In this post for our End the Awkward campaign, she talks about two different types of awkwardness she’s encountered.

Scope’s research shows that two-thirds of people feel awkward around disability, so when Emily Davison aka Fashioneyesta asked me to join in with Scope’s End the Awkward campaign, I couldn’t wait to get involved and share my own cringey moments…

‘Are you blind, love?’

A few years ago I was travelling alone on a train. I hadn’t long been travelling independently, and was still getting used to using my cane on a regular basis. Growing up, I always felt that the cane made me stand out and was reluctant to use it for fear of not looking ‘normal’.

Elin, a young woman, with her guide dog

So there I was. Along came the food and drinks trolley, and I plucked up the nerve to say ‘excuse me’ to flag the trolley down. I think this was the first time I’d ever done this – not being able to make eye contact or see people’s facial expressions has always made me  nervous of situations like this.

I asked the man pulling the trolley: ‘Do you have any drinks on this trolley?’

My inquiry was met with the scornful reply: ‘Ha! Are you blind, love?’

‘Well, yes,’ I said, lifting my folded cane from the seat next to me to show him.

The deathly silence that enveloped the passengers nearby let me know this encounter hadn’t gone unnoticed. I obviously couldn’t see how red he went, but considering the tremor in his voice, and how his hand shook when he dropped my change, I think he was a little embarrassed.

But he’d embarrassed me too. His smart-arse attitude made me feel so small and stupid.

A better experience

Only about a month ago, I and two other visually impaired friends had just got off a train and were standing outside the station, figuring out whether to get a taxi or to walk home. I had my guide dog Jazzy with me, while both my mates were using canes.University of Chester student Elin Williams aged 19 from Porthmadog with her guide dog Jazzy. Elin was born with a degenerative condition called Lebers Congenital Amaurosis and lost most of her vision when she was 15. A Welsh speaker, she is studying English Literature. Elin has written a first person story about her first year with Jazzy as a student.

A young guy came up to us and quite smugly said: ‘Did you have fun hiking today, guys?’

‘Those are some funky looking hiking sticks you have there,’ he elaborated, going on to ask us where exactly we’d been hiking, in Cambridgeshire, where there are no mountains…

It finally dawned on us that the guy had mistaken the canes for hiking sticks! We explained that we hadn’t been hiking, that we were blind and that they were our canes, whilst trying not to laugh along with his mates who’d witnessed his blunder.

Pointing to Jazzy, I added: ‘Yeah, she’s my hiking dog. I ride her up the mountains…!’

The poor guy was pretty embarrassed and very apologetic, but we reassured him that we weren’t offended.

It’s attitudes that make things awkward

From my experience, it’s much better to laugh at yourself and with others rather than get stressed out or touchy about silly mistakes.

Elin walking with her guide dog

What makes it awkward is when the perpetrator can’t laugh along with you, because they’re too mortified at having possibly offended you to see the funny side. It makes it much more awkward than if they’d just share the joke.

End the Awkward is a fantastic stepping-stone towards dispelling the taboo that surrounds disability, but I think it’s also important to remember that it starts with us as disabled people.

If you’re uncomfortable about your impairment and don’t know how to talk about it – and laugh about it – you can’t make others feel comfortable addressing it either.

A version of this story was first published on Elin’s blog, See My Way. Want to know more about ending the awkward? Watch our awkward short films, produced in partnership with Channel 4.

Photos courtesy of the Daily Post, north Wales.

2 thoughts on “‘Are you blind, love?’ Why attitudes matter – #EndtheAwkward”

  1. Well I’m not blind love. Sure. How I haven’t a good manage of the english I don’t said any word or phrase thet provoke a mistake.
    Yes They are very clear situations. They are may peoples in the world accusin and injustice. When this people is a dissabled people and is accused for no pay or because no serve in the labour, it’s very bad.
    Is the dissabled person is accused od another thing’s, worst.
    The dissable people can to heve fear at love normal person. It ‘s a real and embarrasing situation, but not love at the other people, at the human people, well is so different. Never End the Awkward, yes, end the faults aroun the worl of people and disadventages, and real handicap, when reluctant people use ourselves. I need anothe people by help to me, and when I can help your’s, perfectly. Too Y can love a normal person, is real and embarrasing.blind at love mayde terrify. But I haven’t experience with the tongue and I need help. If is possible, Wonderful. If isn’t possible, nobody have with me any obligation, The person’s that had obligation’s no exist now.

  2. I’m not blind
    Is any power blind at the justice
    At the rights of dissable person’s
    To convert dissable person’s an underdog’s?
    It isn’t my idea. I wish relationships with the people that I love
    When isn’t possible, respect and justice.
    Never lies.
    Perhaps, nobody have any obligation
    I can assume my solitude since the end
    I demand help. and I move very bad with english, is so easy comitte mistake. But the worst mistake is the fear when someone is victim of injustice. Never.Affortunately I love, and I love so much, but now I find the adequatly person, tenderless person, and valours, and respect.

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