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’.
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.
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.
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.