Be Familiar

By Roqayah Ajaj

Sarah walks into the first class of her freshman year at the University. She sees many new faces. Taking a look around, Sarah picks a seat by a girl she saw in her dorm earlier that week; anything familiar eases the nerves. Before class starts, they get into conversation and find out they live only a couple of doors down from each other! Sarah’s class wraps up, and she makes her way to the next one. As she walks in, Sarah feels much more confident as the number of familiar faces are growing. She finds a seat by two people from her previous class, while someone else she met at Welcome Week gives a cheery “hello” and sits right in front of her.

Image of two people sitting at a table across from each other, engaged in conversation. There are papers, pens, and a pair of glasses on the table.

Each of these relationships Sarah has established resulted from seeing familiar faces and interacting over time. But, what if Sarah had been blind? How would she have known that all those people around her really were “familiar”? Sarah would not have been able to build those friendships. And with that single tremor there comes an avalanche of other disadvantages. Some of these disadvantages include the inability to give/get casual help from friends or share resources, feeling too shy to respond or ask questions in class, being lonely and isolated, not being listened to or feeling misunderstood, having no one to hang out with afterwards, and the list goes on.

This is a daily struggle for students who are visually impaired, and without individuals taking some initiative to engage with these students it can feel to the visually impaired like an uphill battle. There is great value in familiarity and camaraderie among peers, but barriers can be easily built up because of differences. Interacting with others who are different from yourself can cause you to question what to say or how to say it in fear that you would offend the other person or that you, yourself, would be rejected. Most of the time, we think too much and make things complicated, before the words, “Hi, how are you?” even get out. It really is much easier than you would imagine it to be. You can easily get their attention by going up to them and simply introducing yourself, and then engaging in conversation with them (about class, family, hobbies, where you’re from, life events, etc.). This helps students who are visually impaired to begin hearing familiar voices and building relationships.

“Walking with a friend in the dark is better than walking alone in the light.”
Hellen Keller

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