I’m Afraid That I Might Offend Them: Apprehension as a Barrier Between People With and Without Disabilities

The image represents the feeling of isolation by a circle of blue paper people holding hands with an orange paper person standing alone outside the circle.

Most of the time, people who are blind and visually impaired feel isolated and unwanted by people without disabilities because often when they are in gathering spaces, (e.g., a wedding, a student club, a classroom, or a new conference) few people interact with them. At the same time, people without disabilities want to interact with people with disabilities but don’t feel confident approaching them because they’re apprehensive and concerned about offending them. As a person who is blind, I’m often asked, “Is it okay to ask this?”, “Can I do this?” And I have interacted with people who are nervous to be around me because they are under the assumption there is only one way to interact with me and they’re concerned about doing it wrong. Personally, I don’t get offended if people interact with me not knowing the right thing to do, but I feel excluded if people avoid me. In the ideal interactions, I highly appreciate those who come up to me and introduce themself, and let the conversation flow. This makes me feel like this person is willing to start a conversation with me and make me feel included. 

It’s good to learn about the etiquette around interacting with people with disabilities. However, it’s not a big problem if you are not sure how to interact. Approach, and ask!  Often people with disabilities, including people who are blind or visually impaired, are open to answering any questions. The majority of people with disabilities, especially highly educated people, would like to have a deep conversation about a variety of topics that are not related to just their disabilities. Don’t be afraid to start a conversation and talk with people with disabilities as you would talk with others. If you have a specific question about how to guide or describe visuals, for example, you can ask them how they would like to be described or guided. Make the world more inclusive and take the step to interact with people without concern.

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