My Approach For Confronting Awkward Situations

Beth at the bus stopSome of the workarounds and methods I use to get around in a sighted world are, well, unconventional. And when you have an obvious disability, you get a lot of awkward questions and comments from outsiders. Early on in my blindness, an awkward question or comment could make me feel misunderstood. Lonely. Burdensome. Enough questions like that and you start apologizing. You feel ashamed. For what? For being who you are?

Over the years talented teachers and positive role models have shown me ways to turn unnerving situations around. “Use them as opportunities,” they taught me. “Educate those people.” I started giving it a try, and you know what? It works! It’s pretty unusual for me to walk away from an unnerving situation feeling ashamed of myself anymore. Let me give you an example here, one I’m especially proud of.

I had just tied my Seeing Eye dog’s latest deposit into a pick-up bag and was leaning down to re-buckle her harness when a stranger approached. “Excuse me,” she said. Her question must have been pressing. She couldn’t wait for me to stand up before asking.

“I’m not sure you notice, you know, not being able to see him and all, but do you know your dog is too skinny?” My face broke out into a huge smile. I think I even chuckled.

Once I stood up, I looked towards the sidewalk stranger’s voice and thanked her for her concern. “You know, it’s funny,” I said, explaining that the night before graduates leave for home with our new Seeing Eye dogs, a veterinarian from the Seeing Eye speaks at our “Going Home” presentation and warns us that once we get out and about with our guides at home, complete strangers will stop us to tell us our dogs are too thin. “And here you are!” I said.

During that Seeing Eye lecture, the veterinarian tells us our dogs are the perfect weight,” I told the sidewalk stranger. “The vet told us Americans feed their dogs too much food, everyone gets used to seeing overweight dogs, and they end up thinking that’s the way dogs are supposed to look.”

What do you think?

The sidewalk stranger was unmoved. “I know they breed them special, I know that,” she said. “But there’s something wrong with yours, he’s too skinny. I have three dogs, I know dogs. Bring him to a vet. Ask them, they’ll tell you.”

I considered telling her that at our visit to the vet a month ago the doctor had confirmed that Whitney is still the perfect weight. But then I thought better of it. During that same “Going Home” lecture at the Seeing Eye, another Seeing Eye staff member told us that when we’re out and about with our Seeing Eye dogs it’s normal to encounter questions — and sometimes interference — from people who do not intend to cause us difficulty.

“By being polite and courteous and developing a brief explanation, you will limit the interference — educating these people will prevent more problems in the future,” he advised. “As distracting as public interference can be, you will generally make it worse if you lose your temper.”

And so, I didn’t lose my temper, even when the sidewalk stranger confessed she’d been following me for a while. “I was walking behind you and his back legs, you can’t see him, but he’s too skinny,” she said. “The way he walks, there is something really wrong with him. You need to take him to a vet.”

Time to go. I thanked the sidewalk stranger again for her concern, and then I told her I did have something she could help me with. “Without being able to see, you know, I can’t tell where a nearby garbage can might be.” I said. “Can you throw this out for me?” And with that, I handed her the bag.


 

Comments may not reflect Easterseals' policies or positions.


Please read our community guidelines when posting comments.


Leave a Reply