Have you ever struggled to speak with a family member, teacher, employer, or even a complete stranger about your visual impairment?
Talking about your visual limitations can be challenging and awkward, but you’re not alone.
Here are a few tips to help you navigate having meaningful conversations about your needs:
1. Maintain ownership over what you choose to share
You deserve to maintain dignity and ownership over what you choose to share and who you choose to share it with.
You don’t owe a stranger at the grocery store (or any other place) an explanation of your disability, unless you want to share it. While you may choose to allow a stranger’s questioning to become a learning moment, you are not obliged to this.
You have the right to decline conversations that make you feel uncomfortable or don’t seem directly beneficial to your needs.
A simple statement like, “I appreciate your concern, but I am not comfortable discussing this with you,” will suffice.
2. Use practical terms and state the facts whenever possible
When you do choose to discuss your visual disability with others, use practical terms and state the facts whenever possible.
For example, stating “I have a condition called nystagmus, which causes my eyes to move involuntarily,” is a simple, factual statement and has the potential to be very educational for those who don’t have a prior knowledge of visual disabilities.
Sometimes sighted people may tiptoe around using words like “blind” or “visually impaired.” Naming your disability in a manner that is matter-of-fact gives other people in your life permission to do the same.
3. When appropriate, suggest additional resources for learning.
Just because you have a diagnosis does not mean that you are required to be an expert or the sole source of information about your disability.
While a frank conversation about your limitations and your needs is important, it is a good idea to provide additional resources for learning.
Send a link to a medical encyclopedia or an article outlining your condition or suggest a website that will provide more detailed information.
4. Ask for what you need.
Letting others know exactly what you need from them is a major step in self advocacy.
Do you need help reading a menu hanging on the wall of a quick serve restaurant? Ask an employee to read it aloud for you.
Do you need Braille reading assignments from a professor or assistive technology in your workplace? Ask for it.
Practicing firm, clear communication is key to having your needs met.
5. If you have a written letter of accommodation needs for an educational or employment setting, don’t let that piece of paper do the talking.
A doctor’s letter about your condition is supplemental, but it does not take the place of a face-to-face verbal conversation.
6. Don’t feel guilty for requesting simple courtesies from others.
For example, you may ask your colleagues to keep the office stapler and tape dispenser in the same place so it’s easy for you to find.
You may ask your roommate to never leave shoes in the walkway, if tripping is a concern. Most people will genuinely want to help make your life easier and more comfortable once you explicitly communicate how they can do so.
7. Gently remind others that your visual impairment does not define you.
Feel empowered to decline offers of support that you do not need, even if they come from a good place.