I have long encouraged questions; I’m happy to answer most of them if they’re asked with respect and courtesy. I like to educate people—especially when they’re genuinely curious—so if you have questions about *my* blindness (remember, I don’t speak for others), feel free to ask.
That said, sometimes people fail to observe the “respect and courtesy” rule, and while I tend to overlook this, I think this is a good opportunity to talk about some of the questions I wish people wouldn’t ask. Unlike the many similar articles available online, I’m seeking to explain in detail why these questions are objectionable, and offer advice on how to ask better questions in future. Again, these are my opinions and observations; they may not apply to other blind people. So without further waffling, here we go!
Q: Where’s your dog? You should have a dog!
A: I don’t have a dog. Guide dogs, while common, are not essential for independent travel. I prefer cane travel, and don’t find myself *needing* a dog. They are very useful, yes, but I simply don’t want or need one at the moment.
Why I hate this question: This is a legitimate enough question, I suppose, but I find it presumptuous. Unless you are extremely knowledgeable about both cane and guide dog travel (and if you are, you won’t be asking, I imagine), you can’t really know whether or not I should have a dog. I understand that some people simply don’t realize that the white cane is a viable option, but I find it a bit discourteous to assume that you know more about my travel needs than I do. Feel free to ask me why I prefer the cane, if you’d like, but please don’t automatically assume that I need a dog. Methods of travel vary from person to person. This question is equivalent to asking a fellow sighted person, “Where’s your car? You should have a car!” while they walk past you on the street.
A better question: “Why do you prefer the cane over a dog?”
Q: Where’s your caretaker? Shouldn’t someone be helping you?
A: I don’t have a caretaker. If I need help with something specific, I ask friends, family members, customer service agents, etc. to help. Occasionally, I do seek help from strangers when I’m in a real bind, of course. For daily functioning, though, I neither need nor want a caretaker of any sort.
Why I hate this question: Maybe I shouldn’t, but I find this question exceedingly condescending. Again, I understand that not everyone is fully aware of how functional blind people can be, but if you see me walking along, not looking lost and getting along just fine, please don’t assume that I need some kind of watchdog (pun intended) to help me with everything. Asking whether I need help is fine, but asking me where my caretaker is can seem quite rude, especially if you’re a complete stranger.
A better question: Do you need help with anything?
Q: Do you know who I am? … Come on, guess!
A: If I did, I’d have greeted you by name the moment I recognized your voice. Furthermore, if I don’t know who you are, why on earth would you make me guess? Just tell me!
Why I hate this question: I might be crazy, but my blood boils every time I’m asked this. I find it so unnecessary, and it makes the entire situation much more awkward than it needs to be. It can be embarrassing for anyone, sighted or blind, when they can’t remember someone they feel they ought to. For me, it’s even tougher because remembering a face is sometimes easier than remembering a voice, especially if I haven’t heard yours in several years. When I have admitted that I don’t know who you are, the worst thing you can possibly do is ask me to guess. It’s counterproductive, and will only make me even more uncomfortable. If you’re unsure whether I remember you or not, simply introduce yourself immediately; if I remember you, it won’t matter, and if I don’t, it’ll give me something to work with.
A better question: Do you recognize me? I’m (insert name).
Q: Can you work?
A: Of course! I may not be employed at this very moment, and finding a job is certainly harder for me than it is for the average person, but I can definitely work.
Why I hate this question: Again, this can come across as very condescending. It implies that I may not be capable of doing a job—any job at all—and is a fairly personal question besides. If you want to ask “So, what do you do?” in the same way you’d ask any other person, go right ahead. This is open-ended, and far less intrusive. But would you dream of going up to a random sighted stranger and asking whether they’re capable of useful work?
A better question: “What do you do?”
Q: How do you dress yourself? Groom yourself? Feed yourself? Manage sexual intercourse?
A: Excuse me?
Why I hate this question: All of these (except, perhaps, the last one) are legitimate enough assuming you know me pretty well and can find a polite way to ask them. If you don’t know me, though, you have absolutely no business asking me (or anyone!) about such personal matters. I assure you that I’ve been asked all of these questions—yes, even the one about sex—and generally those asking were total strangers. At best, you’ll come off sounding very, very rude, and at worst, you’ll seem exceptionally creepy. If you want to find out sensitive information about blind people in general, do some googling, or get to know me quite well first. Otherwise, treat me as you would any other stranger, and respect my personal privacy.
A better question: Are there any daily tasks you have trouble with, and are you comfortable sharing that information?
As I say, asking questions is healthy and encouraged. If you don’t ask, you’ll never know. As you seek your answers, though, keep respect in mind: I’m just like you, so treat me the way you’d want to be treated and we’ll get along just fine!
Credit: Thanks to CrazyMusician for providing insight about question 4.