Chill Out, People: I Am Not Contagious

I take the bus, and there are several empty seats around me, conveniently placed right up front. Someone embarks via the front door, and walks quickly past me to take a seat waaaay at the back. I sit down for a lecture, noticing that most students are clumped together, while others have gone out of their way to give me a wide berth. I flop down in a seat in a study lounge, only to have the person next to me gather their belongings and sidle over to a seat across the room. Anyone seeing a pattern here? Anyone? Anyone?

I’m not even sure if people are conscious of this, but I am beginning to think they’re convinced that blindness is contagious. Unless you have an eye infection and enjoy swapping mascara with strangers,, you’re probably not a threat to anyone else’s eyes, but I’m often treated like a leper. Some people undoubtedly move away because society puts a premium on personal space. Others, however, do so because I make them uncomfortable, which I understand is a common experience for many disabled people. Mothers drag their children away from the oncoming blind lady, while students shift restlessly when I sit down near them. It’s common enough for people to leave space between each other; Canadians aren’t really used to tight quarters unless they live in Vancouver or Toronto. Even so, people’s attitude toward me seems a bit too blatantly fearful to be blamed on a desire to avoid human contact.

There are a litany of reasons to avoid sitting near someone: I wouldn’t blame you a bit for avoiding the person sniffling noisily in the corner. Nobody likes icky cold germs, but unless I have ominous substances pouring from my red nose, there is no logical reason to steer clear.

I usually just shake my head and move on—what else can I do? I’d be lying if I claimed it didn’t hurt a little, though. I’m a nice person who is reasonably friendly. At the least, I’d never encroach upon another person’s space, and I might even provide good conversation if they only gave me a try. Students are especially prone to engaging strangers on campus, but they tend to ignore me unless they think I need help. I want to say to them, “I cannot give you blindness, okay? Mine is a genetic condition, so unless you’re my secret half-brother, please relax. You’re fine.”

Social exclusion and general discomfort are the order of the day for a lot of visibly disabled people, and all one can do is bridge the gaps as best one can. Sometimes, though, my snarky side prevails, and I feel the urge to shout, “Come sit near the freak, why don’t you? I don’t bite (hard)!”

So, friends all, take a seat by me. It’s okay. You’ll leave as healthy and sighted as ever–I guarantee it.

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5 thoughts on “Chill Out, People: I Am Not Contagious

  1. hi Meagan, thought I’d jump in here so as to be first to leave a comment. first and formost, blindness is not contagious. if you were somebody who didn’t like to be touched somebody could easily move away or if it were me, I’d make a point of making sure you were okay with me touching your shoulder to make sure I wasn’t going to be sitting too close to you. at school, I used to often sit alone for lunch and if I felt lonely I used to spit the dummy from time to time. I do acknowledge that isn’t the right way to seek company but at the time I wasn’t overly well or that’s my excuse anyway. sometimes I myself would go to sit down beside someone and they’d often move away because they feared I might touch them and let me tell you I’ve had plenty of lectures from my integration aid and visiting teacher about me crowding people. hey! it’s up to people to say if I’m in their space or I’m not but then I have to remember that some people don’t like to speak up for fear of hurting my feelings I suppose. on another topic but still within the same vain, physical affection is another one. some people don’t like to be hugged and I’m someone who automatically gives somebody particularly a female a hug when I go to leave their side after I’ve had a chat. if I’m going to at least sit with somebody, I check before I sit down just in case that person gets a fright. a brief example, I’d just arrived a little late for a meeting one night and was looking for a spair seat and I happened to tap a young girl on the shoulder and sit beside her. I apologised because I’ve begun to get it into my head that touch of any form is wrong whether accidental or otherwise whether consentual or otherwise. well, even consentual touch I have felt is wrong especially with people around. back to the story, I didn’t feel satisfied with just a verbal apology, I went one further and sent the girl an email to apologise properly. she told me that I’m not to worry about it and to forget about it as I didn’t scare her or make her uncomfortable. this probably has nothing to do with your original post but it’s just my take on it and when kids ask why my eyes were closed or when they used to parents often didn’t know what to tell their toddlers or they just spirited them away telling their child all the while it was rude to ask questions but my mother and I will happily answer any questions in a way kids will understand.

  2. I so hear what you’re saying. It happens to me a lot. Though when I was very youmg I didn’t relate it to blindness. But the fact that a student always seem to have to leave when I got there was too frequent to be a coincidence. But I have to admit I too have done the same once. I ended up next to this guy with cp who sounded as if he was slobbering everywhere, so I moved. Today that guy is a dear friend and he showed me a lot of cool bars and restaurants in London. That taught me a lesson and I’ve never repeated it.

  3. My wife Sabrena refers to this as blind cooties or perhaps blind person cooties. Y’know, you go to a party and somehow get put at some isolated chair, are given your nibblies and beverage and are left alone unless somebody happens along to try and start up a conversation. It’s why I end up going with her to a lot of gatherings of people she’s known, I mean, sometimes we’re included in the group and sometimes not so if that happens at least she’ll have somebody to talk to. LOL!

  4. Hi,

    I had very similar experiences when I used a white cane for mobility – sort of like Moses parting the waters when you walk around.

    However when I got a guide dog (now on my 4th) it became very different. You have the problem of people wanting to talk to the dog before you, but your dog is a real ice breaker and people feel far more comfortable around me because of a friendly cute guide dog.

    Dale.

  5. I’m so sorry, you seem to be a very cool person, people are so dumb sometimes. I know how much this hurts, but I figured that people who make a deliberate attempt to be away from me are not worth engaging with on the long run.

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