“We Respect Your Privacy (But We Can’t Guarantee It)”

This morning, I visited the dentist, which involved filling in a lengthy and deeply personal intake form. It demanded extensive sensitive information, and there was no way to guarantee my privacy. You see, these forms are still in hard copy, which makes sense for most people, but this meant I had to ask a hygienist to help. I had to tell her everything: my full medical history; the medications I was taking (which reveal a lot about me, I assure you); whether I was pregnant; whether I had an alcohol or drug dependency. On and on it went, and while I was certain the hygienist would respect my privacy, it was still uncomfortable to expose so much about myself. Luckily, I don’t have all that much to hide, but there are certainly a few things I did not relish discussing. To make it all worse, a relative works at the same office, and could easily have heard me. Yes, we were in a room by ourselves, but the door was wide open and I wasn’t exactly whispering.

It’s nobody’s fault, really, but I feel sure there is a practical way to design accessible alternatives in most contexts. Privacy was often a luxury I did not enjoy, especially a few years ago when almost everything was done on paper. In school, I took many surveys asking sensitive questions about the way staff treated me. I was expected to provide details about how safe I felt at school and whether I’d suffered any abuse. The survey was anonymous, but I did not have the opportunity to benefit from that. A member of staff was forced to fill in the survey for me, so was privy to everything I said. While I was generally quite satisfied with how school staff treated me, there were a couple of exceptions and I did not feel I could mention them. My educational assistant was usually the one who assisted me, so I trusted her to keep what I’d said confidential. Even so, it bothered me more than I thought it should.

I’ve already discussed the effects of inaccessible debit machines, and how they require blind people to reveal their pin numbers to complete strangers. I’m not a distrustful person by nature, and I believe that most people are trustworthy. This does not justify the risks, though, and it’s time we figured out how to keep this from happening.

Aside from privacy risks, it’s common to encounter inaccessible forms, even in places where there is very little excuse. For instance, some customs forms at airports are filled out via a computer that is not equipped with any assistive technology, and many others are still in hard copy. So, we have to enlist a customs agent or flight attendant to do it for us, and this should not be part of their job. While I’m quite at peace with sharing information about why I was visiting the U.S. and whether I’ve frolicked with any livestock recently, it’s an outdated system that does not belong in 2016.

Most likely, the solution will have to come from blind people themselves. We know our needs best and our in a position to lobby for better systems. I hope someone finds a solution; right now, I’m fresh out of ideas.