Thursday, 25 August 2016

Guidance on how to treat someone who is realising her potential

Once your blind or partially-sighted companion finds herself in a community in which she feels totally accepted and respected, her natural potential emerges. This is an exciting stage to witness. While she may still have many limitations, she no longer feels inhibited by them. Instead, she treats them with familiar ease. Not being able to read text from a book or drive to and from a meeting is a minor inconvenience which can usually be addressed by asking someone in the group to help. Her focus has shifted from herself to others and such trivialities will not stand in the way of what she knows she can offer.

By this time, she is well on her way to realising her potential. No longer is the idea of freedom just a dream. She has literally tasted independence and wants more of it. She won’t be denied the opportunity to expand her world, and she has little time for people who don’t take her seriously.

This is where you have to step back and give her as much control as she can handle. You may not understand the route she has chosen to take or even approve of it, but it is her route and she has chosen it out of her own free will. This is massive, considering how little free will she asserted at the start of her journey towards independence. Before you get agitated and protective, remember that she is not the person her blindness made her out to be. Everything which was hidden and repressed before is coming out, like flowers on a tree, and like flowers, it still has a way to go before it achieves its full purpose.

In fact, what has happened is that your visually-impaired family member, friend or colleague has stopped defining herself as a blind person. While her disability is still a very real part of her life, it no longer features strongly in her sense of identity. New activities and affiliations have restructured her personal world. Now she thinks of herself primarily as a necessary member of the community—a teacher, for example, or a planner, or whatever other useful role she has found to play.

You can support her by similarly adjusting the way you see and think of her. When greeting others, be careful not to introduce her in terms of her disability, but rather, in terms of the valuable part she plays in society. Strangers form their impressions of people based on introductions, so this is important. The more new connections she makes, the more chance she has of being perceived as a competent leader. Furthermore, the more she is treated like a competent leader, the freer of her physical handicap she will become.

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Thursday, 18 August 2016

A case of the blind leading the sighted

Like all people, the blind and partially-sighted enjoy the approval of others and dislike rejection. Of course, rejection is a normal dynamic in social situations, especially when people form alliances in a group and become competitive. Your visually-impaired family member, friend or colleague may, for example, find herself being ignored in a conversation, teased for wearing a certain article of clothing, or criticised because her performance of a certain function fell short of the acceptable standard. When things like this happen, community itself has become her teacher.

One important lesson community teaches is awareness of personal influence and power. With the increase in her confidence, your blind companion can think less about herself and more about others. She takes note of dynamics in the community and has the wisdom and experience necessary to interpret them rationally. In this sense, community becomes a resource. It offers a constant supply of fresh material for her, enabling her to reflect on issues and reach fair conclusions. At this point, she may even become a valuable go-to person for analysis of problems and suggestions for solutions.

You can help here by allowing her the freedom to move into whatever leadership position the community offers her. Support her wish to develop. Encourage her when difficulties occur. Your distance will not only increase her sense of freedom, but it will also ensure you are without bias if anything goes wrong and she should need an objective listener. Even though she is growing in leaps and bounds, doing things she never believed possible, she is still a visually-impaired person. Her need for reliable information and feedback doesn’t go away. It is, in fact, even more essential, now that she is in a position of influence.

Fear of making mistakes tends to replace straightforward misinformation at this point. With increased awareness about how people relate to each other and what can go wrong when they are brought into conflict, she may find herself paralysed by indecision. Now she is no longer thinking like an individual but thinking like part of a system. She knows instinctively that what she does will affect others, and that disturbances in the system will impact everyone. You can help by acknowledging her fear and encouraging her to see it as a healthy reminder to be cautious. She can still take action, but when she does, it will be conscious action, understanding the potential for adverse consequences even as she attempts to bring about positive change.

For more on how community involvement teaches a visually-impaired person, awareness of responsibility and other life skills, plus lots more, get your copy of my newly-released ebook, What Every Blind Person Needs YOU To Know. You can also join my newsletter Blink Weekly for helpful tips on relating to blind people or others who are different from yourself.

Thursday, 11 August 2016

The value of community

The moment your visually-impaired family member, friend or colleague joins a community, you will see a blossoming of her confidence. It doesn’t even matter what kind of community it is. Whether it’s a folk song choir or a group which gathers to protest noise levels in shopping malls, the content isn’t nearly as important as the fact of being connected to others.

Regular interaction with a group exposes your blind companion to people and situations which quickly become familiar. She learns to move about the new environment with ease and to recognise voices. Her fear of crowds diminishes, and she finds her place by taking on a role, such as the group timekeeper, clown or confidant. Don’t be surprised if you hear stories that don’t match with your image of her. The community may bring out qualities which have long lain dormant in her, like a love of mischief or a capacity for flirtation. While these don’t immediately appear useful, they do represent an emergence of her inner potential. Just accept them as part of her process of discovery and be glad for her that she is at last starting to have fun.

For someone who has been largely cut off from ordinary society for a long time, involvement in a community is like an expansion of self. She is extending her personal space. Something bigger is taking the place of her former smallness. This brings a new sense of identity. Your blind companion is no longer simply one person in a sea of people, but part of a movement in that sea.

Plus, there is safety in numbers. Surrounded by people who can make up for her lack of sight, she can attempt fresh activities, such as hiking or catering for a large function. If she gets out of her depth or things go horribly wrong, support will be there. This is true whether the community is a cultural club, church group, interest-based society, sports club or craft circle. It can even be true of an online hangout or forum.

Furthermore, life in community operates around routines. This is necessary to keep order and help people find each other. Thus, a music appreciation group may meet every Thursday night at 7.00pm in the town library, and everyone belonging to that group ensures that he or she is present to participate. This degree of accountability may be new to your blind companion, but in placing a demand on her to behave a certain way, it builds self-worth.

The blind person in your life wants to be valued, and to be valued she must honour the rules of the group. When she does, she is rewarded with affection because she is perceived as loyal and committed. A positive cycle of reinforcement is established. The more your visually-impaired family member, friend or colleague fits in, the more positive feedback she receives and the better she feels about herself.