Braille Monitor                                                           May 2007

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Ask Miss Whozit

 

A formal place setting, complete with placecard bearing the Whozit logo and the words "Miss Whozit."From the Editor: From time to time Miss Whozit answers reader questions about etiquette and good manners, particularly as they involve blindness. If you would like to pose a question to Miss Whozit, you can send it to the attention of Barbara Pierce, 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21230, or email me at <bpierce@nfb.org>. I will pass the questions along. Letters may be edited for space and clarity. Here are the most recent letters Miss Whozit has received:

Dear Miss Whozit,

I attend a formal church that includes Holy Eucharist each week and am wondering what is the most efficient and considerate way to go forward for communion. The church floor is tile, and the communion portion of the service is a solemn affair. Is it appropriate to use one’s cane in this situation? I have no hang-ups about using it or identifying myself as a blind man. I am a recent NFB member and have found the philosophy of the Federation to be an outstanding supplement to my faith and ability to live life successfully. But I prefer not to take away from others’ appreciation of this important point in the service, and fellow church members have a habit of being overly helpful, though I am educating them slowly. Thank you for your advice and suggestions in this matter.

Pilgrim

Dear Pilgrim,

Even though church attendance no longer involves the edifying traditions of hats and gloves for ladies and suits and ties for gentlemen, Miss Whozit still believes that aside from the personal spiritual enrichment of church attendance, blind people and their sighted neighbors can benefit greatly from our active participation in the religious community of our choice. You certainly have every right to use your cane and genteelly insist on your right and ability to use it when you think it appropriate. No one would think of asking members who use crutches or a support cane to go to the communion rail without that equipment or stay in their seats until the Eucharist can be brought to them. In the same way, if you choose to use your white cane, your fellow communicants will certainly not ask you to leave it at your seat.

But you are really asking whether, since people are still distracted by your use of the cane, and since the tile floor makes it difficult to use it silently, you should try to make some other arrangement for moving to the area where the Eucharist is administered. You did not mention the complication of disposing of the cane while kneeling, so perhaps that is not an issue in your church, but it is in many.

If you are accurate in reporting that you are educating the congregation and if you are using your cane and moving around independently during other parts of the service and at other church activities, I think you can suit yourself during the Eucharist. Civility during the service requires that you not call undue attention to yourself, just as what I might call “church etiquette” demands that all of us do what we can to enable ourselves and other communicants to focus on the sacrament rather than escaping children jumping down the steps to the chancel or teenagers exposing shocking amounts of skin or men wearing light-up neckties. If you have no good alternative to using your cane, such as walking to the altar with a neighboring parishioner, then by all means use the cane as quietly and carefully as you can. Church members will eventually learn to adjust and give you room, but you may find that they reach out to guide you silently, and that is difficult to deal with constructively when it is well intentioned but done anonymously so that you do not know who is touching you. If you decide to go this route, you might discuss with your friends what you are doing and what they can do or refrain from doing to help. They can then model the way to deal with you and the cane for other people.

You may find that it is altogether less obtrusive, however, to make arrangements with a friend to go forward together, leaving the cane in your pew. In short, you will have to decide which issues are most important to you and what strategy feels most appropriate.

 

Dear Miss Whozit,

What is the proper way to deal with a coworker who uses a guide dog that smells some of the time and sheds profusely all the time? I know that users have the right to take their dogs everywhere they go, but it seems to me that they also have the responsibility to control their dogs and groom them (including daily brushing). People avoid sitting next to this guide dog user, but sometimes that is the only seat available. The dog sheds all over offices, clothes, etc.
Quite often I invite coworkers out to lunch. I rarely invite people who use dogs because of this issue, and I never invite the person with the smelly, shedding dog. Sometimes we are required to travel off-site for meetings. I am allergic to dogs and don't want to have a shedding dog in my car. When I do have to transport this person and the guide dog, I have to have my car vacuumed professionally afterwards at my expense. I find this an imposition. What do you suggest?

A coworker with dog allergies

Dear Coworker,

You have my sympathy. No one who suffers from allergies or who has loved ones who do would think it appropriate for you to be exposed unnecessarily to dog dander and hair or to the expense of removing them completely. The responsible guide dog users I know would agree. What you do to educate a problem user will depend on whether the badly maintained dog is the result of ignorance, laziness, or inconsiderateness, in descending order of likelihood.

Because you are acutely aware of shedding and animal odor, you may find it difficult to credit that it is hard for some blind people to recognize how much their dogs are shedding. Moreover, since they are close to the animal all the time, they may not be sensitive to what you find an unpleasant odor or may even fail to find it distasteful. If this is the problem, tactful candor is your best strategy. Ostracism or snide remarks are easy for the blind person to ignore or misconstrue. I suggest that you sit down with your colleague and explain your allergy and describe accurately but as unemotionally as you can the level of the shedding problem. I believe that guide dog schools recommend daily brushing and frequent baths for dogs, just as Miss Whozit recommends them for people who wish to be socially acceptable.

The problem user may have been taught these things but may have grown lazy. When one doesn’t observe firsthand the hair drifting onto clothing, furniture, and rugs, one tends to forget its existence. A tactful reminder that “out of sight, out of mind” in this case can rapidly translate into “out of favor with working colleagues” may well be all that is needed to motivate your coworker to begin taking care of the animal properly.

If your dog-using colleague is merely inconsiderate, however, the rest of the staff, including the other guide dog users, have no obligation in the name of civility to put up more than necessary with the distasteful results of that behavior. If the group is meeting in common areas of your facility, you can spread a rug and ask that the dog lie on that in an effort to contain the hair. You could then try requesting that the offending owner take the rug or blanket outdoors to shake it afterward before storing it for the next meeting. If everyone agrees to acknowledge the problem and work to contain the hair, the user is likely to take the hint. Remaining pleasant, even humorous, and matter-of-fact about avoiding contact with the dog in its unwashed, unbrushed condition and going as far as to drape your car with drop clothes when you are forced to transport the troublesome pair should control the problem even if it does not modify the user’s behavior.

But, as I say, it is unlikely that you actually have a colleague who takes pleasure in causing awkwardness and discomfort. Here is a recent comment sent to Miss Whozit from a guide dog user with some vision: “I appreciated your fine suggestions in the March 2007 issue. I only wish you had added that, in addition to looking neat and clean and having good posture and body language, you had also pointed out that a person's white cane should not look as though it has been through the wars and that one's guide dog should be groomed each day. As one living in an area with many guide dogs, I must say that I have seen more canes with peeling finish than ungroomed dogs, because the guide dogs I know have owners who love them and take good care of them.”

I do hope that this reader is correct about most dog users’ care and concern for their animals. I am certain that denying a user important information about problems with a dog is misplaced civility. No one enjoys learning that his or her corner-cutting is obvious to others, just as we feel mortified to discover or be told that the seam in the crotch of the slacks we have been wearing is split or that we have sat in ketchup. The person who delivers such information and suggests a solution or offers to help set things to rights is more truly courteous than the one who says nothing and laughs or complains later behind our backs. Good luck to you in your effort to come to an understanding in your office.

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