Braille Monitor                                                         June 2007

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Watch Out, He's Blind!

by Kevan Worley

Kevan and Brigit WorleyFrom the Editor: Kevan Worley is president of the National Association of Blind Merchants. He is a successful businessman living in Colorado. He also chairs the NFB’s Imagination Fund. The following article illustrates why Kevan is so successful. It also demonstrates how to be an effective fundraiser. This is what he says:

“Watch out! He’s blind!”

Coming off the elevator, I heard her.

“Watch out, he’s blind!” she said, talking softly but not too softly. She and her friend or coworker, heels clicking, coming down the hall, ready to cross my path. I, walking from the elevator, across the lobby, out the door, heading back to my office.

“Watch out, he’s blind!”

“Whatever,” I thought. “Here we go again. Wacky people,” I thought. She was not more than--I don’t know, six or eight feet to my left.

“Watch out, he’s blind.” She, not sounding mean, I, thinking, not a particularly stupid-sounding voice--whatever that means. I chuckled to myself, thinking, “Certainly not an outdoors voice, but way above a church whisper.”

“Watch out, he’s blind.”

I, pondering, “What did she mean?” I’m not being coy or cranky; I truly do wonder.

“Watch out, he’s blind.” Did she think I would whack or trip or cane-whip her or her companion? “Watch out, he’s blind,” she exclaimed casually but with a note of concern in her voice, certainly loud enough for me to hear although that probably wasn’t her intent. Or maybe it was. What did she mean? Did she have some preconceived notion of blindness as incapacity or incompetence, suggesting that I was helpless, deaf, inconsequential, a threat to myself, her, her friend, anyone in the general vicinity?

“Watch out, he’s blind.” Did she intend to warn the building, “Pitiful man in lobby”? Was she warning her companion that danger was near? Was she concerned for my safety without the social grace to express it tactfully by saying, “Good afternoon, sir, do you need directions?” Was she nervous about being in the presence of a blind man, resulting in the almost involuntary utterance, “Watch out, he’s blind!” Over-thinking on my part, sure, but still how should I react?

Business and life coach Joe Gilliam trains management and employees through the Rockhurst University National Seminars Group. He says to remember the formula E+R=O--that is, event + response = outcome. I had been visiting my doctor on the third floor before I stepped off the elevator to hear, “Watch out, he’s blind.” That seemed to be the event, so what response should that event trigger? What would the outcome be? How could I respond so as to increase the odds of a desirable outcome? Maybe I shouldn’t or even couldn’t respond at all. Sometimes, even when we try to be positive, to engage the public, to change attitudes, our openness is simply not returned; but we keep trying to smile, be cool, and educate along the way. “Watch out, he’s blind,” she had said. Our collective experience teaches us that many of our sighted neighbors have mistaken notions about blind people. They do not understand or relate well to folks who travel independently using the long white cane. Even when we are moving with expertise and grace, they sometimes assume that we are faltering when we stop to explore and find the best path to use. That’s the reality. They have mistaken notions and a complete misunderstanding of our capacity, travel style, information-gathering techniques; they just do not understand. They have little knowledge and lots of prejudice. It is easy to shrink or shy away from encounters, to prejudge without understanding, as we are prejudged. Sometimes our instinct is to be belligerent, making a caustic remark that provides a little rush of satisfaction. But after a few seconds the rush of triumph dissipates with the realization that it really wasn’t a triumph but an opportunity lost. As I have said, this woman did not seem mean-spirited.

The women were a bit to my left. I halted, trying to be engaging, thinking quickly, and trying not to be sarcastic, though I suppose I was. “Watch out, she can see!” I laughed and smiled broadly in her direction. I nodded slightly, moving my cane to the vertical, trying to strike an open, nonthreatening posture. I said, “No worries, I was just heading to the front door to meet my employee, who is picking me up. You really have to watch out for her. She can see too, but she can be a reckless driver,” I said laughing, smiling more broadly, and waving my left hand in an off-hand gesture, giving the woman an aw-shucks shrug, trying not to be at all sarcastic. Being nonthreatening, I said, “How are you all this beautiful afternoon?” I started ambling toward the automatic doors, hearing them slide open for someone going out or coming in. The door was only ten feet ahead and a slight angle to the right.

“Oh,” the woman said, “just fine,” unmistakable Colorado kind of Midwestern voice, now a little self-conscious. “I didn’t mean to offend, uh, sir.”

I said, “No offense,” with a bit of a laugh. I stopped and turned about forty-five degrees toward the ladies, saying, “Lots of folks get concerned when a blind guy comes barreling off the elevator, maybe concerned, you know, wanting to be helpful, maybe not knowing how. Do you work here?” I asked.

“No” she said, “just waiting for my husband.”

“I know about waiting.” I said, “I’ll be waiting for my ride for a while. She is Speedy Gonzales when she wants to be, but she usually doesn’t want to. My wife often comes with me to the doc and waits for me, but not today. It’s funny, she usually comes with me to the doctor, but I never go with her. Selfish of me, I know.”

“That’s a man thing,” the other woman said.

“Not today,” I continued; “too much going on back at the office.”

“Oh?” said watch-out woman. “Oh? What do you do, if you don’t mind my asking?”

“Not at all,” I replied, “I have a military-dining contract business, and I do some contract consulting.”

“Really, where?” both asked with some surprise and curiosity.

“Mostly at Ft. Carson,” I said. “We have some other ventures as well. We’ve been very blessed.”

First woman, “My husband’s a contractor at Peterson Field.”

Chuckling, I said, “Watch out, he’s a contractor!”

“Sorry,” watch-out woman said. “I didn’t mean, well… .”

We shook hands. “Just teasing,” I said. “Often people do not know how to deal. Blind people are mostly like everyone else, you know. Some of us are even contractors like your husband.” I continued, “I actually do a lot of volunteer work in the National Federation of the Blind. We work hard to change misconceptions that people have about us, to increase opportunities and get folks to realize we’re cool.

Frankly,” I told her, “with good training, most of us are pretty independent. Occasionally we barrel into people, but not often, if the blind person gets really good training and comes to have some self-confidence. In fact, we are having a blind March for Independence this July third in Atlanta, Georgia, as a part of our national convention. Picture a thousand of us barreling down the streets, marching with confidence for independence. It just so happens that I intend to be in that march that day, if I raise enough for the entry fee. I’m looking for sponsors so I can march,” I said as I reached into my shirt pocket, handing her one of the march pledge cards, you know, the double-sided march cards with Braille and print info about the march that you hand to folks and tell them to send in with a check on your behalf to sponsor your participation in the march. I made sure my name was on a handful of cards I carry with me everywhere.
“Here,” I said, “perhaps you and your contractor husband would want to donate to the cause, making greater independence for more people possible by supporting the greatest organization for the blind in the world. I intend to be at the Medallion level raising $1,000 or more.”

Taking the card, she said, “We just send this in to the address here?”

“Well, yes, easy as that, with a check, of course,” I said with a grin.

I began moving toward the doors and she called after me down the hall, “We’ll sponsor you!” she said with some enthusiasm.

“You’re very kind,” I said. I quickened my pace. “The money doesn’t go to me. It’s my entry fee, and it will be spent wisely to change what it means to be blind,” I said as I heard the doors slide open. “And watch out for us contractors,” I said, smiling over my shoulder. I could have been surly or angry or ignored her altogether. If I had responded like that, the outcome would not have resulted in a positive connection and a potential contribution to our Imagination Fund. The way we respond to the people around us and the little events of each day can lead to changed attitudes and new understandings. Watch out, world, we are marching for independence. We are changing what it means to be blind. We are the National Federation of the Blind, and we are on the move!

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