From Barbara Pierce: In recent months Miss Whozit has answered 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, 200 East Wells Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21230, or email me at <firstname.lastname@example.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,
My fiancé and I are planning to be married in June—if I live that long. My mother of course has always dreamed of giving me a church wedding with all the trimmings. In theory I don’t object to this plan, but things are already getting out of hand. Luckily the National Library Service has a few etiquette books that cover wedding planning, but they do not address blindness issues, which is mostly where I am running into conflict with my mother.
Miss Whozit, everyone agrees that shower and wedding gift thank you notes should be handwritten, which is out of the question for me. Mother says that she and my sister should copy over the text of notes I write on the computer. This seems silly to me and a lot of extra work at a time when we are all going to be really busy. So my first question is, how important is it that my thank you notes be in longhand?
The other big disagreement we are having is about using my white cane. Mother says that I should not use it because I will have my bouquet in one hand and my father’s arm in the other while going down the aisle and my new husband’s arm coming back. I can’t dispute her count of available hands, but my cane is a major part of my identity and a symbol of my independence. Without it in my hand or at least available to me, I know I will feel vulnerable and a bit panicky. Do I have to put myself through all that because my mother finds my cane distasteful and does not want it in the photographs or present at all as a reminder to our guests that her daughter is less than perfect? I know that this is the way she feels, and the knowledge is an ongoing source of pain for me. But if I have my way, she will be hurt, and I wonder if I am being selfish by insisting on using my cane during the service.
If you can shed any light of reason on this big emotional mess, I would be forever grateful.
Thinking of Eloping
If your mother wanted to downplay your cane during her wedding, Miss Whozit might—I say might—have a bit more sympathy for her. But wedding experts all agree that the couple being married are the stars of this particular extravaganza. Surely we can all agree that there is no good reason for blind people not to meet or exceed the standards of civility and correctness that the community holds generally. This does not require, however, spending money or effort to meet those standards in exactly the way that sighted people do. So, for example, if neither bride nor groom can see photos, why should they spend many hundreds or thousands of dollars for a photographer? Finding a friend to take some pictures so that family members or future children can occasionally enjoy them should be sufficient.
By the same token, if people have gone to the trouble and expense of sending a shower or wedding gift, they deserve a brief but sincerely written thank you. But Miss Whozit sees no reason why, in this age of powerful word-processing programs, a blind bride—or groom—cannot have a tasteful letterhead designed, perhaps with a wedding graphic incorporated, that can be used on a half-sheet-sized piece of stationery. I gather from your letter that your groom is sighted. If your mother’s aunt Penelope would be shocked into a fit if she received a printed note from you, your fiancé—who Miss Whozit firmly believes should be writing some of the notes anyway—might take on the responsibility of writing that thank you along with the ones to his family. In this day and age most people are so happy to receive thank you notes at all that they will hardly notice whether or not they are legibly printed from a computer or have to be decoded by a handwriting expert. In fact, they may well prefer the former.
As for using your cane during the wedding service, only you can decide whether family peace is worth compromising your identity and increasing your stress on the big day. Miss Whozit has a hard time believing that a loving mother of the bride would ask such sacrifice. If the groom were blind, you both would have to have and use white canes, so it is certainly acceptable for a bride to use her white cane and have her father and new husband both place their hands on her arm when they are required to walk together. The cane and the bouquet can be handed to the maid of honor at the appropriate time and can both be returned at the close of the ceremony. If Miss Whozit were making this decision for her own exceedingly correct nuptials, she would carry a brand new white cane and would plan very carefully where it is to be at every moment of the service. She might well choose a telescoping one that could be collapsed and placed by her foot in the receiving line. Remember that guests will accept the white cane as part of the ceremony if the bride and groom and wedding party are comfortable with its presence. If you are calm and firm in announcing that your cane is part of your wedding finery, like your shoes or your veil, your mother is likely to yield to the inevitable.
Dear Miss Whozit,
I freely admit that I am pretty much a slob. I hate wearing pantyhose, and I much prefer sweat suits or jeans to tailored suits or skirts and jackets. I work in an office that seems to have an unwritten dress code. I don’t have a lot of contact with outsiders coming into the reception area. I mostly sit at my computer in my cubicle and work. But I do occasionally move around, and I guess I can sometimes be seen by clients. My supervisor has told me that she would like for me to dress more professionally and has even suggested that someone from the office could go shopping with me to help me choose more appropriate clothes.
I am pretty angry about what I consider an invasion of my rights and privacy. I don’t have real friends on the staff, so she would be twisting someone’s arm to go shopping with me. I don’t think it is fair to insist that I dress in a way that is not me. On the other hand, I don’t want to lose my job. I don’t care what other people are wearing, and I don’t see why they should care about what I wear. Do you think I am being unreasonable?
Not Dressed for Success
Miss Whozit respectfully suggests that, if you want to dress like a slob while you are at work, you look for a job that will allow you to telecommute. The fact that your supervisor considers this enough of a concern to bring up the matter with you suggests that this is a serious issue and that you had better begin taking it seriously. The fact that she offered you the assistance of a coworker says pretty clearly that she presumes you are unable to choose appropriate clothing independently or make your own arrangements for getting help to do so. If I were you, I would be deeply concerned at this assessment of my competence.
Blind people are quite right to insist on our right to equal treatment, but we should also demand that we be held to the same standards of productivity and behavior as our neighbors. Unfortunately for you this means recognizing and abiding by the standard for dress in your office. Over and above your supervisor’s concern that your slovenly appearance gives visitors and staff alike a poor impression of the professionalism in the office, it leaves you open to the condescending conclusion that, because you are blind, you are unable to meet the standard set by others around you. Unfortunately you don’t have the luxury of acting in a vacuum; by your behavior you are shaping their views of all blind people. You may also be leaving yourself vulnerable to losing your job or being tucked away where you won’t be an embarrassment.
You are living in the sighted community, and in places like your office, standards of dress are important, whether you like that fact or not. If you really can’t stand business attire, I am serious about suggesting that you look for employment from home, where no one will care what you are wearing. The minute you step outside your door, you are teaching society something about blindness and blind people. Surely the responsible thing would be for you to be teaching something positive.