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 Gary Wunder, 200 East Wells Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21230, or email me at <email@example.com>. 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,
Any day now snow will be flying in my part of the world, and I don’t mind admitting that I don’t like the stuff. I live in a small town that has an ordinance requiring home owners to keep their section of the public sidewalk clear of snow, and the post office leaves nasty notes on the front door if the path to the owner’s mailbox is icy or otherwise hard to get to. I have even been threatened with nondelivery of mail until my walk is cleared.
As I said, I do not like snow, and I cannot afford to relocate to a warmer climate, but I really can’t afford to pay someone to shovel my walks every time snow accumulates. I think that, because I am blind, these laws discriminate against me. What do you think, and what can I do about it?
Sick of Snow
Your letter provides me no clue about your age and state of health. If you are frail and elderly, have serious back trouble, suffer from arthritis, or deal with other serious health complications, I suspect that both your city council and post office must have exceptions to the requirement that you keep your walks clear of snow and ice. If your only objection to shoveling snow is that you are blind and don’t like the cold, Miss Whozit modestly suggests that you get over it.
In the January 2008 issue of the Braille Monitor, Robert Leslie Newman provided excellent advice to snow shovelers, and he lives in Nebraska, where they know a thing or two about snowfall and snow removal. Miss Whozit has cleared her share of snow through the years, and her advice is, don’t let it get ahead of you if you can help it. Removing two inches of white stuff four times is far easier than trying to get down to pavement when eight inches have already fallen. If you fear that you will lose track of where your front door is, station a radio or portable CD player there to keep you oriented. If you really have trouble staying on the walk or driveway, maybe you could pay a neighbor youngster to shovel with you and keep you on track. If you are doing half or more of the actual work, the cost will be much less than paying an adult to do the entire job.
This is probably not the response you were hoping for, but Miss Whozit is pretty sure that you don’t want to hide behind blindness as an excuse for not being a good neighbor.
Dear Miss Whozit,
Several times a winter my city gets serious snow storms. My employer almost never takes this emergency into consideration in setting attendance policy. We are expected to get to work almost regardless of weather conditions or the state of traffic. I have been told that the Social Security Administration does not require its blind employees to come to work on snowy days, and they do not have to take vacation days when they stay home in bad weather. Doesn’t it seem reasonable to you that other employers should adopt this reasonable policy?
Tired of Being Cold
The question you have raised does not seem to Miss Whozit to have much to do with the etiquette of blindness, but she is so perturbed at the notion that Social Security might employ such a foolish blanket policy that she cannot remain silent. Let us be clear about this matter. If public transportation is not operating, it does not seem reasonable that those who depend on that means of transportation should be expected to get to work, particularly if they do not live within walking distance of their jobs. Mostly, however, buses and light-rail services keep running, albeit slowly. If city or state officials have determined that it is unsafe to have traffic moving during a snow emergency, they will urge everyone who can stay home to do so. In that case it is reasonable for blind employees to stay warm at home. If other workers are expected to be at work and the buses are running, Miss Whozit believes that blind employees should be at work as well.
Lest you conclude that Miss Whozit has lost touch with reality, you should consider that in Baltimore, where traffic is tied up by snowfall several times a winter, the National Center for the Blind staff are all—blind and sighted alike—expected to get to work as long as it is safe to do so. The Center is always open, and those who decide to stay home must take a personal or vacation day to do so. It should be pointed out that, because the NFB has sleeping accommodations on site, employees are always allowed to stay overnight if a storm is coming or arrives during a workday. This unusual situation makes a rigorous snow policy practical when it might not be realistic for other employers. But the principle is clear: blindness does not excuse an employee from getting to work if it is possible and safe to do so.