Braille Monitor                                                 January 2013

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Ask 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 Gary Wunder, 200 East Wells Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21230, or email me at <gwunder@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,

A formal place setting, complete with placecard bearing the Whozit logo and the words, “Miss Whozit.”I am a sociable fellow, but I feel overwhelmed in a loud crowd. I’ve occasionally tried the bars, but the noise is so loud that conversing is a major effort, no matter how much or little I drink. My hearing is good, but pulling out the conversation from the background noise is difficult. How can I more fully participate in the after-work celebrations and feel included?

Eager to Join in

Dear Eager,

Miss Whozit sympathizes with your problem. The truth is that most sighted people in loud bars do a lot of lip reading in order to follow the conversation. This is one reason why you will find that most blind people avoid loud social scenes whenever possible.

The solutions are no secret. The most obvious one is to attach yourself to a group planning to go to the party or bar, and be sure to do your share of standing rounds. It is easy to commandeer someone to go with you to the bar to help carry drinks back since you obviously have to use one hand for the cane or dog harness. This will help you return to your table efficiently. If a large group of your acquaintances is together at a bar, do your best to find a couple of interesting people to hang with at the tables.

You may decide that getting to know folks at a bar is a good way for you to strike up friendships. If so, give some thought to choosing a bar without loud music, perhaps even one with carpeting or acoustical tiles to absorb the noise. Then return frequently enough to get to know the clientele and the layout of the room. In this way you will get to know voices and move around confidently. If you are at ease with the general social situation, others will relax and give themselves a chance to get to know you.

Dear Miss Whozit,

In my job attendance at dinner parties is sometimes required. I work in sales and support, so developing relationships is important. The parties our company hosts are meant to provide people like me with a chance to form relationships that inspire trust. As a blind person how can I seek out people with whom to converse? I sometimes walk up to others in conversation, but I am never quite sure when this is socially acceptable and when I may be intruding. How would Miss Whozit conduct herself at such social events, making the most of them as my company intends, but not posing a problem for my coworkers and our current and potential customers?
Nervous in New York

Dear Nervous,

Company dinners can be very different from each other. If someone is organizing the seating, you may be able to speak with him or her about helping you meet the people you need to meet by seating you at the same table. If you discover when you reach the restaurant that a seating chart is posted, grab someone you know to tell you where you have been assigned and who else is seated at the table. When seating is completely unstructured, stake out a place for yourself at a table you like and let other people come to you.

To make a social success of such occasions, it is important to practice the rules of social interaction and etiquette: do not encroach on other people’s space, which in the U.S. means standing no closer than eighteen inches to two feet from the person with whom you are chatting. Try your best to get the other person to talk about himself or herself. Express interest in what other people are saying. Laugh at their jokes. Respond thoughtfully to their comments. Be prepared with amusing anecdotes of your own or interesting facts or stories that you have heard recently. People who are good listeners are usually thought to be excellent conversationalists. You can acquire such a reputation if you work at it. These skills do not emerge fully developed from your mouth. You must practice the art of conversation, including dealing quickly with and then dismissing questions about blindness. If you make it clear that you are not interested in the topic and substitute something that is engaging or humorous, other people will drop the subject, and you can get on with your effort to get to know them. Miss Whozit has often noticed that conversations in groups that include a blind person frequently focus on blindness. She suspects that the sighted people presume that the blind person has no other interests and the blind person stays with the topic because he or she is the expert and so feels confident with the subject. Everyone in such groups needs to discover that blind people can and do discuss other topics.

Dear Miss Whozit,

I love your columns and wish they appeared more frequently. The problem as I see it is that you don’t get enough thoughtful questions from readers. How can I help?

Straw Man in Stratford

Dear Straw Man,

As you imply, the solution is for readers to sit down and write out their questions and send them to the editor. That is the only way for more columns to appear.

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