“Why did you do that?” he asked as I touched the ashtray with the tip of my little finger before flicking my cigarette.
I paused, taken aback. Not because I didn’t know what to answer, but because tiny gestures such as these usually go unnoticed.
Whenever I’m surrounded by people I’ve never met before, someone always ends up wanting me to check out a picture of their fantasy ride or infamous ex, to which I reply, as I did to the guy sitting next to me: “Actually, I’m blind.”
Thanks to awareness-raising campaigns, Hollywood movies, hell, even Dove ads, you’ve seen us wandering around with cute Labrador Retrievers, touching the face of every person we meet, and rejoicing over the foamy wonders of a shower gel.
However, more often than not, the first time you come across a blind person – and I’ve been that first encounter more than once – you weirdly don’t expect us to wear matching clothes or use an iPhone. God forbid we’re able to smoke a cigarette or claim we dated someone who wasn’t visually impaired.
If that’s the case, you’re going to think I’m the visually impaired’s worst ambassador: I don’t own a Labrador, wear shades, touch faces, and I never learned Braille. But I’m going to let you in on some of the blind world’s best-kept secrets.
We can sometimes tell the way a person looks by the way they walk and talk without necessarily using those mystical blind hands of ours.
Forget about touching faces altogether, with the right people helping us reach our full potential, we can do all sort of activities. We use our hands to play the piano, bake cookies, even arm-knit scarves if that’s what we’re into. We just live with our eyes closed, the rest is simply a matter of perception.
Just like there’s nothing you can do about Christmas traffic, July sunburn, nasty food allergies, or your incapacity to stay on a treadmill for more than 10 minutes, we learn to accept our limits. We just spend a bit more time doing things we could’ve done quicker before, like finding that tennis shoe under the bed.
We mask the indulgent smile that curls our lips when you blur out questions you usually think you’re the first to ask like, “So what do you see?” or “Isn’t it hard to choose your clothes without knowing what they look like?”
In fact, it’s all about choosing your battles. What you sometimes think is hard for a blind person isn’t necessarily what they actually avoid doing or consider an obstacle. For instance, between turning on the oven and eating a plate of lasagna, I would never pick the latter. I’m sure those of you who don't know a blind person wouldn’t have guessed that.
Since I can’t speak on behalf of all the blind people out there, I’ll let the next one you encounter tell you all about their own obstacles and hobbies. I wouldn’t like to deprive them the pleasure of answering your “Do you dream in colors?” question.