By Jule Ann Lieberman
About five years ago while I was in graduate school, I would take the regional rail to my lab classes on campus at Salus University. In the early hours of the morning this meant that I would board in Devon and exit at Jefferson Station in Philadelphia. I would then wait about ten minutes to board a train to Jenkintown. Having some functional vision, I was able to see how some other passengers reacted to me.
My dog guide (then Johann) would guide me to the bench at Devon Station. I saw out of the blurry corner of my eye that a fellow passenger got up and moved further down the platform. At the time, I just thought perhaps he was not comfortable with dogs, so I brushed this off. The next day I left Johann home because of weather concerns and traveled with my cane instead. I located the bench, and again the man got up and moved down the platform. Thinking that people are basically accepting, I shrugged the incidents off, considering that maybe he wanted to board further down in the line of cars.
A similar incident happened at my connecting station as well. This time a woman who was sitting on the far end of the bench as I sat down got up and moved to another bench. The same behavior happened whether I was using my white cane or my dog guide. Since I’ve never had a problem with my personal hygiene or my dog’s hygiene, and I was dressed in work appropriate professional clothing , I deduced it was only the fact that I had visible evidence that I was blind that seemed to repel these fellow passengers. Seeing their willful avoidance really depressed me at first.
Of course, this played on my mind and with my personality type, I wanted to go up to each of them and say, “Hey, what is your problem? I too work, ride the train and live a full happy life.” Was it that they thought I would have my “hat in hand” where the term handicapped originated, or did they fear my blindness was contagious? But I followed my mother’s advice from childhood to keep being kind, and for those who reject you, it is truly their loss not yours. Now I just smile when I see this happen and think to myself, I am here, I am working hard, and I am loved by family and good friends.
My blindness has not lowered my self-esteem nor should anyone who is experiencing changes in their vision feel excluded. My mother’s words remind me that the loss is theirs when others choose to exclude me. It makes me think about others that have been excluded and discriminated against only on the fact that they are different. Do not fear the discrimination but live your life as you want. While I wish I had not “seen” this behavior, I prefer to focus on all the great new people that Have taken the time on the train to treat me as an equal. Keep being kind and others will join you!