Let’s Talk Self Advocacy

By Chris Hunsinger, Second Vice President

This isn’t the request for you to do something for PCB. It’s a request to do something for you. When you have a positive attitude and an assured way of handling yourself, that is part of creating and enhancing your self-image.

I’m not asking you to chain yourself to signs or outdoor tables at restaurants that block access to a sidewalk. I’m not asking you to sign petitions. I’m not asking you to call your Congressman or your state legislator. I just want you to do what comes naturally. I’m asking you to step up to tell people about the things that you can do; to be an advocate for your independence during your everyday life.

Remember that when the clerk talks to the friend who accompanies you, and not to you, you need to step up with the answer. When you get your change, be sure to ask what bills you have been given.

When you go to a restaurant, remember to ask for an accessible menu. If they don’t have one, ask that staff go over menu choices with you. Tell the restaurant manager that you can put them in touch with someone who can help with doing either braille or large print menus. Be sure to tell them at restaurants if you use their website to read the menu. You may want to tell them if it appears out of date and different from the menu at the table. I’ve had that happen before when I ordered something that was no longer being served because the website hadn’t been updated.

Not only are we advocates, but we are also ambassadors from the country of the blind, so to speak. Be willing to explain your system for keeping track of things. You may well use braille labels or store things in a particular way. If you are asked how you know an outfit you are wearing matches, explain how you handle that issue. When someone asks about how you know that it is safe to cross a street, explain how you listen to traffic. When someone is concerned because you appear too close to the curb while walking down the sidewalk, explain if you are looking for a specific landmark. When you are having a conversation just to pass the time of day, you may surprise a stranger with comments about movies you have watched, gardening you have done, mountains you have skied, or recipes you have baked.

When you ask for help, let people know what help you need. Some people would be willing to help you find the restroom door, but they wouldn’t want to help you use the facilities once you get there.

Don’t hesitate when you are at a doctor’s office and get a handful of printed information. Ask if it is available in some form you can read. They might be able to email it to you. Usually, the diet sheets or instructions that go with a test come from some place on the internet, and they just print up copies as they need them. It will at least start the thinking process about how to make sure you get the correct and complete information. When you make that appointment, ask if the medical history form is available in a way that you can complete it yourself at home ahead of time without having to say everything in a crowded waiting room with rushed staff and everyone overhearing your responses to personal medical questions.

I’m sure we all do these things some of the time, but if we do them consciously and consistently, we become more assertive. We will project a more positive image of people who are blind and improve our own self-confidence.

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