Seeing life through the eyes of the blind

My name is Rebecca, but many people call me Bekki. I am an extremely happy, outgoing 44-year-old who just happens to have vision loss.
I am new to your congregation and excited to get to know you. However, before we get too deep into conversation, I need to share some important things with you.

I am visually impaired, or as some prefer to say, legally blind. I have many friends who have “low vision.” That is also a form of blindness, but low vision includes some usable vision.

I walk with a white cane. Many of my friends prefer to use a guide dog. Both serve the same purposes: to help us scan ahead for obstacles, assist us in navigating, and identify ourselves as someone with a visual impairment.

What kind of obstacles, you ask? Holes in the sidewalk, chairs that are not pushed in, bags and purses lying on the floor, etc. As someone who has walked into many a half-closed door, I can tell you that these and many other things are a huge deal for my friends and me.

Here are some “do’s and don’ts” when approaching someone with a guide dog. These rules are for the safety of the owners and their beautiful animals.

If you see a dog in harness, please DO NOT attempt to pet, touch, feed, or do anything else that may distract the dog while it is “working.”

Talk to the owner, not the dog. This will distract the dog. Many owners want you to meet their furry friend and even pet them, but let the owner introduce you, then follow their instructions.

The guide dog is that person’s eyes and their guide. Do not try to take over for the dog. Never take the owner’s arm to guide them, and never grab the dog’s harness.

Always walk on the person’s right side. The dog is trained to be at their owner’s left. You could distract the dog and get them off course.

In time, I will come to know your voice, but I cannot always recognize a voice if there is a lot of noise around us. So please say your name each time you approach me. This saves the embarrassment of hearing me ask you every time, “I’m sorry, what is your name?”

Everyone likes to be heard in a group conversation, and it is no different for someone with vision loss. You will find that I am a very interesting woman. Even though I am not able to read non-verbal signs between people, I still have something to share. So please include me in your conversations. Do not talk over me as if I do not exist. I am an independent adult woman who has a voice of her own. I will give you respect; I only ask for that same respect in return.

If you find me sitting by myself in a pew or at a table after the service, do not assume that I am choosing to be alone. Come up to me, introduce yourself, and let me tell you if I would like some company or not. Nine times out of ten, I would love some!

If you need to leave, please announce that you are doing so. This way I am aware that you are no longer there. It will save me the embarrassment of having another conversation with only myself.

One final thing that I really want you to remember: Please do not avoid me as if I have a disease that you can catch. Blindness, as scary as it can seem, is not something that I can give you. Many of my friends have lost their vision because of inherited diseases, complications from medicines, or were born without sight. I lost my vision after two strokes and massive brain swelling from the removal of a brain tumor.

None of us asked for this, nor is it easy. But at the end of the day, we are just like everyone else in this congregation. We are all God’s children who read the Bible and quote Scripture. The only difference between you and me is that we see the world through a different pair of eyes.

It was really nice to meet you! When I see you next, remember to introduce yourself, as I would really like to talk with you again.

“I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them; I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth. These are the things I will do; I will not forsake them” (Isaiah 42:16).

Rebecca Glassing lives in the Twin Cities and volunteers with the Mission for the Visually Impaired (MVI) in St. Paul, Minn.

Learn more about MVI’s work and resources at wels.net/mvi and at csm.welsrc.net/mvi.