by Kristal Platt
We all deal with the public's misconceptions about blindness on a daily basis. Many of us shared these misconceptions at one time or another as we sorted out what blind people are capable of doing. Sometimes people's ideas of what blind people are like is so off the mark that the real-life situations are quite humorous. True stories often make some of the best teaching illustrations of ignorance, as this one demonstrates.
Late in September of 1988 after moving to an apartment in Chicago, I called an operator from a pay phone to set up my new phone service. She asked the usual questions documenting my name and street address. When she got to the question of my zip code, it occurred to me that I had not asked anyone what the zip code was in this neighborhood. She said, "It's like the blind leading the blind because I don't usually cover this region of town and you aren't familiar with the area." I laughed politely because she obviously had not realized the pun she had made.
Then I remembered that I had not asked for her to send the paperwork for the directory service exemption. I debated whether I should hang up and call back to get a different operator because I was concerned that she might be embarrassed about what she had said; however, I did not want to do that since I was standing at a pay phone and the new operator would need to enter the data all over again. I decided to word my request very carefully. I said, "Remember when you said it is like the blind leading the blind? That was actually very funny because I am blind." I heard a horrified gasp and she said, "You don't SOUND blind."
I did get my phone hooked up, and I did have free 411 directory assistance. Years later my friends and I still laugh as we wonder if she ever realized how silly she sounded. Just what does it mean to "sound blind?"