This post was written by current student Robin Kellner.
Almost daily, my clients and I are stopped by curious passer-by’s who have numerous questions and who feel entitled to our personal information.
I understand that we stand out. It’s not common to see two people side by side, one telling the other about every visual and auditory stimulus in the mall, doctor’s office, or restaurant. But that is how some people who are deafblind live their lives, with someone travelling beside them providing access to everything there is to see and hear in the environment around them.
Most commonly, I am asked if my client is my parent.
A few weeks ago, my client was getting her banking done when the teller stops to ask “Are you her daughter?” When I passed the question along to my client, she snapped “No! She’s an intervenor.”
We both sighed as we left the bank, “It’s annoying. I’m not old enough to be your mother.” It’s true, not even by a long shot.
Curiosity is human nature, but I often wonder, if disability were to be removed from the situation, would people still feel inclined to ask such questions? I would never pull up a chair at a café and ask the two people sitting at the table how they know each other. By Torontonian standards, that would be socially inappropriate – not to mention that I do not give a crap how they know each other.
It may not sound horrible to be approached with questions, but could you imagine if it happened almost every day? Such inquiries rarely turn into thoughtful conversations promote awareness of deafblindness – they are flat out insulting.
The interview does not often end with me being asked if I am my client’s offspring. Again and again, we hear “Can she see?” or “What’s wrong with him?”
These quandaries are also always directed at me implying that the person views my client as invisible and unable to answer a question.
I am not advocating for a society of people who never talk to one another and ask each other questions, but I encourage people to think about their questions before asking them. Speak to the person you are curious about directly, regardless of their mode of communication, language, vision, or hearing, and ask yourself: Why am I asking the question? Without the presence of visible disability, would I still feel the need to ask the question at all?
On a recent shift at the dentist, the receptionist asked if my client was my father. When I relayed the answer along to my client – who took the time to explain the role of an intervenor – the response was: “so like your daughter.”
We were speechless – but offered polite chuckles as we walked out using sighted guide. Having never been in that situation with this particular person, once we got outside, I asked him how he felt about the question. His response gave me a new perspective to the scenario – he said that he should have asked the receptionist if the dentist was her mother.
It occurred to me that such questions are not only disrespectful to the person with the embodied difference; they are also patronizing to the intervenor and diminish our roles as professionals.
The receptionist at the dental office is a skilled professional who plays an essential role in managing the office and ensuring the quality of the patients’ experience. Intervenors are trained professionals who provide visual and auditory information to people who are deafblind, and are trained in various modes of communication, orientation and mobility, and much more. Sure, it could happen that a dentist could hire their child to work in their office, and a family member could be put in the position of intervenor if there is a need. But would you ever feel the need to ask the receptionist at a dental office how they are related to their employer? I would guess the answer to that question is likely no.
Why then, do people feel it is their right to ask me how I am related to the person beside me who is holding my arm, a white cane, or the harness of a guide dog? Is it because they are perceived to have a disability?
In reality, I could be their daughter, cousin, or I could even be their lover – but is it really any of your business?