When one is a child, their parents are mostly the ones who are speaking upon their behalf. One example of this would be at a doctor’s office. As a child, we rely on our parents in these circumstances to advocate for our medical needs. They hold on to important paperwork such as your health care card or forms for their kids, and for those of us with disabilities like blindness, this often can continue on into our older years. I have personally been one of these people, as someone was always involved in answering medical questions upon my behalf and assisting me in filling out inaccessible, yet personal, medical forms. Although I understand why this may seem helpful, it is in fact hindering blind individuals from not only communicating for themselves and advocating for their needs, but further solidifies society’s view about disabled people.
For instance, even now when I enter a doctor’s office or medical clinic, if someone is with me the receptionist will always turn to them and ask questions about me rather than addressing me as the 21 year old adult that I am. I have learnt that, just as with in many other things in life, I have the right to take charge of my own medical needs and am realizing how valuable this can be as you get older. Many people do find it interesting that people who are blind struggle in a medical or health care setting, as they expect staff to understand about accessibility simply because our eyes are a medical diagnosis. However, this theory is quite the opposite. I find that many medical professionals and/or health care workers are well-trained in the physical aspects of medical conditions as that is what they are mostly working with.
As I got older, I didn’t necessarily wish to have someone accompany me during a medical visit or answer personal details about me and my medical issues on my behalf. I asked other blind friends and adults how they take this on, and I was a little surprised to hear that it was possible. The key was also finding a doctor people spoke highly of, which I definitely did when I needed to go see them on my own for the first time.
Booking an appointment was the easy part, because you can always complete this over the phone, which not only helps avoid the situation of the receptionist not addressing you directly, but also not having to worrying about finding a way to travel in to book and appointment for a later date. When my appointment finally came around, I was quite nervous. One of the first things the doctor I had gone to seen expressed was her lack of knowledge in how to interact with a blind person, and to let her know if she was doing anything incorrectly. This is always my favourite statement someone can make! Not only does it ease my worries in that setting, but it shows a person’s willingness to communicate directly to their patient and are not afraid of the subject of blindness.
Since that day, I have always tried to book my appointments with the same doctor, as I found someone who worked for me. Sometimes that may not be the case, and you may have to visit a few people to see whom you feel most comfortable with not only about your disability, but your medical information. Along with this, a couple years ago, I had an X-ray technician student approach me to ask questions about how they could best assist someone who is blind during that process, as there is often a lot of body movement in order to position someone for an x-ray scan. This was a great learning experience for the both of us, as I learned that my advocacy and educating could also be brought into the medical world as well. For instance, I talked to this student about how to describe certain body positions to their blind patients and also how to ask when moving their leg or arm in a certain way. Since that interview, I have really wanted to continue doing presentations and educating for medical personelle. Therefore, I now attempt to speak up for certain things I may need from my doctor or nurse, such as to let me know when they would be sticking a needle into my arm for my COVID shot, or how they could best direct me to the exam table in their office.
Even though I still encounter situations such as a doctor’s office handing me physical paper copies of a medical form and asking someone with me to sign for me, I am grateful that I now know that I can speak up for myself rather than go along with the assumption that I am unable to fill out a form, decide if a tooth gets pulled, etc. I understand one may be hesitant in allowing their blind child to be on their own, but if we do not teach them about their own medical conditions or advocating in that space, they will not have the skills to do so when they may need to. I do wish I had known this was possible much sooner, and had assistance in building up those skills. I am glad that I am able to not have to disclose every medical issue I may have to someone while needing them to accompany me to a doctor, and just as “normal” people have this right, it is important to remember that people with disabilities are not exempt from that.
by Harjinder Saran (Jinnie)