Welcome, this week’s post is about My Social Skills and, most importantly, my Lack there of them. I’m not sure if I should turn this into a series, I certainly have enough material to do so, but I’ll see how it goes, technically I’m not supposed to be posting anything at all and should be working on my NaNoWriMo Project.
However, I feel strongly about this and it was going to distract me from Metamorphosis anyway until I posted it up, that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it. Anyway. my day-job is a customer service occupation at my local supermarket. For people who require special assistance with shopping, for example an elderly person or a person in a wheelchair (though we do have a wheel-chair accessible trolley available), a customer can come up to the service desk and request someone to assist them.
By circumstance, I’m often stationed at the Disability Access Register, which is a register with a wider lane-way so that people in wheel-chairs can move through it easier, though it’s often used with people who have walking frames, oxygen tanks and certain prams because the other registers are simply too narrow for those types of mobility devices or other equipment to go through. There’s only two of these registers available in the supermarket that I work at and can be identified by the extra light (with a person in a wheel-chair sticker on it) next to the number light that tells a customer a register is open. Now, these registers are at opposite ends of the store, registers 1 and 8 respectively. Register 1 is a pain the arse to use because while it’s a disability access register, it’s often the last register to be updated, there are problems with the eftpos machine (you have to press extra hard on the buttons), it’s not a major problem, but it’s a complete pain in the arse because I get a lot of customers who come into the store and buy things, but don’t bring their glasses along with them, I figure it’s because they’re ashamed to be seen wearing glasses, to be seen as less than perfect. Perhaps a small moment of Vanity might seem insignificant, but it has a whole domino effect on the shopping experience. I’ll give an example:
I once had a middle-aged lady come through my register, spent the whole time leaning close to the register, squinting at the screen, and when it came time to use the eftpos machine, it took her almost ten minutes for her to select her account and type in her pin. That might not seem like a long time, but in Customer service, that is forever. Now, as I said the eftpos machine on register one is difficult, you need to press harder to key in your pin, but a customer shouldn’t need to nearly press their face right up against it to see it. When I asked her if she needed assistance, she snapped at me, saying something along the lines of “I can use an eftpos machine, thank you.”, this mostly because she was embarrassed about the fact that she couldn’t see and she was holding up the other customers. Now, logically that could have all been avoided if she had just worn her glasses, or she could have paid cash, or she could have handed over her eftpos card to me and I could have processed it for her. The person attending the cash-register will generally know how to use the eftpos machine better than a customer (it’s not always the case, I’ve experienced some pretty shitty customer service skills myself, but that’s an indicator of a bigger problem).
The point I’m trying to make here is that, if it’s considerably difficult for a person with impaired vision to perform basic activities (like use an eftpos machine to buy food), imagine what it must be like for someone who is completely blind, how much more difficult those day-to-day things must must be.
Take yesterday for example, the 22nd and the 23rd of November is the annual Strawberries and Cherries Festival that occurs every year (the dates aren’t always the same but it generally happens sometime in November). Most of the time, I work both days of the festival, so it’s not big deal but there’s usually a lot of slow moving people out on the footpath, there’s live music performances going on and there’s a stamp trail (you go around to a bunch of different local shops and collect a stamp on a bingo card, if you collect all the stamps, I think you get a prize? Not entirely sure). Yesterday was the first day of the festival, I was working 14:00 to 17:30 (because my manager likes to give me weird shifts for some reason) and there’s a blind gentleman who comes in on a regular basis, usually on a Saturday.
The gentleman had his guide dog with him on this occasion (he doesn’t always have a guide dog with him, sometimes he only has a cane) and I’m there talking to him, asking how he is, if he was okay with the large amount of people on the sidewalk. I mean, I personally don’t like crowds and I get anxious at being in closed in tight spaces with lots of people, but I can navigate around it. But no apparently he was fine, apparently his dog was very popular with lots of people coming up and patting him (which you really shouldn’t do by the way). The conversation kinda went like this:
“He’s very popular, but people don’t notice me, I’m invisible,” the gentleman said.
I laughed and said “that’s terrible,”
You know, because my brain doesn’t work a lot of the time, and then I realised he wasn’t joking about the being invisible part, so my brain kicked in and told me “WARNING: You just laughed at the idea of a blind man being invisible, you are an awful human being.” and I was guilt-ridden mess for the rest of the time he was there, it doesn’t help that the supermarket I work at is located in a shopping center, where there is LOTS of noise and I often have to speak up or lean closer in order to speak to the gentleman.
To make matters worse, this isn’t the first time I’ve said something really bad and only realised that was an awful thing to say afterwards. Like the time I talking with the gentleman about his previous guide-dog which had to removed from the guide-dog program because the dog was going blind. The conversation went like this.
“Fair enough, we wouldn’t want either of you to get hurt,” I said
“Oh no, he was my best friend, I wanted to keep him,” he said.
I could tell how sad this made him, just by his tone, and then my brain helpfully kicked in and told me “WARNING: You just advocated for a blind person to have his best friend taken away, you are an awful human being.” *GUILTY AWKWARD SILENCE*
So yeah, I suppose the take-away message here is that I should probably not interact with people who have a disabilities or just people in general, perhaps I should just become a hermit and spare everyone my presence. And you know what makes it even worse? I don’t even know his name, or the name of his dog and he probably doesn’t even know mine, which is especially bad as introducing yourself is one of things you’re supposed to do when interacting with blind or visually impaired people (no doubt he knows me as the weird one at the supermarket), and because I’m usually always working on a Saturday and as there’s only two registers he can go through, there’s a high chance he’s stuck with me. So I figured I would look into how to improve my lackluster social skills and apparently there’s a couple of websites that have helped (links are below) and hopefully they will help other people too.
If there are any links to websites, organisations or helpful tips readers would like to suggest, I’m happy to take recommendations.
Blind Welfare Association
5 Shocking Ways the Modern World Screws Blind People by J.F. Sargent and T.L. Swedensky
Ten Tips For Interacting With People Who Are Blind by Shelley Johns
Interacting With A Person Who is Blind – Blindskills Inc.