DEAR ABBY: I am writing this on behalf of all people who are blind or visually impaired. You would be doing them a service if you would remind your readers that blind people are not "strange" or to be feared; they are ordinary people who, for whatever reason, cannot see.
I do volunteer work with the blind and hear the same stories over and over. I've finally concluded that most sighted people do not understand what blindness is all about. 1. Blindness is not contagious. My students tell me that people frequently back away from them when told they are blind.
2. Blind people are not hard of hearing; you don't have to raise your voice when you speak to them.
3. There are different degrees of visual impairment. Some have lost their peripheral vision, but can see straight ahead; others have only peripheral vision, while others have cloudy vision and can see only in bright light. Still others are totally blind.
4. Blind people cannot drive a car, but they can do just about everything else a sighted person can do, if given the chance.
The public needs to be educated on the white-cane laws. Only those with a visual impairment are allowed to carry white canes, and motorists are required to stop for anyone carrying one.
Guide dogs and service dogs, those wonderful creatures who give independence to the blind and other disabled people, are to be respected. DON'T try to pet one when it is in harness. They don't bite, but by distracting the dog, the owner may be put in harm's way. If you feel you must pet one, ask permission first! And parents, for heaven's sake, teach your children never to pet the dogs. I have seen young children rush up to a guide dog and hug it.
Thank you, Abby, for spreading the word. -– EILEEN PARLEE, CATHEDRAL CITY, CALIF.
DEAR EILEEN: Thank you for a letter brimming with helpful information. There are many agencies nationwide that work with people who are blind or have a visual impairment. I would urge anyone who knows someone who has lost his or her sight to encourage that person to seek training so he or she can live independently. It can be done, and is being done.