Hi U of T! For my first post as the Arts & Science blogger, I wanted to introduce myself to my fellow students. But then it occurs to me how downright uncomfortable introductions to my own peers can be — especially online, which by nature, is a rather detached way to communicate.
It’s not ALL personal introductions I have difficulty with. I can go to a networking event in a room full of professionals (and strangers) and generally hold my own. I participate in class if I have something I think is worth saying. By nature of my disability, introducing myself to instructors and teaching assistants is a must — it’s my own peer group I have trouble with.
Here’s the thing: I don’t consider blindness a hindrance on a day-to-day basis: it can be an inconvenience at times, but it’s only one part of who I am. In the case of introducing myself to peers however, I feel it definitely holds me back.
How will I know, for instance, if the person I want to speak with (say, beside me in class, or in my residence common room) isn’t otherwise occupied? Perhaps they’re reading and haven’t turned a page yet, thereby giving an audible clue? Perhaps they’re on their phone or have earbuds in? Perhaps they’re looking the other way, or have smiled or given some other visual acknowledgement of my presence and further attempts to engage in conversation might be considered pushy or “trying too hard”?
Perhaps I have met them several times before but haven’t memorized their voice yet, so reintroducing myself would be incredibly awkward for all involved? (In a perfect world I’d ask them to identify themselves from the moment they said hi, but I still don’t know how to do that without feeling embarrassed). What if someone else joins us: how can they be brought into the conversation and introduced to everyone present without being weird? Worst of all, perhaps someone in a group’s gotten up and moved away, leaving me to talk to thin air? I have a bit of vision, but not enough to always know whether the dark blob that was a human near me a second ago is still there.
Of course, all of these concerns could happen with instructors, teaching assistants, or members of a professional networking event, too. But there’s something about these groups that makes me feel less judged than by students, a perception I can’t quite explain.
Perhaps it’s the notion that those “adults” – who may indeed not be much different in age than myself – will be less intimidated by a blind person and therefore more willing to talk to me. My lack of vision limits conversation topics, but in more professional situations this isn’t usually a problem. With students, however, since I can’t talk to someone about a picture on our phones, any clothing or accessory they have, or anything at all on Snapchat or Instagram, I feel awkward and behind the times. My conversation topics can be a bit more personal – a person’s program of study, the courses they’re taking and what they think of them, their commute, their interests, even their future aspirations. I understand this can be off-putting to some, and I fear I sound like some weird hybrid of a person’s mom, grandmother and social worker.
It is therefore with a great deal of hesitation that I seek out peers to meet. I’m not unfriendly – on the contrary I think I’m quite the opposite – but I usually let people come to me. Sure, I’ll say hi to classmates and neighbours, but I’ll hesitate to really get to know them. I let my fear they’ll think I’m “too much” rule my desire to make new friends and have company.
So, dearest U of T students and friends, I say hello to you now in writing, and will work harder to do it more in person. Maybe we’ll be friends, or study buddies, or maybe just see each other in class and leave it at that. Just do me one favour, okay? Identify yourself when you see me: “Hi Sarah, it’s Fred” gets you instant blind street cred; “Hi Sarah” alone (unless I really know you) doesn’t do much for me.
What do you think? Do you hesitate to meet new people? Or are you one of those master communicators who can talk to anyone? Let me know in the comments.