Having multiple eye diseases and a scleral shell means that I am at a doctor’s office at least three times a year. Whether I am seeing my ophthalmologist or oculist, the experience and treatment I receive from them is always the same. They are professional, dedicated and more importantly, they treat me as an individual – someone who is more than a few eye diseases and a pair of messed up eyes.
I have been seeing an ophthalmologist for more than twenty-four years and an oculist for more than ten. My feelings on seeing my doctors have certainly changed, from fear to annoyance to acceptance. I have also realized that my feelings about the waiting rooms and the receptionists have changed too. From joy and eagerness (the thought of getting a lollypop no longer excites me…sort of) to annoyance and frustration.
At my ophthalmologist, the front desk is long – almost half the size of the first waiting room. Today, four people sit behind the desk. Each person has a line of people waiting to sign in. On either side of the first waiting room, there is a larger waiting room. Each of these waiting rooms has a small room attached full of toys for the children. My dad and I decide to sit and wait for the lines to clear.
Regardless of whether I am at my ophthalmologist’s or at my oculist’s, the waiting rooms are different – but the people sitting in them are always the same: young, bored, crying, confused, with or without a cane, in pain, tired, in denial, old, impatient, scared, nervous, lonely, etc. In a twisted way, it is a comfort to me; being there lets me know that I am not alone. The five year old crying, that was me too. The pissed sixteen year old that just lost her vision in her left eye and wants to be anywhere but here, that was me with my right eye at twelve. The man who tells me he just lost his vision, that was me at sixteen. The mother fearing that her child won’t be able to go to college or achieve any of his dreams, don’t worry I tell her – your son will grow up and be a teenager (with all that entails), he will become an adult and accomplish anything he puts his mind to.
The lines have finally cleared and a woman calls to my dad to come up. I walk over ready to give her my information. As I reach the desk, she raises her voice and asks my dad – who is still sitting – for “Her name.” I answer. She then asks my dad “Who is she here to see?” I answer.
This is why my feelings have changed. You work for eye doctors – eye doctors who specialize in eye disorders and you deny personhood to clients? You are the first person they meet – what message are you conveying by not acknowledging us? You are not being welcoming, you are being disrespectful.
I remember scoffing at sensitivity training workshops. What a waste of time – telling people to treat those who have a disability the way you want to be treated. I’m a lot older now – and I understand that most people turn into fools when it comes to us. Unfortunately, sensitivity training is actually needed.
Sensitivity training is a form of training with the goal of making people more aware of their own prejudices and more sensitive towards others. The training provides factual, relevant information to break down assumptions and stereotypes. For example: if an able-bodied person came in, signed her name and answered your questions, assume that the next person in line – whether disabled or not – will be able to do the same. I will always ask for assistance if I am not able to do a certain task on my own – example: signing my name; I don’t know where the line is, so I will ask for help.
Don’t treat us as if we don’t know and can’t do anything; we face that every day. But when we walk in this office – its walls full of pictures, posters and pamphlets of people with little or no vision being themselves and achieving anything, magazines on each table full of knowledge on eye diseases and where to find help. When we come here, we need to know that this is just another bump in the road – a bump that we can get over – don’t act as if the only way we exist is our disability.