Blindness and Boundaries

By Dena Schumilla 
 I would like to begin by thanking Chris for asking me to act as a coauthor for Blind Confidential. I was very honored to be included in such an important aspect of his life, and hope that I will be able to live up to his expectations of me. Chris is not only one of my professional mentors; he is also a cherished and loyal friend. In addition to all of that, he is one of the best story tellers I’ve ever known. I am trying to convince him to let me help him write his memoirs, though they might require the literary equivalent of an “X” rating.


For several days, I have been struggling with what to write in my blogging debut. I sort of feel like a kid who is trying to make a positive impression on her first day at a new school. After much thought, I decided to touch on an issue that I think is relevant in the lives of many B/LV people. That is, the challenge of having one’s personal boundaries (whatever they may be) tested on an almost daily basis.


Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that everyone I interact with tries to push the envelope. In fact, I think that my blindness has brought me into contact with some of the most unfathomably nice people I can imagine. You know, the sort of person who offers to walk 6 blocks out of their way (on a frigid winter day) to show you where a particular building is? Even as I write this, one such helpful person comes immediately to mind.


It was 1993. I had just moved to Toronto, and was experiencing my first taste of living independently in a big city. One afternoon, I decided to visit the neighborhood grocery store to pick up a few items.


When I walked into the store, I was promptly greeted with a friendly. “Can I help you?”


I accepted the offer of assistance, and was 45 minutes into my shopping expedition when I learned (to my horror and incredible embarrassment) that the man pushing my cart did not work at the store.


That was the day I learned to follow every offer of help in a retail setting with the question. “Do you work here?”


I initially believed that the young man’s motives were completely selfless, but I grew suspicious when he kept trying to convince me to join him at a downtown club that evening…


But I digress. I was talking about boundaries. You probably know the kinds of people I’m referring to. They seem to be under the mistaken impression that my blindness entitles them to ask me the kinds of questions that would get them a total ass kicking in any other social situation. I have been asked (at various points, by complete strangers): who I live with,, how much money I make, how I get dressed in the morning, and how I have sex.


I wish I could take credit for this come back, but alas… I know someone who was asked the infamous “Who dresses you in the morning?” question, while traveling to work on a busy commuter train one morning.


She smiled, and replied. “Well, honey. That depends who I sleep with the night before.”


I hope to be able to use that some day.


My other favorite is the unavoidable doctor’s office visit. You know how there are all of those medical forms that need to be filled out? On more than one occasion, I have been standing at the appointment desk (an entire waiting room of people behind me), when the receptionist has asked me loudly what my social security number is. Knowing the questions about my most recent period were not far behind, I insisted that we retire to one of the examination rooms before I would agree to begin. I have also been asked, by a medical professional no less, how I was able to go to the bathroom without seeing. I wanted to ask her how she was able to practice nursing without a brain, but since I was less than 12 hours post-op, I settled for throwing her out of my hospital room instead.


I think that the need to ask for the assistance of complete strangers forces me (willing or not), to throw all pretence of modesty out the window. Several years ago (while still living in California), I had to make an emergency trip to my local Walgreen’s to address the unfortunate problem of a surprise yeast infection. (I appreciate the sympathetic cringes of those women who are reading this.)


Upon entering the store, I proceeded directly to the pharmacy counter (not wanting to risk being paired with whatever male Stanford student happened to be working the register at the time). Thrilled to find that a female pharmacist was on duty, I leaned across the counter and quietly asked. “Would you please get me a box of Monistat?”


“Oh. Sure.” She whispered back. I immediately felt much more relieved, and much less self conscious… Until she yelled to me from several aisles over. “Do you want the cream or the suppositories.”


Have you ever wanted to just disappear?


Anyway, this post has become far longer than I intended. Thanks for reading my entry. I know change is difficult to deal with sometimes, but I hope that you will come to appreciate my stories and perspectives in time. 





We haven’t set up the blogger feature to let Dena post directly to Blind Confidential yet.  Once we do, her items will be marked with the familiar “posted by…” line with her name following.  In the meantime, I will post Dena’s stories for her with a by-line that identifies her as the author.  So, do not get confused, although this story claims to be posted by BlindChristian, I have never experienced a yeast infection.


— End


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I'm an accessibility advocate working on issues involving technology and people with print impairment. I'm a stoner, crackpot, hacker and all around decent fellow. I blog at this site and occasionally contribute to Skepchick. I'm a skeptic, atheist, humanist and all around left wing sort. You can follow this blog in your favorite RSS reader, and you can also view my Twitter profile (@gonz_blinko) and follow me there.

3 thoughts on “Blindness and Boundaries”

  1. Ack, Dena. I cringed AND clenched my thighs together in sympathy. Been through the same Monistat scenario almost verbatim, too. Sigh.

  2. Hi BC and Dena. Dena, if you’re reading this and I assume you are or will be very shortly, I really enjoyed this post. While I have never experienced that medical scenario which you describe, I have relied on the kind assistance of sighted people many times. These weren’t just family members either. Three years ago I moved into an apartment which I am sharing with a former neighbor. He is legally blind but his vision is getting much worse. But this isn’t about him so I will leave that for a later time. I was born blind, and can only see light and dark. Ever since moving here in the summer of 2004, I have had to rely on others to get me places because my state VR agency won’t send someone out here to do an O&M assessment on me. But anyway, these neighbors and friends have all been terrific. They want me to be as independent and self-reliant as I can be but at the same time they have been more than willing to assist me with crossing streets, and other things which I absolutely cannot do or in some cases have forgotten how to do by myself. Don’t get me wrong, I really want to be as independent as possible. But for reasons that are unfortunately beyond my control, I just cannot be quite as independent as I should be. Whether this will change is unclear at this point, but I am hoping for the best.

  3. Howdy Ms. Dina!
    I enjoyed your first post for BC, but that yeast infection business reminded me of a terribly traumatic event in my own life. Many years ago, the comrade Mother complained of a yeast infection, and I suggested that she take more care in baking the bread next time. My God! She slapped me so hard the bioptic spectacles I was wearing achieved low Earth orbit. Welcome aboard!
    Chairman Mal
    Power to the Peeps!

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