Recently, I received an email with a question for me. As It seemed a simple enough question, I thought it should be an easy answer for me to give. As I started writing though, my answer kept getting longer and more complex. And I decided that it would be a wonderful topic for my next blog post.
The question was:
How do I feel/react when greeting someone by name, and they seem surprised I recognized them?
For example: Jane says hi, and I respond, “Hi Jane.” Then Jane might respond something like: “you remember my voice?”
There are a couple of different ways that this can be taken. The person who sent me the question, thought, that it can be kind of offensive. And they make a very good point. Sighted people are not surprised when their peers recognize their face, so why then should it be different with blind people recognizing voices? But at the same time, I don’t always recognize the voice, and it is sometimes helpful for people to introduce themselves. And if they are used to doing this, then yes, of course they are surprised when I am able to recognize their voice.
From a sighted stand point, they are not trying to offend, and there is likely no mal intent their words. For the most part, they don’t know what it is like to have to recognize voices rather than faces, because they do not have to rely solely on a single sense. If they stop and listen, and think about it, I’m positive they would be able to recognize voices and the differences between them. But the honest truth is that they don’t, because they don’t have too.
However, if you have known someone for a long time, maybe years, and every time you see them, they still come up to you and say, “Hi, This is Jane,” then yes that is offensive, especially if it has been expressed that you recognize them and no longer need them to identify themselves. Whether the sighted person intends it or not, it is demeaning. To assume that we don’t recognize them after all these years, is not only ignorant, but it insults our intelligence. It implies that because we don’t have sight, we have no way of knowing who anyone is. Though this might not be intentional on the sighted person’s part, it is still offensive.
On the other hand, it can be embarrassing when you don’t recognize a voice, especially if it belongs to someone that you know well. Maybe it is loud; maybe there is a lot of people and noises around; or maybe the person has a cold, and their voice sounds different, and you just don’t recognize them at first. Asking them who it is, only to be told it is a long-time friend, or coworker, is quite embarrassing. You should have recognized them, but for whatever reason, there was some kind of glitch, and you just didn’t.
There is also the scenario where people just assume that you know who they are. Admittedly, there are times when this happens to all people, regardless of whether they can see or not. But let’s say they just assume that you recognize their voice. This is something that happens to me a lot. Maybe they say hi from across the street; or when they are driving past, they might call out to me from the window of their car. Or maybe you are in a place with a lot of people and some voices you recognize and some you don’t, but because you see the entire group of people on a regular basis, they just assume you recognize them. When this happens, I generally don’t have a problem asking them their name, but sometimes it is embarrassing, and I just have to swallow my pride and ask anyway.
So how then are the sighted people in your life supposed to know how to react? Should they tell you their name, and possibly offend you? Or should they assume that you know who they are, and risk causing you discomfort? It is a fine line. The answer is neither black nor white. Like most things in life, it is a gray area, with no clear cut answer. It can be confusing and uncomfortable for all parties.
The blind individual might be annoyed that this very familiar person continues to introduce themselves; or they could be embarrassed that they aren’t sure who this person is that they should know. And on the flip side, a sighted individual might not be sure if the blind individual will recognize their voice, and how would they know if the blind individual doesn’t recognize them? How will the blind person react if the sighted person does or doesn’t introduce themselves? There is a split second to make this decision, and I’m sure it can be slightly nerve-wracking for the sighted individual.
What then, is the correct way to approach a blind person? First off, I think it is important that blind individuals try and recognize that sighted individuals may be uncertain on how to approach a blind person. Most of the population has no idea what it is like to be blind, and they are trying to do what they think is right when approaching you. So a little bit of understanding goes a long ways, and might ease some of the tension.
Secondly, there are some sighted people who may have had some form of education on how to interact with people with disabilities. I know that when I went blind, the doctors told my family to say their name when greeting me. Which they in turn communicated to the teachers at my school, and anyone else that may have had interaction with me? Though my family does not do this anymore, word of mouth spreads quickly. And I’m sure there are many other sources that say to do this when introducing yourself to a blind person.
Though this can be extremely helpful, it seems that the sources have neglected to mention when it is appropriate to stop doing this. And this is what creates a problem.
Every blind person is different in their opinion of this topic. Some might want you to say your name every time, and some might never want you to. It also may take some blind individuals longer to get to know your voice, then it would take others.
Ultimately, I think it comes down to the situation, whether or not it is appropriate to give your name when approaching a blind person. For instance, I would say yes, absolutely it is appropriate to do when first meeting a visually impaired individual. It would then be up to that blind individual to communicate when they don’t need you to say your name anymore.
Speaking up is something that I personally struggle with. I don’t want to embarrass anyone, or make them feel bad. But if I don’t speak up and communicate that I don’t need a particular person to say their name anymore, then I only have myself to blame when I am annoyed that they continually say, “It’s Jane.” As a blind person, it is up to us to advocate our needs, so it shouldn’t be any different in this situation. So don’t be afraid to speak up and tell Jane that you recognize her voice.
It would also be highly appropriate to identify yourself when saying hi to me from your car when driving by. And on that note, if you honk at me to say hi … I still don’t know it’s you! If you don’t have time to let your blind acquaintance know who you are when passing at high speeds, maybe shoot them a text or Facebook message to let them know that you saw them earlier. That you were the one who honked at them to say hi.
Lastly, it is definitely not appropriate to greet your long time blind acquaintance with your name every time you see them. And definitely don’t ignore it when a blind person tells you that they recognize your voice, and no longer need you to identify yourself every time they see you. If there is some sort of glitch, and we don’t recognize you, then it is our responsibility to ask who you are. This does not mean that we need you to identify yourself all the time in the future. It just means that for some reason, we did not recognize you in that moment.
This was a long answer to a simple question. I hope that my answer helps blind and sighted persons in future interactions with each other.
This is me! Hope you enjoyed the read. I love questions, so if you
have any, or just a comment, feel free to email them to