Drama 1: ‘Susan’
Susan is visually impaired. She relates her experiences of developing and maintaining friendships and what it is like to go out socialising and meeting potential dates as a blind person. Her two friends Alison and Jane also talk from their own perspectives.
- Susan - blind girl
- Alison - Susan's cousin
- Jane - Alison's friend
You’ve probably noticed my disability. I’m ‘visually impaired’. But let’s not beat about the bush - to most of the world, I’m just plain blind. And it’s true, I can’t make out a damn thing and that can be really frustrating. Not just for me, but for my friends and family. My cousin Alison and her friend have been fantastic, they’ve stuck by me for years, though frankly I sometimes wonder why because in many ways I’m a liability, especially when it comes to going out for a drink or going clubbing. You see, it’s not really practical for me to be on a busy dance floor without constant guidance, though judging by the amount of people who bump into me, I often wonder if I’m dancing in a room full of blind people! Or maybe they’re all just blind drunk!!
Seriously though, it’s not ideal for the people with me. Take the situation where one of them meets a guy and wants to go back to his place. The other has to stay with me because I’ll need somebody to ensure I get home safely at the end of the night. It’s not usually an issue, but I know that once in a while the opportunity comes up for both of them to go on to a party with a couple of guys and don’t want to take me because I’ll be left hanging around with strangers in a strange place while they have a bit of fun. I can’t blame them, I just wish it was me who could take advantage of these situations, but I’m not first choice when it comes to being chatted up. I sometimes wonder if Alison and Jane are pretty, and who’s the prettiest.
I’ve known Susan since we were very young and I don’t look at her and think of her blindness, it’s just Susan and she’s always been that way. I know that probably sounds odd to a lot of people. How can I forget she can’t see? I don’t forget, I just don’t think about it. I suppose I’m just used to modifying my behaviour when I’m around her. It’s a bit like being fluent in a couple of languages – you speak the language of the people you’re with. So when Susan’s not with us I don’t think about watching out for her, but when she’s there I just switch into a different mode of behaviour though I’m not aware that I’m doing it. I’ve never really thought about it, but I am different when Susan’s around. I wouldn’t suggest we go to the cinema for instance! That would just be stupid and insensitive, though we have joked about it. And if we’re out for a night out I’m more selective about the places we go to and who we talk to. I guess in that situation I can get a bit protective towards her.
But then she is more vulnerable than us and she has to be looked after – just simple things like getting to the toilets without bumping into people or watching out for steps, particularly small steps that can cause her to trip. It’s the wee things that can lead to embarrassing or even dangerous situations.
Alison can sometimes very protective, but it doesn’t come across badly because it’s usually at the right times and I know she’s just looking out for me. But there are people who just can’t seem to get over their obsession with my disability! Like Jane. She’s been Alison’s friend since high school and she’s been a good friend to me too, but she can’t seem to get used to my disability. She’s always referring to it and I don’t want to say anything in case I upset her, but sometimes it drives me nuts. She must be pretty or sexy or something because she always gets chatted up when we’re out. But when I’m there I usually end up the topic of conversation. So when she meets a guy or brings a guy over to the table she’ll introduce me and then proceed to explain all about my disability, as if she’s some kind of heroine. The great open-minded friend who helps me conquer life’s challenges! It’s almost as if on the one hand she’s apologising to the guy for having me with her and on the other justifying that to herself. And for all I know he might have come over to speak to me! That’s a point – I hope she’s not been nicking my potential boyfriends!
God! I never thought about that. I don’t mean to do it and I don’t think I’ve nicked any of her potential boyfriends (Susan smiles an understanding smile). It’s just that if we’re out clubbing and meet some guys, I find myself going out of my way to try to include Susan in the conversation. Usually when people come over we’ll start talking and they either totally ignore Susan or have some problem talking to her – like they find it difficult to think of something to say. They don’t seem to think of her as a normal person. So then I find myself trying to bring her into the conversation. I talk about things we’ve been doing and I suppose I end up kind of taking over and don’t let her talk for herself. Shit! No wonder she gets annoyed with me.
Jane can’t help being a bit insensitive – it’s become almost an endearing quality if not occasionally annoying, but everybody handles disability differently and it still has to be dealt with, ignoring it doesn’t make it go away. Every situation is different. I do sometimes get annoyed with the way Jane handles some situations and she does constantly refer to my disability for all sorts of reasons - but I wouldn’t change her for the world. She is who she is and I’m sure we can sort it out. I’m not a normal person – normal to her maybe but not to the rest of the population and she has to deal with that just as much as I do. So I know how tough it can be for her and I really appreciate the fact that both Jane and Alison try to involve me in as many things as possible.
There’s a lot of things I can’t talk about that other people can, so when guys come over to us it’s difficult for me to get involved at first. I suppose the girls do go out of their way to involve me, otherwise it looks as if everybody is ignoring me. But it can be difficult for me to join in when people are talking about what was on the telly for instance. I can’t talk about that because I don’t watch it – no point really! And how many sighted people of my age do you know who listen to the radio on a daily basis, particularly plays and documentaries. I don’t have a great deal in common with strangers so I have to work harder in company. But I do know my music and that’s usually a good fall back for me. Get me on to the subject of music and there’s no stopping me.
I like it when we all go out together, but sometimes Jane can be just plain clumsy and she can be very condescending when she talks to Susan or is talking to other people about her (Sally I would like some examples here if possible). Sometimes in company she comes across more as if she pities her than as a real friend and then tries to make up for it by over compensating. It’s almost as if she’s ‘proud’ to be her friend. Well I’m proud to have Susan as a cousin and friend, but I don’t go parading her around to make me look good. I’m proud just because of who she is, and part of who she is has been shaped by her disability. I certainly have no problem sticking with her when we’re out clubbing. Jane’s more of a party animal and likes the attention of the guys when we’re out, so she’s more likely to disappear off with someone, and that’s fine though I’m not always happy to see her go off with strangers. But for the most part I’m just happy to see Susan in amongst company and I know that some day she’ll meet a like minded guy who’ll see past her disability, I just hope I’m there to make the introductions.
I’ll get my own man one day, I’m in no hurry.
When I’m out clubbing, I can’t help flirting, and it’s seems to work. Guys are so shallow, they really are! But at least it attracts company for all of us. The only problem is the guys are usually attracted to me or Alison and that tends to leave Susan out on a limb. And that’s when I find myself overcompensating, I don’t think the alcohol helps by that point mind you. It’s strange you know. Most of the time I don’t even think of Susan as disabled, but when I become aware of it, it seems to take over. I feel this need to kind of justify her presence, like she shouldn’t be in a place, socialising with ‘normal’ people like me and Alison. I know it’s stupid, and I shouldn’t feel like that, but I do and I can’t help it, though I’ll try harder in future.
You know what? I’m just glad I have Alison and Jane. In the greater scheme of things these issues are relatively minor. If they were that important, we’d do what we’ve done in the past - get them out into the open and clear the air – I suppose that’s just what we’ve done now! So maybe, with that little bit more awareness on everybody’s part I’ll stand a chance of getting my man the next time we’re out. I wonder if he’ll be handsome? They do say beauty is in the eye of the beholder. That depends on how you look at things!