Rick and Alysia Wells live happily in Kernersville, North Carolina. For years, he has been self-employed at home and she has worked as a social worker. They have been married more than 13 years. In addition, they share the same disability: Rick became blind in 1983 from neurovascular glaucoma and Alysia became blind at age two from cancer of the retina.
In a telephone interview, 57-year-old Rick had practical advice for interacting with blind people: “First, let the blind person do what they can,” he said. “A lot of people want to jump in too quickly to help. If I’m groping around for a door handle, for instance, so what? I’ll eventually find it. If I want help, I’ll ask.”
Wells gave a recent example of a customer at a bank silently holding open the left door of a set of double doors for him. Welcomed by most sighted people as polite, this well-intentioned act caused Wells to bump his right shoulder hard against the closed right door on his way through the opening with his guide dog. In part, the accident wouldn’t have happened if the lady hadn’t held the door open or told Wells the door was open. He said, “So if you’re going to hold open a door, be sure to tell the blind person what you’re doing. If you think they need help, ask. Don’t assume.”
Another situation affecting Wells: On occasion in various restaurants, a waitress arriving at his table will ask Wells’ sighted friend what Wells would like to order. Said Wells, “My friend will usually say to the waitress, ‘Beats me, I can’t read his mind. Why don’t you ask him?’ It’s like I’m treated as a child and don’t have the ability to think for myself.”
He depends a great deal on his guide dog Max, a black lab. Sometimes, people will pet or begin talking about Max while Wells is counting his money to purchase something at a store. The distraction has led to costly mistakes. Like most blind people, he folds his money certain ways to keep the denominations straight in his billfold.
Lastly, sometimes when he and Max are starting to cross a busy street, an oncoming driver will beep at them. Unfortunately, Wells is unable to tell if the driver is beeping for them to stop or to cross.