Ten quirky things that (really) annoy people who are blind

Hands struggling to open the cap on a large bottle of aspirin
February 4, 2013

I think it is time to talk about some of the things that really annoy blind people.

  1. Those tiny little stickers on every single piece of fruit you buy. I try to remember to look for them and even when I do, I miss them more often than not. I wonder how many stickers I have eaten in my lifetime. Are they harmful to my health? Will they find hundreds of them in my coffin 50 years after I am dead? I try to pretend I don't notice my friends and family picking them off fruit I serve. (Although my family makes a point of telling me they found them.)
  2. Pieces of paper taped to the outside of the stall door in a public bathroom. What does this little note tell me? Is there a County Fair going on this weekend? Has the bathroom been recently painted? If I flush the toilet will the entire bathroom flood? I think there should be a law stating that you can only put these notes up in case of an actual emergency.
  3. Flight attendants who tell you to wait in your seat, and assure you they'll come for you if there is an emergency. These are the same people who can't remember to bring you change for the drink you ordered or the water you asked for. Why would I think that when the plane is falling into the ocean, they will come back to my seat and help me? If something happens, I am out of there! I am not waiting for some overworked person to remember that I am in seat 24-F and then buck the tide of rushing humanity to come and help me!
  4. Car door handles. When I become president of the United States I'm going to pass a law that all door handles must be located in the same spot on every car door. I hate looking for car door handles! (I don't think the car manufacturers have to worry. My past is far too colorful for me to ever consider running for president.)
  5. Phone numbers that use cute little words instead of numbers. Say you need to dial 1-800-HELP-NOW. The 1-800 goes without a snag. Then you get to the letter H. You might remember there is no letter on the 1 button so you move to 2 and think, A-B-C. Then you move to the 3 button and think, D-E-F. By the time you get to H, you took too long and your phone call gets cut off! The problem with cordless phones is that they are too easy to throw across the room. Actually, blind people can't throw things when they are angry because then the thing is lost until someone else finds it. So what's the point?
  6. Significant others who leave their socks on the floor. If you are blind and you like a clean house, but your significant other defines "clean" in a slightly different way, you have a problem. I tried to give my husband certain spaces he can mess up. This does not always work. (What a shock.) My husband is encouraged to put all his junk on the coffee table in the den, but sometimes he gets creative. Last week he was out of town so I decided to sit in his recliner. Tucked nicely in the corner I found one of his socks. I knew they traveled in pairs so I searched for the second one. During the search I found the second sock on the floor, along with his shoes and a half-filled cup of three-day-old coffee. 
  7. Impossible-to-open packaging. Most bottles of things (like vitamins) are sealed at least three different ways. I have no complaint about the box the bottle is in as long as it is not shrink-wrapped. I don't mind the tamperproof paper seal under the lid. But I run into trouble with those tight plastic seals that fasten the bottle cap to the bottle. They have a marking that indicates where to tear, but if you can't see that marking, well, you're in for some fun. First of all, make sure you're somewhere you can't be seen. Then you should wash the bottle top because you're going to need your teeth. Teeth work well for lifting that plastic seal just enough to get your fingernail under it so you can tear it. Of course, the top part of the plastic seal that's on the cap will frequently separate from the part that actually holds the cap to the bottle. When that happens, there is no place to grab with your teeth. This is when you get a knife. You stick it under the part that is left and try again. After you get this evil piece of plastic completely off the bottle and open the lid, you'll find you are still kept from the aspirin you desperately need, at this point, by that tamperproof seal. Never fear. You still have your knife.
  8. The petty annoyances of travel. Any blind person who has traveled alone will tell you at least three things they find annoying:
    • Unintentional exhibitionism. When you stay in a hotel by yourself, you probably leave the room with the curtain closed. When you return it is dark. You probably don't need a light, but you put one on anyway. You know you left the curtain closed so you begin to get undressed. The maid has cleaned your room, and they like open curtains. You better hope you're on an upper floor.
    • Credit card-type door keys. Some of these hotel keycards have little holes in them, and you can remember how the holes are oriented when you insert the card into the lock. A lot of them are totally smooth on both sides. You have four chances to get it right. For some reason, I have never done it in less than three tries. (I actually have a solution to this problem. Ask the person at the front desk to cut one of the corners on the card. Be sure to have him or her cut the corner that does not go into the lock.)
    • Identical floor plans on every floor. Have you noticed how all floors in a hotel look pretty much alike? If you are blind, you count landmarks. These could be lights, soda machines, doors or turns. More times than I can count, I have ended up at the wrong room because I got off the elevator on the wrong floor. This is not a big deal if the door you try to open by inserting the card about eight times does not open. However, when someone you don't know opens the door, then the fun begins.
  9. When someone comes up to me in a crowd and says, "Guess who this is?" Do they think blind people can remember everyone's voice and know who they are from just those four words? In fact, we don't have a special place in our memory where we file away a mental recording of everyone we have ever met saying, "Guess who this is?" I always want to come back with some smart answer like, "I know, you're Daffy Duck!"
  10. That mystery food you left in your refrigerator three weeks ago. (Plus a helpful hint.) I know you've left something in your refrigerator long enough that when you come across it again, you've completely forgotten what's in the container. Everyone has. If you have vision, you can gently open the lid and peek in while holding your nose. If you are blind, you have to really stick your nose in there and figure out what it is. This can be horrifying. My helpful hint: I store everything in old glass jars. If my husband is home, he can look through the glass and tell me what's inside. If I am alone and, heaven help me, cleaning the refrigerator, I just toss the jar without ever opening it. It's not worth the risk. (Clear Ziploc bags also work well.)

Gayle Yarnall was director of adaptive technology at Perkins Products from 2008 to 2012.

Read more about: Families, Living With Blindness