I had just moved into my dorm in college, when the reality hit me: how am I going to meet people and make new friends in such an enormous university? The University of Illinois campus in Champaign-Urbana is overflowing with over 40 thousand students, so surely I would make at least a few friends. One of the most significant challenges of being blind can be meeting new people. The reality is that those who are sighted can easily interact with others by using visual cues and other body language, so naturally this can be difficult when you can’t see.
The answer to this question is more complex than we might think. Although socializing and interacting with others happens naturally, there are many steps, expectations and even rules involved. Let’s also not forget that each context, setting and even culture has different socialization norms, so this adds more to the complexity of the topic. I will offer a few tips that have helped me socialize and meet new people as someone who is totally blind.
- Socializing begins from the moment we are born and develops throughout our lives. When a child is born blind or loses sight at a young age, it becomes crucial for those around him to demonstrate and encourage interaction with others. This article from the National Federation of the Blind gives good suggestions on teaching social skills to children who are blind.
- Use eye contact and other body language as much as you can. Just because someone is blind doesn’t mean he shouldn’t “look” at other people when speaking to them. Obviously we might not make direct eye contact, but looking in the general direction of someone’s voice will let them know we’re focused and engaged. If you’re uncomfortable using body language, ask a close friend or family member to teach you some gestures and when it is appropriate to use them. A great deal of communication takes place through body language, so it is important that blind people learn it as well.
- Go out with a best friend or close family member. One of the most effective ways of meeting people is by going out to different events and activities. If you go to a party or other social event with a close friend, he or she can introduce you to others.
- Get involved in your community. Participating at your church, your child’s school or other community groups and activities is a great way of getting to know your neighbors and those living in the same area.
- Be confident in yourself! This can be particularly difficult for those who recently lost their sight or who have had little or no independent living training. Seek resources that will help you learn things like traveling with a cane, reading and writing and various other household tasks. Sighted people are often hesitant about interacting with blind individuals, but if we show confidence in ourselves they will see us as the capable people we are. This will in turn lead to building new friendships and networking opportunities.
- Take advantage of social media. Technology is increasingly becoming more accessible, and this means we can use social media and other websites to stay in touch with family and friends and meet new people. While technology is a wonderful tool, I personally discourage blind individuals to rely completely on it for all socialization and interaction. Like anyone else, we should use social media to network with others, but we should not let it isolate us from face to face communication.
Socializing and meeting new people is a natural characteristic of humans, but it can be difficult for those of us who are blind. Still, it is crucial that we interact with others in order to form relationships and have a good social life. Although technology has given us more opportunity to interact with people, I think there should be a balance between face to face and virtual socialization. What other tips do you have for meeting new people as a totally blind person? Please comment or send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.