'People like you shouldn't be here.'
'Fancy brining a Guide Dog to a place like this!"
'Why is she coming to a place like this if she cannot see.'
Believe it or not, but these harsh comments are not a work of fabrication, they are very much real and unfortunately directed towards myself as a Visually Impaired person.
Being an BA English Literature student, it comes as no surprise that I have an interest in visiting places of interest and historical landmarks across the UK. But, what does come as a massive culture shock to me is the multitude of comments from the general public regarding my visually impairment and consequently the requirement of my visual aid (a cane or a guide dog) being of an inconvenience to them.
Every individual is permitted access to Public places within the UK and those with disabilities being no acceptation to that rule. The Disability Discrimination Act stipulates that "Reasonable Adjustments" should be made to establish equality and accessibility of the service providers to disabled users. The earlier comments therefore make no sense when considering the politics behind accessibility. After all, we were not born with one sense of visuality.
When an infant is born they are usually bestowed with the five senses of touch, sight, smell, taste and sound. When considering this from the empirical dogma, it is prudent to say that we utilise each of these senses in order to build an understanding of the world via experience.
Even without the visual perception there is something to be enjoyed within a new environment. Taking into account the most crude example to explain this, a culinary example would be that food can look appealing to the taste. However, when the sense of taste actually judges this, it does not always rise to such expectations.
If a person was blindfolded and taken into a stately home or castle the other senses would constantly be working in order for the brain to cognate an idea of how the exterior world appears. A blind or partially sighted person gains insight of what the brain is missing visually by hearing the sounds of echoes in which gives a scale of size. A great hall of a castle would therefor sound large because of the sound traveling at a distance.The sound of foot septs would indicate different materials that they were walking on from the creek of wooden flooring to the echo of flagstone floors. There would also be the smells of polished wood, the smell of burning candles and the smell of age. This combined with the feel of wooden banister, ornate wooden carvings, and stone walls would create an image of history and age to a visually impaired person.
There is also the contributing factor of seasonal events, during this time that I visited one such historical place this year there was a Christmas event occurring within the establishment. Where there was a live band playing festive music of the era, as well as the opportunity to hear actors speaking of the historical preparations that took place in the lead up to Christmas during the 1920s. The smell of mince pies also wafted from out of the kitchens, which is a smell higly associated with the festive season. Wine and preserves were also on offer for tasting, All of these activities on offer are completely accessible to one with no sight, hence my point that a historical place is not simply for the fully sighted.
One example of a place that I love is old bookshops, the sort that are cosily tucked away within the winding streets of London. True that I may not be able to view the print, at least not without the use of a visual aid. But, what I love is the smell, the smell of ageing parchment and the feel of leather bound tomes in my hand. Being a writer I always strive to gain a full sensory experience of the exterior world, which is why this topic sparks interest within me.
I ask again why would one say these comments to a visually impaired person?
The simple reason for this is due to the unfortunate explanation of misunderstanding and miscommunication. Many take the world of sight for granted and thus disregard their other senses and what they actually provide. Education is of paramount in order to conquer this perception of visually impaired people in relation to recreational activities.
Misunderstanding is not the only reason, the saying "time waits for no man" is a common saying to everyone and it is categorically true. It seems that in places of interest where many spend a substantial amount of money to visit, many revert into their heteronomous self. fuelled by desire to see everything there is to see and to do everything there is to do. Obstructions become a matter of irritation and this contracts the swift tongued responses as mentioned earlier.
The staff of such places that I shall not explicitly mention have consistently been helpful, sociable and polite promoting a positive message towards the sites visitors. The public response towards my visual impairment has not always refracted so similarly.
The idea of a Guide Dog within a historical place is open to controversy as is using a mobility cane. The initial response is that I will either damage the furniture due to my not seeing it. Or that my Guide Dog will dirty the floor coverings with her paws.
However, both ideas are deniable, for one not everyone who utilises a visual aid are completely blind and if so they have an idea of whats around them thus the use of a visual aid indicates what is around them and hence they will not necessarily damage their surrounds. Neither will an intensely trained, obedient, spot checked Guide Dog be of any harm to it's inside environment.
The implication that a Visually Impaired person is a whirlwind awaiting to happen is an unfair and fabricated persona. Living in a democratic society full of explicitly consenting citizens equates those members of society being permitted equal rights to visit public places.
Live in a hypothetical world for one minute, where in this world your vision is distorted or completely blank. In this world rationalise how you would manage and understand things that you can no longer see or at least not to it's full extent. In this world understand how much you rely all of your senses and what they are designed to do in order in creating a perception of the world and how you would use these senses in this instance.
Put this question to yourself
What would I do?
In answer to my earlier question, indeed, to bee here is the firm answer.
After all, knowledge is a Universal concept and available to anyone who can imagine.