“Would you believe that I’ve been punched in the nose by a refrigerator, a closet door ajar, and even a wall? It’s all been caused by my hurrying frantically to get just one more task done, just one more e-mail answered, just one more load in the washer before my ride comes.” Do these scenarios by a very competent, independent blind woman sound familiar? Whether blind or sighted, no matter how careful, we are to make our home environments safe, accidents are going to happen, but we can minimize them by reminding ourselves to slow down, focus on the current moment, and consistently use the safety techniques we often ignore because of our confidence. Yes, confidence may be our greatest hazard.
This topic of discussion was prompted by some serious in-home accidents recently suffered by several VisionAware peer advisors. Those of us who have been blind for a long time and have developed the necessary muscle memory to perform almost any task we want to do find ourselves daydreaming, listening to a recorded book, talking on the phone, and may even utter from time to time, “I can do this in my sleep.” Because we are at home and know exactly where we are, we don’t feel the need to use the upper-protective technique. That’s when the back of a chair, the corner of a kitchen counter, or even a door knob jumps up and hits us in the head just as we are bending over to retrieve some dropped object. In addition, confidence often lures us to continue taking risks; after all, we’ve done it successfully before. For example, how many times will I stand on a supersized unabridged dictionary on the surface of my desk in order to change the air filter in my bedroom before I fall and incur a serious injury?
Self-Confidence Nudges Safety Aside
Reflect for a few moments on the early days of vision loss when you and I were less confident. We concentrated harder on performing a task. We used the adaptive skills we were learning more consistently. We were on high alert when navigating our home environments. We may have experienced no serious accidents. Thus, we became more and more secure in our abilities to perform daily activities, and our self-confidence nudged safety and focus aside.
Working hard at tackling the visual world to become confident, competent, and independent is a positive trait in any visually impaired person, but we trip up when we set unrealistic expectations for ourselves. These unrealistic expectations can create emotional and psychological confusion. Our self-confidence and psyche can be jolted when we experience one or more accidents, especially if they occur within a short period of time.
Often we set the bar so high we don’t allow any errors. Even if we are totally alone when the accident happens, we are embarrassed and glad no one saw it. As one VisionAware peer advisor put it, we are mystified that this could happen to us. Those of us who are professionals in the field of blindness begin to think: I’m a professional. I’m the person who teaches other people how to be safe and independent. You may remind yourself that you’ve had months of intensive training. You question yourself; you’ve become so competent something must be wrong. Out of embarrassment and because of the standard we have set for ourselves too often we do not seek support and advice from others, which can lead to depression and send our self-confidence sliding down the drainpipe.
Forgetting About Accidents Before Vision Loss
We forget that we ever had an accident when we could see. We forget that sighted people go to the emergency room with broken limbs because they were clumsy or weren’t paying attention. We often forget that the healthier trait is interdependence. Interdependence gives us the inner freedom to make wiser choices about doing a task ourselves or letting someone else do it and not berate ourselves for not doing the task. In the spirit of interdependence, we give ourselves permission to slow down, stay focused on the task, remain on high alert, consistently use the adaptive techniques that keep us safe, and retain our self-confidence at the same time.
So far I have focused on some reasons accidents happen. Below are a few “sensible solutions to home accidents.” Some come from our previous discussion and others came to mind as I read the comments from VisionAware peers.
Sensible Solutions to Home Accidents
Solutions to Home Accidents: None of these are rocket science. They are reminders for those of us with vision loss to monitor our environments.
- Thinking first can soften the blows—slow down, stay focused on the task, remain on high alert, pay attention, avoid daydreaming—are we getting the message?
- Good organization eliminates frustration, saves time, and, most importantly, minimizes accidents. If everything has a place and is returned to its place after being used, your scissors won’t jump up and cut you; the vacuum cleaner won’t trip you; the dining room chair won’t impale you.
- Protect your head! Always use protective techniques even if you think you know where you are. My forehead has left a permanent makeup stain on a giant pillar in a government building and a blood stain on a sink in a New York City hotel.
- Complete one task before beginning another whenever possible. Put away the ingredients for a recipe as you use them.
- Close cabinet, closet, shower, and dishwasher doors and all drawers even if you are walking away for just a couple of minutes. I don’t know if I bruise easily, but I bruise often because I fail to close a cabinet door in the utility room or close the dishwasher door in the kitchen.
- Always do a safety check every time you approach the stove. Paper towels are like magnets drawn to the stove and where did you set the lid you removed from the pot of soup you made and served an hour ago?
- Since no one has yet invented an “extra hand” we can attach to our belts to carry things, use a tote you can carry over your shoulder or a backpack to keep your non-dominant hand free to hold onto banisters or to protect your upper body. If you have lots to carry, use a roller bag or cart on wheels and pull it behind you.
- Treat fatigue as a warning sign and be extra alert and cautious. I’ve always said that I’m a danger to myself and others when I’m tired.
- Don’t let pride override wisdom when deciding to do a task. My heating/air conditioning inspector now changes the filter in my bedroom when he does his inspection twice a year.
Now it’s your turn! Please share any sensible solutions you use to help avoid accidents in your home. Also, this is a safe site to share any emotional tumbles you’ve taken due to an accident you’ve had at home. What you share may help someone else find the courage to “get back on the horse and try again.”