An elderly woman sat down at my desk. We’ll call her, “Mary”. She was accompanied by her daughter. We’ll call her, “Pam”.

Pam did most the talking, “I need to be on Mom’s account. She needs help writing checks because she has Macular Degeneration.” 

I directed my  question to Mom, as Pam had no authority in the matter, “Is that what you would like, Mary?”

“Yes I would,” she answered. 

Mom’s information needed to be updated. I collected Pam’s information too. There were a few more questions along the way. 

“Do you need a new order of checks?” 

“Huh?” Mary said.

Clearly, in addition to vision loss, Mary couldn’t hear either.  

I cranked up the volume and enunciated s-l-o-w-l-y, “DO YOU NEED A NEW ORDER OF CHECKS?”

My voice echoed throughout the bank lobby. My co-workers are used to our acoustics. Not only that, we have a number of hearing impaired customers.

Pam repeated the question to her, “Do you need more checks?”

“No, I’ve got plenty.”

I belted out my next question even more s-l-o-w-l-y, “DO YOU WANT PAM TO HAVE A DEBIT CARD?”

“Sure,” Mary said. “That’s fine. It might be more convenient for errands.”

Pam spoke up, “She’s not deaf! She just can’t see.”

UGH. What a rude assumption I’d made! Embarrassment caused heat to instantly rise to my face.

“I am so sorry, Mary,” I apologized. When you didn’t hear one of my questions, I just assumed…”

Why do we jump to conclusions like these? It happens frequently. When they can’t see us, we slow our speech and speak louder. Way too loud. 

Just because someone has vision loss, doesn’t mean they are deaf or mentally impaired as well. But this is how I treated Mary.

I learned a hard lesson that day, “Treat people where they are, not where we assume them to be.”  When Mary answered, “Huh?” to one of my questions, I instantly confirmed in my mind that her hearing, as well as her mental faculties were also compromised. Many of us say, “Huh, what, excuse me”, every day. Sometimes we don’t hear the first time. Other times we’re simply not paying attention.

You’ve heard the adage, “When you assume, it makes an ASS out of you and me.” 

In this case, it wasn’t anybody but me.  Bw