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Addressing The Sensitive Topic Of Touching Faces

Blindly Searching Beyond Tactile Reflections

By Sirena Carroll - The Blind Single MomPublished 5 months ago 3 min read
Four hands reach toward each other against a subdued background. At the top, the first pair descend from the upper frame, fingers extended, as if in offering or gentle gesture. The skin tone of these hands is warmly lit, suggesting a source of light outside the frame, casting subtle hues along the contours of the fingers. Below, another pair of hands reaches upward, mirroring the gesture of the first set. The fingers are splayed slightly, poised just moments away from a delicate touch. The lighting on these hands is more pronounced, creating a dramatic interplay of light and shadow that accentuates natural lines and shapes. The background is simple, a gradient that fades from a lighter shade at the center where the hands nearly meet, to a darker tone towards the edges, putting the focus on the hands themselves.

As a blind person meeting someone new, one of the most uncomfortable questions I can receive is, "Do you want to touch my face?" Ninety-nine out of one hundred blind people will respond to this query with a resounding 'no', yet we seldom explain why.

In the absence of sight, our hands become the tools we use to explore the immediate world. But hands are not made for catching glimpses at a distance.

You, my reader, are likely sighted. When everything functions correctly, your senses work together cohesively, allowing you to maintain a social distance from strangers. Sight tells you when to stop before breaching a personal bubble; it provides information at a glance that hands cannot hope to offer.

When touch is one of the only reliable senses blind people possess, we bump up against a genuine issue--personal boundaries. Touching someone's face is a highly intimate gesture. Society perpetuates it as an act performed between lovers, and that perpetuation carries weight.

For many blind people, the thought alone is acutely uncomfortable. It asks us to violate our boundaries in a manner from which politely extricating ourselves is difficult. When we refuse to engage in this manner, it's not uncommon for the other party to press us, claiming it wouldn't make them uncomfortable. If we persist, some people take grave offense; they can't empathize with how discomforting it is for us. They feel it's a slight against them.

What's the big deal, you might wonder?

I can answer this question as one blind woman with one opinion. I don't represent the entire blind community.

Here's how I see it.

My nearest and dearest know I'm always quick with a warm hug for them. If my daughter smiles, I cup her face to feel the force of that smile on her cheeks. When I make funny faces at my son, I touch his mouth to see if it makes him grin. If my best friend cries, I sit beside her and stroke her hair, but these allowances are few and far between.

Not every blind individual is as averse to physical contact as I am. Still, many find the prospect of touching a stranger's face distressing. The pure fact is we don't know you.

Think of how you might feel if someone unknown approached you on the street and embraced you. There are social boundaries one doesn't breach.

A stranger coaxed me into touching their face once. I had not yet found my voice, and refusals were difficult. While she was on board with the contact, I felt somewhat violated. Tracing someone's cheeks, nose, brow, and lips fostered a level of intimacy with which I was not all right.

The only faces I feel comfortable mapping belong to my children. They are mine, and I've been touching their faces since infancy. Rose even places my hands on her face if she wants me to experience a specific expression as she makes it. I have this connection with no other; my babies are the exception, not the norm.

Your face tells us very little about you. We can't instantly identify the shape of your eyes or classify your nose as Roman rather than upturned. Touching your face doesn't give us a greater understanding of your visage because tactile memory isn't immediate. We're more likely to recall you by your voice and not your cupid's bow or cleft chin.

If you've ever asked a blind person to touch your face, there's no need for embarrassment. You can't know how it affects us if you've never encountered an open discussion. Moving forward, be mindful.

If you have a close blind friend and are curious, ask them about their feelings on this topic before asking them to act. If you're meeting a blind person for the first time, refrain from the question entirely.

You are more than your face. The world sees the outer shell, but that doesn't matter to us. As blind people, our visual limitations force us to look beyond the superficial to the person beneath. The face we want to touch doesn't live in a reflection.


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About the Creator

Sirena Carroll - The Blind Single Mom

Killing Misconceptions, One Story At A Time

I'm Sirena, a book-loving blind mom opening up on the unique life of single and co-parenting with a disability.

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Comments (2)

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  • Dharrsheena Raja Segarran5 months ago

    The thing most people don't realise is that personal boundaries work the same way for someone who is blind as well.

  • L.C. Schäfer5 months ago

    Can't say I know lots of blind people so take this with a pinch of salt... but never once have I asked a blind person to touch my face. It would weird me the heck out tbh. I can't believe people actually ask this 🤯

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