One-eyed waiter claims discrimination

December 14, 2016 • Posted in blindness, careers/jobs for people who are blind, Uncategorized by

That’s a whole lotta eyeballs there looking for a home. (photo by Chuck Gullett.)

Now, here’s a new one for you.

A waiter in Mississippi was fired for refusing to wear his fake eye at work. Discrimination? I dunno. But this story strikes close to home.

Eye surgeons did all they could to restore my vision when retinopathy set in thirty years ago. One of my eyes is still intact, but the other one shrunk so much from the trauma of all those surgeries that I can’t hold that eyelid open. I wear a prosthesis in that eye.

Jared Ellis, a married father of two children, lost an eye five years ago in an accident. He told a reporter at news station WREG in Mississippi that he wore a prosthetic eye for a while, but it was so uncomfortable that it gave him headaches. Eventually he decided not to wear it at all.

I still remember the first time an oclularist (that’s what specialists who make fake eyes are called) spread open the lids to my poor shrunken eye and plopped the prosthesis in. “Okay,” she said. I could hear her wiping her hands on a paper towel. “It’s in.”

Intellectually I knew all along that the prosthesis was not meant to improve my eyesight. It was meant to improve my looks. But it felt so much like the contact lenses I used to wear. For one split-second, I expected to open my eyes, look in a mirror and see what I looked like with this new eye. I was disappointed.

“It looks great!” the ocularist exclaimed with pride. I faked a smile. The eyepiece felt weird at first, as if, well, as if there was something in my eye. I’ve become used to it now. It only bothers me when dust or grit gets in there. If that happens, I take it out, clean it with regular hand soap and water, and plop it back in. I try not to do this in public restrooms, though!

Last month Ellis told reporters he didn’t wear a prosthetic eye or eye patch when he interviewed for the restaurant job or at any time he worked there. He said there’d been no mention of complaints from customers about him, and that he enjoyed his work.

A month into the job, however, a manager took Ellis aside and told him the restaurant owners wanted him either to wear a prosthetic or an eyepatch. Ellis quit on the spot.

As for me, of course it was crazy for me to ever think the fake eye would restore my vision. Not so crazy to think the fake eye would help restore my confidence. My fake eye is pretty realistic. It helps people feel more comfortable talking with me and listening to what I’m saying. With my fake eye in, it can appear I’m looking at people as they talk. They open themselves up, rather than pre-occupy themselves with my blindness. In turn, so do I.

So, what’s your guess? Which one is fake? (photo by Chuck Gullett)

Forgive the blind puns here, but it’s pretty interesting to look at this from two different points of view. I think this waiter’s customers might feel more comfortable and less pre-occupied with his missing eye if he wore a prosthesis, but Ellis says he’d like to use his restaurant experience to send a message to others in his shoes. “It’s about everybody who’s ever looked in the mirror or had somebody tell them there’s something wrong with the way they look,” he says in the WREG report. “There’s nothing wrong with you. You are beautiful. Don’t let anyone ever tell you otherwise.”

Sheila A. Donovan On December 14, 2016 at 11:09 am

I’m torn with this. It’s basically a balance between the customers’ comfort and his. Rather than force him to wear the uncomfortable eyeball, he should have worn his patch. But it is his decision. In public contact jobs, it’s different than an office or factory job where there wouldn’t be a problem. (hopefully)

bethfinke On December 14, 2016 at 11:23 am

I know what you mean. I’m kind of torn, too. I know that the prostheses people use on their legs and arms can be painful at times, too, and I wouldn’t want to force anyone to wear one in order to keep a job…


MICHAEL GRAFF On December 14, 2016 at 5:43 pm

In some of my memoir stories I’ve written about Captain Kimberly who owned the Brigantine Romance and for whom I worked as a crewman on board his ship. If you recall, I wrote that he lost his right eye in an accident. Often he did not wear his prosthetic lens. When he was angry at a crewman, he’d cock his head, turn his empty eye socket at him, and raise his left eyebrow. When I received that stare, I found myself involuntarily squinting back at him. It always unnerved me. I think he did it to intimidate us. It worked.

Once when Michael Jackson was interviewed by Barbara Walters, he said, “the press calls me ‘Wacko Jacko.'” My young son saw the interview and asked me if I thought it was mean of the press to say that.

I replied, “yes it’s mean. Part of it is because Michael behaves oddly. If he acted a little less wacko they might not say that. We all have to make choices.

bethfinke On December 14, 2016 at 7:44 pm

Thanks for this extremely thoughtful comment, Michael. So grateful we do have choices…


Janet Sterling On December 15, 2016 at 4:34 pm


bethfinke On December 15, 2016 at 5:14 pm

Ha! Today that little girl who was so taken by her first look, ahem, at her Great Aunt Betha’s fake eye is 21-years-old, and off to Hawaii with her college basketball team. How did all those years go by so quickly? Dang!


Annelore On December 16, 2016 at 7:17 pm

You’re right Beth, your entry is something new…. who knew? Can I guess it is the right eye?
About the waiter, I am reaching a bit to the restaurant’s side. Quitting on the spot? Hm. A

bethfinke On December 16, 2016 at 9:40 pm

I’m leaning toward the restaurant’s side myself — an eyepatch wouldn’t be that painful. That said, what if an employer didn’t like grey hair, and asked an amployee to dye it? Hmmmm….


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