Here it comes again, I thought! How many times had I heard that one? Next it'd probably be, "I'll help you cross the street."
If I'm not on the job, I just cringed when I hear it. I know the sighted mean well by it, but why is it up to us, the blind to be expected to act well by it? I mean, sure some times any and all of us, blind or sighted need a helping hand; I'd gotten and given them. But for just crossing a street! Nevertheless, being blind and out on the streets you can expect it from time to time. Its just another example of societies mixed messages or crossed interpretations; the independent blind guy is able to walk down the street, but not cross it.
To deal with it, I have developed a variety of reactions or come-backs. Most times I acknowledge their offer, decline politely and just go on my way. Sometimes I'd act like I was deaf too, you know like I didn't hear them. But there were also times, especially if I was working, I would talk and try and educate them to the capabilities of a blind guy.
"Yes," I answered him back, not moving with the others crossing the street. "The direction of the traffic sounds tell me the status of the lights. I just go with the flow."
"Yes that makes sense. But ah, if there is a large volume of traffic do you ever worry about walking over into the on coming flow or fear you won't detect a turning car?" A reasonable question for an uninformed sighted guy.
"No, its just the opposite. The stronger the stream of paralleling traffic, the clearer you have a sound cue to judge your angle and distance by. You can do this while watching out for other traffic too."
"Yeah got that," he said, his voice showing he was thinking this one through. "You use the sounds the cars make to know where they are. But....." The lights again changing at this point, his voice moving with his scanning eyes. "Wouldn't one of those beeping signals help? Make it even easier to know when the lights have changed?" Thinking and Learning as he was, I wasn't surprised at this question.
"No, wrong for a couple of reasons. First, like we've been saying, the car sounds are enough. The auditory signals would be over kill, expensive too. Then there are the more intangible parts to it all. I mean, already the world is thinking the blind need too much special attention and gadgets. No, most times it just takes a common sense approach, with some skill and confidence mixed in. Think about this. If an employer is faced with hiring a blind guy and if he thinks one of those gadgets is needed for crossing a street and if you add it to talking computers, talking elevators, talking Coke Machines and on and on. He might not know where to stop his thinking on the number and variety of alterations necessary for accomidation."
"Oh, yeah. I guess he would wonder if it goes on and on and gets more expensive as it goes." He was quiet for a second or two, pondering. "You know, going back to all these car sounds out here and what you said. I see we already have an auditory system to tell you about the status of the lights."
"That's right." I said back to him, wanting to reinforce the awareness I knew was dawning in him. Then wanting to take him a bit further, I got more into the job. "Then we have the way people want to help the blind cross these streets! I mean if its needed there's a couple of good ways to do it and an endless number of wrong ones."
He was with me and said, "Show me!"
"Well, here's one of the wrong ways. I call it the Little Red Wagon." Shifting the long white cane in my hands so I could take the tip end in the left, while still holding the other end of it in the right, I mimed someone pulling me forward.
His short bark of a laugh told me he liked that one.
I went on. "Or," moving quickly I got around behind him, grabbed him by both elbows, "like this. I call this technique the Wheel-barrel. This way they propel you where they think you want to go; whether you need to go there or not! Then there's one that I've heard of, but luckily never had the misfortune to experience. It happen to a lady friend of mine. What this big guy did to her was....." I dramatized this one by throwing myself up against his chest, like I was going nearly over the top of him. "He picked her up, put her over his shoulder and carried her across the street. I Call this one The Fireman's Carry."
"Woe now!" He fell back with a laugh. "I find that hard to believe!"
"Truth! It relates to something we all learn. If you're disabled, you're handled with no regard to personal space."
"I confess, I do not understand that. But I tell you what! Just in the short time we have spent here on the corner, you have taught me a lot about the capabilities of blind people. And, they are just regular people too."
Having accomplished my work, it was time to leave. Moving away from him, I oriented for the crossing with the next light. "Thanks, it was good talking to you too. Remember what we said, all that positiveness you learned."
The light turned green and I moved off with the flow of other walkers. I felt pretty good about what he had learned and what I had gained. Like they say, all in a days work; helping educate the public, while earning a few bucks to supplement my SSI. Yep, blind guys are just regular people. Some of us very capable pickpockets, too.