THOUGHT PROVOKER 14
Last Updated June 07, 2001
To Provoke Thought Is The First Step To Beyond
“Excuse me. It's hard to know how much help you people need.” The Service Desk clerk said, handing me the phone, which I had asked to use. Her first response had been, “what number do you want?”
I used the long white cane to line up to ascend the steps into the city bus.
"Good morning!" The driver greeted me. "Watch your step."
Later the bus made a right and encountered an unforgettable "dip," and I knew we were on 16th street. I got ready to get off at the third street up.
At the stop I was third in line for the front door. The driver said, "Good bye," to each of the people in front of me as they passed him. To me he said, "Watch your step."
Nearing the first street I would need to cross I could hear that the traffic pattern was against me. Stopping, I only had to wait about thirty seconds and the flow of cars moving across in front ceased and the cars on the left, the paralleling street moved ahead.
"The Light's green!" A guy said as he came up along side.
"Yup, that's an easy one to tell, friend." I answered, stepping out.
"Huh?" He responded and I knew by the tone he didn't get it, but there wasn't time to explain.
Not a block later a car slowed, pulled close to the curb and speaking through the open side window, a woman asked, "Where is Dodge Street?"
Pointing to the north, I said, "Two streets over."
Approaching the front doors of the building in which I worked, noticing I was the first of several to want to enter, I held the door after opening it. Three or four people passed through voicing their "Thanks." The last guy in line tried to take the door from me saying, "I'll get it." His message clear that he wanted to take over.
I grinned and shook my head "No."
Inside he had the inner door open so I said, "Thanks, turn-about is fair play."
I joined several others in the elevator. A guy positioned near the control panel punched in everyone's floor request. General conversation started up as the doors began closing, when there came rapid footsteps and a hurried voice said, "Hold it please!"
The guy who had been manning the buttons was busy talking, so I stuck my arm out and purposefully bumped the leading edge of the nearly closed door and it retracted.
"I got it!" The button guy said.
Up stairs we all went our separate ways. Inside our office, door clicking closed behind me, I let out a big sigh.
Tony, our receptionist spoke up, "How's it going?"
**1. WOW, this is a good one! I've always had a very clear idea in my own mind
on how much help I need. The fact is, if I don't ask for help, I don't need
any at the moment. So many times well-meaning people will try to "help"
without waiting to be asked. They end up hindering or even endangering
themselves as well as the person they are trying to help.
For example, I have been grabbed while crossing the street by a well-meaning
person who was convinced that I needed "help" crossing the street. Never
mind that I was already two thirds of the way across; and that I'd crossed
at least ten other streets that day without this person's help.
I stress here that most of these people are well meaning. They do not mean
to interfere, they honestly believe they're going to "help' this or that
blind person in whatever they're doing. I wish I could just say to those
people, STOP! Think about what you're doing. Does that person really and
truly look like they need assistance? Do you really think a person who's
blind doesn't dial a telephone every day totally independent of help from
another person? Do you honestly think that a blind person isn't going to be
careful going up and down steps of any kind, or at least are they going to
be any more or less careful than a sighted person?
My mother always told me, "If you don't ask for help, don't expect it.
Don't expect other people to be able to read your mind and know when you
need help." This is advice that I always live by and try to pass on to
others. It is difficult if you're shy to ask for help. However, as a blind
person it is sometimes necessary. I just wish people would wait for us to
I have had friends of mine tell me about seeing a blind person struggling
with this or that and how they thought about going over to help but weren't
in a position to do so at that moment. I tell them that chances are the
person wasn't having any harder time with whatever they were doing than
anyone else and not to feel guilty. If they'd needed help they would have
asked for it.
OK, enough of my rambling. I hope I made sense here. Sometimes I don't
always write my thoughts down as accurately as I'd like. But for what it’s
worth this is my humble opinion on "What is help".
Have a great day!”
Wendy McCurley (Fort Worth, Texas, USA, Wendy.McCurley@CWIX.com )
**2. “The stories in this thought provoker are things that happen in everyday
life; not unusual or extraordinary. That's why I think it's so difficult
to comment on them.
My first thought was that, on a normal day, I wouldn't give a second
thought to these things. I probably would make a brief comment, such as
thank you to the bus driver or pedestrian crossing the street. I might
tell the person offering to take the door from me that it's okay; go
ahead. As far as the phone and desk clerk is concerned, I have never
really thought of their offer to dial the number as anything having to do
with my blindness. In some instances, they prefer to do that to make sure
that it's a local number being dialed. Or, perhaps the buttons on the
phone are to far to conveniently reach over the counter.
But, all of these things are relative. I said that I probably wouldn't
think much of these things on a normal day. However, on a day that is not
going well, or after people have really forced unneeded or unwanted
assistance, I probably would take issue with simple, everyday things like
When I go to the drug store, where the pharmacy is that I use, there is a
clerk who always insists on helping me through the store to the pharmacy
counter. She's a well-meaning lady, but is obviously not relaxed about
helping. When I take her arm, the elbow is always stuck out, away from
her body, and very tense and rigid. I've tried telling her that she can
relax and hold her arm naturally to her side, but the next time, the
situation is the same. I'm always glad when I go into the store and she's
not working, so I can walk through the store to the pharmacy myself. But,
when she is there, since she insists on "being helpful" I try to quietly
take her arm and walk with her to the pharmacy. I also try to walk back
through the store, to the door, without her noticing. I think that there
are some instances in which you can't do anything but make the best of the
help that people try to give. Then, there are other times that it's
really necessary to take the time to explain what is and isn't helpful to
well meaning individuals. It's all part of public education. How well I
do it and how often depends on my mood and the persistence of the
Cynthia Handel (Willow Street, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, USA,)
FROM ME: “Public education! Blindness is so many things, negative and as a condition isn’t too wide spread, but we sure all think of it. Most of the world doesn’t know how well we can work with it. In our efforts to educate “the public, “ all of them, is this effort possible? Like with we being such a small part of the whole, in this case can “the tail wag the dog?” Or is it already, on the negative side? (Never give up on the education part.)
**3. “A friend of mine once told me this story. His sister, who is totally
blind, was waiting at a bus stop which was located on a street corner. A
gentleman approached her, picked her up, carried her across the street, and
set her down. After thanking him, she said, "Now, could you please take me
back to where I was so I can catch the bus?”
This same friend, who is also totally blind, chooses to accept help, even
if he doesn't need it. This is because he has this crazy idea that if you
refuse help, even if you do it politely, that particular person may never
want to help another visually impaired person again.
When I am offered help, I accept it if I need it. If I don't, I politely
say so and thank the person for asking. When people tell me to watch my
step or whether a light is green, I thank them, even though I can see where
I'm going and where the cars are travelling. I realize these people have
Abbie Johnson (Sheridan, Wyoming, USA.)
FROM ME: “Either the picking up and carrying of a blind person is wide spread, I’ve heard of it in Nebraska and in other places too. Or is it one of those myths that has developed and “we all think its so?” And on the guy who accepts help fearing that if he doesn’t it will spoil it for the next guy that may need it… is this another form of “Damned if you do and damned if you don’t?”
**4. “Boy, this was a good one! I can't tell you how many times I deal with
this. People seem to think it is their duty to constantly intervene in
a blind person's life. On the other hand, I think most people are
sincerely wanting to help and honestly feel their help is needed. These
can be tough situations to handle. I find there are a few options of
how to respond. One is to completely ignore the person. Most of the
time, that seems a bit rude. Another is to politely say "Thanks" or "No
thanks", depending on the situation. The advantage to this option is
that it saves time and the helper feels appreciated by the helpee. The
disadvantage is that the helper continues in his/her idea that blind
people always need help crossing streets, finding bathroom stalls,
navigating escalators and steps, and so forth. The third option is to
try to educate people. The advantage to this option is that people
learn more about blindness, and the abilities of blind people. Another
advantage is that the blind person often feels that he/she has
maintained some sense of dignity. The disadvantage is that sometimes, I
don't feel like educating anyone. Also, no matter how tactful one is in
this education process, many people will still take offense if one does
not just smile and permit them to help. The final option is to express
frustration or make sarcastic comments. I have to admit I have done
this on some occasions. My favorite is when someone comes up to me on
the sidewalk, starts patting my arm or some other part of my body in a
way that says, "You poor thing, let me help you." Sometimes, I will
turn to him and say, "Oh, did you need something?" I guess this isn't
the most gracious response in the world, but I have to admit I've done
it once in awhile. Usually, I opt for either the "Thanks" option or the
education option. The option I choose can depend on my stress
level for that day. Some days, I have the energy to educate someone and
sometimes, I don't. Sometimes, I become frustrated and feel like
telling someone off.
I know I've written a lot here, but I want to make one more comment. I
think it's very helpful to notice what we are telling ourselves when
these uninvited helpers approach us. Sometimes, it's easy to
internalize a sense of anger or shame. Sometimes, it's easy to say
unhelpful things to ourselves. These could include: "I'm tired of being
an object of pity. I'm obviously in the lower caste of society. I must
not appear competent. I'd like to put this person in his/her place.
It's not fair that I have to deal with this all the time. I find it
more helpful to tell myself things such as: This is an opportunity for
me to help someone understand blind people. This person's actions and
desires don't need to control my mood. I can change what it means to be
blind. I don't have to sweat the small stuff. I have an opportunity to
grow in my character by acting with grace toward someone who wants to
reach out to me.
Finally, I promise this is it, my favorite offer of help happened at a
doctor's office. They handed me the little cup for giving the urine
specimen and showed me the restroom. The nurse then asked me, "Would
you like me to come in and help you with this." I just about lost it.
(Smile.) (My reaction, not the cup. (Smile.)
FROM ME: “What is helping yourself to be helpful to the helpful?” And yes, how much does “mood” play a part in this process? (We’ll see how many more mention “mood.)”
**5. “The thought provoker about the blind man on the way to work sounds like
a normal day for most people. I agree that Pat and I get tired of people
telling him over and over that there are steps. He uses his cane and can
tell if there are steps. Even though I am there with him, they think that
I am too dumb to tell him there are steps! I know he does not need me to
tell him that.
We just recently moved to a new house. There is a basement and there
are three steps leading up to the bedrooms and the bathroom area. People
have said, "we didn't think you would want a house with steps because you
are blind Pat." People in general are not deep thinkers. They say and do
some really dumb things. They tell people who are overweight that they are
fat. Like they were not aware of it on their own. They say dumb things
when people pass away. So how could they not say something stupid and
unthinking toward a blind person. Most people are not deep thinkers as I
said before. So we should patiently try to inform them so they do not look
so stupid next time. We must then all be teachers and educate these
people. The only way they will learn is if we kindly tell them that blind
people will ask if they need help, and that otherwise, leave them to go
about their business. But we must do it with patience and kindness so they
will not just think we are crabby too.”
Rory Conrad (Dunlap, Iowa, USA)
FROM ME: “…sounds like a normal day for most people…” This is the second response with this comment. Let’s see how many more feel this.”
**6. “The answer should be. Just another normal day.”
Rhonda Hutson (Tenkiller, Oklahoma, USA)
**7. “What's help? As opposed to hindrance, or enabling,
or what? Now I'm not talking about the kind of
good-natured help of I'll wash, you dry & put away.
The enabling I mean the attempt to seize control by
doing for others what they can perfectly well do for
themselves. Grab the blind guy's arm and drag him
across the street without asking. Yank the package
out of the blind woman's hand and carry it, even
though she didn't ask. Rearrange your wife's kitchen
to fit your sense of logical layout - that one
carries with it a risk of death!
In many cases the enabler does so much for so many,
he/she ends up a worn-out martyr by day's end and
then feels resentful when no one appreciates all the
effort. Does this make the enabler stop? Oh no.
He/she redoubles the effort to the point of dropping
from exhaustion - even though no one asked!
Help (to me) is when you make an offer and I accept.
Or it can be when I ask and you jump in willingly, or
at least agreeably - but please wait for me to ask.”
Carolyn Gold (Rplist, USA, firstname.lastname@example.org )
FROM ME: “The theme of “helpful can be harmful,” watch how many ways this can be written and will be submitted. Also, “…wait for me to ask…” How is that as a rule, for both sides?”
**8. “Carolyn, you reminded me of a story a local blind man told us. He was
standing at a corner of a light controlled intersection, waiting for his
wide to drive around the block to pick him up. Suddenly, with no warning,
someone grabbed his arm and dragged him across the street! The light had
turned green and the Good Samaritan decided this poor blind man needed his
help, did not even ask him.
Even with my guide dog, people will tell me there is a truck parked in the
crosswalk...hey what is it parked there for? Or they tell me the
light is green. One of these days, I will have some fun when Gimlet gets
distracted and allows me to find an obstacle with my body. When I know its
there, I play it up big to make the point that she messed up. Somebody is
going to think I really got hurt!
Unwanted help to me is worse than no help at all. If they ask, that is
great as you then have control over the situation.
Robert Clark & Gimlet
(Rplist, Gimmie Go-Go Bear (GDB)
Newport, Oregon, USA,
**9. “When I am having a good day getting around and in general doing things well I receive few offers of assistance. When I am having a poor day with mobility or in performing other tasks then I get more offers.”
FROM ME: SKILLS PAY OFF- “Then would it be safe/smart to say that the stronger you get with your blindness skills, the less you will need or get unwanted help?”
**10. “I'm sure we really do confuse sighted people sometimes. After all,
some of us may need assistance in one area that another person is
perfectly comfortable in.
Don't misunderstand me, there are times that the public really annoys
me. There are just some things that I won't put up with, i.e.,
grabbing my arm and propelling me where they think I want to go, for
example. And I really don't care how well meaning a person is when
they do that, either. That, to me, is a safety issue, and I don't feel
obligated to put up with unsafe assistance.
Most of the time, though, I try to tell people that the best thing to
do is to simply ask the person if they need assistance, and not to be
offended if they say no.
I have a rather significant hearing loss, and I really appreciate
being told when the light is in my favor, where some other blind person
doesn't need that information.”
June Jackson and GEB dog, Curtis A decision we make in an instant is a decision
that shows our character. (Blind-x, USA)
FROM ME: “With each blind person being an individual with his or her own level of skill and corresponding need or non-need for assistance, how does this cause confusion?”
**11. "Upon reading the introductory story to this provoker, I recognized many situations that have happened to me before. It's just the natural tendency
of the public to want to help. The title of this provoker is quite true:
what is help? Sometimes, I think we as blind people over react to offers
of help. The drive and desire to be independent is great, and we certainly
should be as independent as possible, but there are situations where
accepting some help is okay. Besides, I'd rather have people try to be
helpful than totally unfriendly. I am in college, and sometimes I find
students offering me help as kind of an icebreaker. I get the feeling
they want to talk to me, but aren't quite sure how to go about starting a
conversation. I think I've proved that I can get around campus by myself
just fine, but I still get asked if I want help. If we make a habit of over
reacting to the attempted help, it could earn us a rep as those "stuck-up
blind people." (Usually with the general public, they see one blind person,
they think they've seen them all.) However, on the other side of the coin,
the public's help can get annoying, especially when it's initiated out of
protectiveness, or a strong misconception that we can't do whatever it is
ourselves, rather than friendly assistance. I was at the mall once when a
woman decided to take it upon herself to announce to me every object in my
path. This of course is what my cane does, and it took some effort to keep
the annoyance out of my voice as I explained that to her. Yes, it is
annoying when a bus driver says, "Good morning" to everyone else and "Watch
your step" to a blind person, but how big of an issue do we make of it?
Alicia Richards (Lincoln, Illinois, USA, email@example.com (
**12. “Unsolicited assistance can be irritating. It is, indeed, difficult to know whether and/or how to assist. I've learned that if I were to become annoyed each and every time someone attempted to help me in an inappropriate fashion, I would be spending every day annoyed with the people around me.
Those whom we are around all the time will come to know what we want and need. Those who are not around us all the time will not learn. And, that's okay. Apparently, they don't need to.
People are different; sighted or blind, hearing or deaf, ambulatory or wheelchair bound, etc. Some want more help; some want less. Some require more help; some require less.
A good way to look at the irritation borne of unsolicited help is to realize that if you are receiving this unsolicited help on a regular basis, it means that you are out in the world and functioning. As difficult as it may seem at times, try to replace the feeling of irritation with the feeling of pride.”
Barry Levine (USA)
**13. “Here is one to add for thought.
Today I went to a Department store with a friend from work. A clerk
approached us and began helping. I had already placed my cane along a nearby
wall. When I started into the dressing room the clerk suggested another which
had a three-way mirror. I explained that I could not see and that a three-way
would not be of use.
When I went inside, the clerk said to my friend that she was sorry she
couldn't tell and didn't know. My friend responded that that was a
compliment. Cringing I said, actually Reberta that's like my complimenting
you by saying that I couldn't tell you are black. Think about the underlying
Patti Chang (BlindLaw, USA)
**14. “This reply belongs to a category called "Walkin' The Fine Line":
I was part of the front line of the Feminist Movement (okay, okay, you now
know my age ). Looking back it is easy to see why men ...and other
women... were so reluctant to approach us: At the SAME time that we
demanded equality, we also demanded that people also speak and think in Political Correct language and concepts. The result: people backed off
and shut down for fear that we would jump down their throats. We would
have done better if we could have maintained our sense of humor and
humanity through it all.
The bus driver probably realized his mistake and kicked himself after he
said it. He probably also promised himself that from now on, he will say
NOTHING to a blind person. Who won here? ---just a thought provoker
Eydie (AREnet members, USA)
**15. “Thanks for your message. Our agency has an Ad Hoc Transportation Committee
and we have been discussing the very things you had in this piece. We are
presently making a list of the 10 things we would want bus drivers to say and
do. The number 10 item is that we do not want the bus drivers to treat
persons with disabilities any different from the other passengers in respect
to respect (greeting and saying Good-bye to all).”
Ramona (AREnet members, USA)
**16. “I use to love to hear that. Jim, even though we've spent the last half
hour together, I had no idea you were blind." I thought that meant I was
performing well. However, you are right. The assumptions supporting that
statement are not flattering. I would now like to be thought of as a blind
person who is competent in the things I do.
This topic you raise has been one I have given much thought to in recent years.”
Jim McCarthy (BlindLaw, USA)
**17. “I'm kind of anxious to hear the comments on this one, I don't find any thing
unusual in this one, it is just everyday life.”
Mike Wardin (Colombia, Missouri, USA)
**18. “I've been very interested in all your messages on "too much help" (doing for
them what they could learn to do for themselves). I'd like to share
something I read in NAPVI's Newsletter, AWARENESS, Spring 1994. Probably
some of you read it then.
The Gift of the Struggle
"One day a man saw a butterfly, shuddering on the sidewalk, locked
in a seemingly hopeless struggle to free itself from its now useless cocoon.
Feeling pity, he took a pocketknife, carefully cut away the cocoon and set
the butterfly free. To his dismay, it lay on the sidewalk, convulsed weakly
for a while, and died.
"A biologist later told him, 'That was the worst thing y9ou could
have done! A butterfly needs the struggle to develop the muscles to fly.
By robbing him of the struggle, you made him too weak to live. “
Do we give students so much help that we rob them of the "gift of
struggle?” Struggle that will enable them to learn to live independently throughout
Josephine Stratton (AREnet members, USA)
**19. “Naturally, the little scenario that initiates this provoker is familiar enough to all of us who are blind. The respondents made that clear with the examples they advanced. While it is easy to dismiss many incidents as merely annoying, there is a sort of vaguely formed mindset behind much of the helpfulness that says that a blind person cannot take care of their own safety. Translate this mindset into situations where an employer is making decisions about hiring a blind person. Sorry, it wouldn't be safe for you to work here: we have steps down to the work floor; there are machines running in the work area; there are cars moving around in the parking lot, etc. Laurie Merryfield can tell you how the kindly concern for her safety operated to deny employment to her at Clarkson Hospital many years ago. I don't think the world has changed that much in the years in between. I suppose educating the public has to take place one person at a time, especially by blind persons who have acquired the confidence and the skills that permit them to function effectively and show that to those who offer sometimes unhelpful help.”
James Nyman (Lincoln, Nebraska, USA)
FROM ME: “People! Where else might this too helpful reaction by the too helpful public spill over into our lives?”
**20. “I wonder if Response 2 has tried politely telling the
clerk that she does not need her assistance. If the clerk is so
uncomfortable about helping, I'm sure she would be relieved to know that
her help is not needed.”
Abbie Johnson (Sheridan, Wyoming, USA) Abbie@wavecome.net
**21. “Response from a "sighted" person. I also found this provoker to be very interesting. Dealing with this personally, my husband is partially blind, not totally. I have difficulty knowing "when" to offer help. There are some things he can see which I still wonder how he does, and the most obvious that he cannot. So when I think he can see something coming up in his path, he may or may not see it. Or I have "pushed" him down steps, or caused him to bang into something. The sighted cannot as someone else said read your mind, or you ours. I believe the majority of this is common courtesy, and some blind only see this as an interference from the sighted world, and why don't we just mind our own business. Sorry, but I don't really know that you have walked nine blocks without help, I just saw you walk up, and out of courtesy, asked if you needed help...You are having a good day, and you have told me politely "no thank you"...but if you are having a bad day and think all these sighted people are just out to get you, and why don't we just all leave you the hell alone, there is no telling what you might tell me.…
I believe it is common courtesy when I see someone drop something, I reach down to pick it up. I don't expect the person to come unglued and tell me off for helping them. When a gentleman opens the door for me, I politely tell him thank you, and not chew him out for doing so. People (so far) are just brought up to help others, be polite and this is all that I see in this Provoker. I attended a public high school where we had some "special education" students, most were in wheel chairs. All of the non-disabled kids were told to help these kids, especially when the hallways went up and were steep, and to assist by pushing the wheelchairs up the steep ramps...Should I have just stood there and watched them struggle and walk away? No, the sighted do not know what to do, we are NOT educated on how each of you are going to respond. You all have different degrees of blindness, you have different personalities, and we are supposed to know exactly what to do every time we encounter someone with a cane???? Give us a break. I rarely see anyone out with a cane or dog...I would not go up and grab their arm though anymore than I would a stranger on a street corner....But like I said, I think people are just "trying" to be helpful, and just don't know any better...I am sorry you have to "put up with our ignorance", but don't take this so seriously. I am not going to slam the door in your face while going into a store anymore than I would a sighted person, but I get the feeling that some of you "want" me to just because by god your cane will show you where the door is, and to get the hell away from you....Well, I won't...and if you say something rude to me, I won't just think of you as a blind person, but a really rude blind person with an attitude.
Just my 2 cents. I am sure my husband will have to face training with a cane in the next few years, and I am sure there will be those "interfering" people out there trying to help him, but frankly I don't see anything changing....not in the near future anyway. He gets mad now over simple everyday things, which I won't go into here, but its just like you say, people just don't know any better, plus you cannot tell he has a vision problem...so people just always assume he is rude, but he just doesn't see....Most of the time, we just have to laugh about it....I do understand your frustration, I have watched the blind train, and they must do so much on their own...How do you educate the public anyway???? I can visualize this poor person trying to go through the drug store alone, this employee probably thinks you are going to go up the aisles and knock everything off the shelves...I have seen one guy we know that is totally blind, he lived in our neighborhood, he would get so mad sometimes, he would walk through the parking lots, and bang the crap out of cars with his cane...He was having a bad day he said, so lets tear up some cars....geez.....So, we all have very mixed feelings on this subject, and by reading all the comments, has helped me very much in knowing what the blind want or don't want....Just like teaching your child to walk, you have to let them go....Its hard for us to watch, especially in congested areas where cars are flying back and forth, and I am sure these well meaning people are just so scared that you getting ready to be flattened that they cannot help but grabbing on to you as if you were 5 years old....I don't know, this is just my opinion....Thank you for allowing me to tell you how I feel....
Renee Tucker (Huntsville, Alabama, USA)
**22. “My comments:
Like some others, I feel strongly that education is important, and also
sometimes I do not feel up to doing it, especially when my schedule is very
tight and I am in a hurry.
I think there are two issues here, the first is, do people stop to
consider if I need help first, and
second is if I really do need this offered help.
Even if they do not ask first, I could know precisely where I am, what I
am doing or going to do, and either get unwanted help or get sidetracked
by their attempts to "help" me.
I find that many times when I really need some assistance, there is
absolutely no one around to give it, and when I don't, people seem to come
out of the woodwork!! I don't know exactly why this happens, but if I
really do need help and there is no one to ask, I get much more frustrated
than when the helpful person is insistent on helping me. As I said, it
usually is more of a temporary distraction than an actual inconvenience.
Although my mood is important to how I will react to this, I will, most of
the time, try to educate, since this is important and the person will
remember me and be willing to help another person in the future.
I hope this is clear.”
Phyllis, Lea, & capmbmmiibs
see kitties & Lea at:
**23. “One guy in the first update said what I felt. I avoid allot of unwanted help by not looking like I need it. Meaning develop good skills and confidence in their use.”
**24. “Sometimes I'm frustrated with the way people react and/or respond. I try
to use it as a means to teach that blindness isn't so "black and white",
in other words, not "blind = can't see at all", but rather "blind =
difficulty in seeing".
I've experienced some of the same things Mr. Newman writes about but I've
also encountered some memorable experiences with people who genuinely
want to understand better the term blindness or visual impairment (VI). I
remember a conversation with a bus driver whose children had severe VI
and he related to me how the family dealt with it and how the kids dealt
with it as well. That was a good experience. Sometimes, even if I know I
can make it, I'll let someone help me across the street but I make sure I
don't let them "push" me across the street, I grab their arm and won't
let them grab me There’s a guy I know at work who will honk at me as he drives by while
I'm walking from the bus stop into the complex where I work. Of course I
didn't know at first who he was, but now I do. I give him a ration
every time and say he's the only one I know that honks a blind people. I
even admonish him for not stopping and offering a ride.
People sometimes forget that I'm blind -- "You don't LOOK blind and I
forget that you are." Or worse than that -- "You're not really blind,
you're faking it." One person in particular does that to me and I really
don't know for sure if she means it or if she's teasing me. I guess I'll
have to talk with her and find out for sure where she's coming from.
She's a supervisor and has a VI employee and I'm always called to the VI
desk when there's equipment or software trouble, so the supervisor does
know that I can usually resolve equipment and/or software issues.
Well, enough on that, I'll try to write my experiences down as I
Steven M. Cook (USA)
**25. “I'm not sure what you're searching for here, but my initial impression of this
piece is how much do we want help? If it is based on a day to day basis, I
would say that I want help only when I ask for it without the pity.
But there is another side to this question. How do we educate the truly
ignorant people to our needs? Some times truth and up-front honesty doesn't
work. I have to deal with this girl in my college office who is stupid to my
blindness. I tell her I can't see what she points to or hands me to read, and
she looks at me and says, "you sure you can't see it?" that's the kind of help
I don't need or want.
Most people are considerate to a fault, and that's ok because they are trying
to understand our plight. Some of my close friends and relatives still have
trouble facing my visual limitations even after all these years.”
Annie Chiappetta (RPlist)
**26. “Many things come down to self. Self pride, self
determination, self-awareness, and the big one self motivation.
Many themes I have read, run constant, in peoples writing. The
bus driver may have been looking out for himself. As we all
know, we live in a society of law and law suits. See if I can
paint a picture. A blind person is riding on the bus where
he/she knows every dip and curve in the route. He/she has
something on their mind, other than what he/she is doing. The
bus is nearing the stop, to get ready to depart. As the blind
person is near the exit, he/she hears the salutations of the bus
driver, as everyone dismounts. The Bus Company's policy is that
every driver is responsible for the safety of his or her
passengers. Remember he/she is not with it today. He/she is next
in line, not a sound comes from the bus driver after everyone
else has been given a warm farewell. He/she stumble's and hits
the pavement. Some spiteful person, that has it in for the bus
driver watching the whole thing, makes a big deal about it and,
says to the bus driver "this is going to cost you your job". We
all have a self-preservation within us. So who is to blame here?
Maybe that helpful hand is someone else's self preservation,
concerned not about your well being
but, their own bacon.
Am I way off base, on this? Is there some people looking for an
alternative motive in helping someone else. Have I personally
become that cynical in people, not to know true concern from
false bravado . I have tried to paint something quick. Societal
evolution is a slow process, people have a tendency to want
things to happen now. And, blindness has a stigma of it's own.
The theme I was trying to paint, don't bite the hand that's out
for whatever indention was meant. And, look at people's
perception now compared with just fifty years ago.”
Robin Rush, (West Point, Nebraska, USA) firstname.lastname@example.org
**27. “This situation reveals a matter of the public accepting the independence
that many blind people with good cane travel skills exhibit. People who
offer or force their assistance most likely have been in situations where
they have observed or had to assist a blind person who did not have good
travel skills. The writer did not indicate that he was rude to those who
offered assistance, but I as a blind individual can understand the inner
frustration. There are feelings of equality accomplishment and success
that one exhibits when the bus driver realizes your abilities and treats
you as an equal by saying "Goodbye" instead of "watch your step.” When the
pedestrian greets you with, "It is a beautiful day", instead of "the light is
green". It is one thing when an individual is obviously having difficulty
crossing a street or finding a building.
A blind person with excellent travel skills can provide directions to a
passer by and hold the door open while three people pass through the
entrance. This individual also is aware of when he/she needs to ask for
directions to a street or ask assistance in reading a label on a bottle.
We as blind people are grateful for the assistance that is offered, but do
feel bad for those who pity us and don't give themselves a chance to know
us for who we are, accomplished successful individuals.”
Vicky Chapman (USA)
“FROM ME: I wrote Vicky back and she responded with the further observation of how “helping or not helping” a blind person can be an awkward situation.”
“Tell them that I tell people about the time I
wore Pink pants and a green sweater into the office and thought it matched.
It is a great story to use when talking about telling a blind person their
clothes don't match. You know how it is, many people are afraid that they
will hurt the blind persons feelings.”
“FROM ME: Isn’t that one true! Doesn’t happen often, hopefully not, but haven’t you seen when “help” is with held, specifically to not hurt the blind person’s feelings. That’s worth a Provoker all to itself.”
**28. “This is just a small take. I am not blind, but several years I did have
mobility problems. So I will make short mention of the idea of opening
doors, etc. Several times I was struggling along with my walker and in
the process of opening a door and using the door handle as support, some
well-meaning but not always well-observant person would yank the door out
of my hand which if I had not been well-observant that particular day
would have caused me to fall flat on my face. Now when I am walking with
Laurie, who is blind, I always stand back and allow her to open doors. I
have learned that she is very spatially oriented and the door is part of
what defines the space on the other side. If she misses the experience
of that spatial separation, she misses part of that experience that us
sighted folks take for granted as we walk through a door from one room
(or space) to another.”
Jim Merryfield (Bellevue, Washington, USA)
**29. "What's Help" has been an interesting Thought Provoker.
As a sighted individual, I was surprised at a number of the stories relayed,
particularly those in which people basically try to "take over", such as helping across the street, etc. That's bizarre.
I think it's just about impossible to say how much assistance anyone needs
unless you are intimately familiar with them. Otherwise, we can only guess
that someone may benefit from some assistance and then *ask*. Although... on
the flipside of that, there are some things that are just easier to do than
to ask for permission first. Such as holding a door open, saying the light's
green, etc. Holding a door open for someone else is simply standard courtesy
for anyone. Saying the light's green is definitely aimed at someone who's
V.I., but it's also not meant to be intrusive, and isn't going so far as
offering to help you across the street, nor (gods forbid) dragging you across.
By the way, off-subject... I've dodged out of the paths of blind folks with
wild canes. I haven't determined if the individuals have been purposely
obnoxious or honestly that oblivious, but I also haven't been willing to get
banged to find out.
I'm not certain how a group of people goes about educating the masses. I deal
with stereotypes routinely and my own mood will often dictate whether I
respond to unintentional insults with humor or sarcasm, though I certainly
try for humor because I know the insults were not meant.
But... one thought I hadn't really considered before, is that as a blind
person, it sounds as if offers of assistance, or presumed need of assistance,
is an every-day occurrence. I can see where the repetitiveness could wear at
a person's nerves and patience. In light of that, it seems best to not offer
assistance unless it is requested or the person is obviously distressed. Does
that sound about right?
Thanks for your time.”
**30. “I've been giving a lot of thought to the What's Help Provoker. It is
extremely important for the public to feel comfortable and aware of the
capabilities of the blind. The dilemma is in how we, the blind, can best
promote this education.
I think this puts all blind people in the position of being a salesperson.
If a salesman is rude to you, do you want to buy his product? No, you take
an instant dislike to him and what he is selling. When a blind person is
offered unsolicited help, the way he chooses to react goes a long way in
promoting or demoting the cause.
Only caring people offer help. Helping others makes a person feel good
about themselves. My philosophy is, if you don't have the time or the mood
to kindly educate the person, then smile and allow them the gift of feeling
helpful. Every time you are rude you are hurting the cause because you have
turned off a buyer.
As a salesman it is our responsibility to present ourselves in the best
light. Perfect your mobility skills, stand up tall, be kind, smile. If you
are wronged on the job, approach management in a constructive manner. You
can be assertive with out being rude. If we all hone our selling techniques,
maybe we'll stop hearing about those damn, rude blind people and be thought
of as those capable people that happen to be blind.”
Linda (Primeville, Oregon, USA)
**31. “What is help? I guess that is the basic question running throughout this
story. What is help? When is it valid help and when does it turn from
help into condescension? What I have found is that nine times out of ten,
people offer help because they do believe blind people need that extra
push along the road of life. But people don't offer help out of meanness
or spite...they offer help because they honestly don't know any better.
More actions are taken toward blind people, both positive and negative,
because of ignorance. The best thing we can do as blind people is to
educate those who are ignorant. I don't mean stop in the middle of the
street and lecture the guy who is telling you it's safe to cross, even
though you already know it. We can do small, ordinary things that will
make our point without being too grandiose. When someone grabs you by the
arm and tries to steer you somewhere, stop walking and ask politely if you
can take their arm. If you don't need help, just say something like,
"thanks, but I'm okay." In the case of the bus driver when he is telling
you to watch your step, you can respond with some lame comment like, "I've
never tripped yet. Thanks though." We can demonstrate our capabilities
better through actions and subtlety than through angry retorts and
outbursts of frustration.”
Ryan Osentowski (Lincoln, Nebraska, USA)
**32. “I wanted to add this to the thought provoker after reading so many of the
Blind people are just like everyone else in life. There are some very
capable blind people. There are some who have not learned to be
independent at all. There are as many different degrees of this as there
are people in the world. So the amount of help needed is also varying.
Some are newly blind, some have been so for years. Some do things one way,
some another. So educating people to what a blind person needs is
practically hopeless. There is no one way to treat everyone. I think that
only think to be done is to tell people that asking is the only way to find
out if someone needs assistance.
One day my husband, Pat, went to the school to take care of some
business for the kids. He asked directions to the school office. A well
meaning High School girl told him that it was up the steps. Then she told
him one step at a time all the way to the room. It was redundant to say the
least and he laughed about it later. But the thing that seemed ridiculous
was that later we found out that two teachers stood by and never said a
word. They didn't offer to give directions to Pat or to tell the girl how
to be of assistance to him. He is totally blind, so he was not aware of
how many people were there simply watching the spectacle. What do you
think the teachers should have done?”
Rory Conrad (Dunlap, Iowa USA)
**33. “I am more inclined now than I used to be to accept help. This is as a
result of being knocked down by a bus while crossing a road perfectly well
on a set of traffic lights. The driver didn't see me!! However I do get
irritated when I get helped by people without them asking me. I find it
best to be as nice to people as possible because I might really need help
one day and not get it.”
**34. “I'd like to respond particularly to # 21's response. First of all, were
the wheel chair students in your high school ever told that they needed to
help the rest of the students with something? You see, this is where the
problem is. It has to do with people thinking about appearance and not
substance. It has to do with peoples' abilities to size up and read a
situation...any situation that they may find themselves in, a skill which
is developed over time as life experiences come and go. The real issue is
"assumed inferiority". Yes, we all have good and bad days just like
everyone else. And, just like anyone else, there's a very good chance that
on a bad day we're just likely to say something that may be somewhat
unpleasant. In our society today people are becoming more and more
suspicious of unsolicited "help" because, often times, that solicitation is
nothing more than a hidden agenda for who knows what. We can't be expected
to put up with that any more than anyone else so, when I get a feeling that
someone is completely "off the track" with regard to my "need" I tend to
use a mild stiff-arm.
Now, let's talk about "token" vs. "real" help. People are so often too
willing to offer us assistance crossing streets we've crossed many times
before, give us directions to places that we frequent, and in general talk
to us as though we are not capable of thinking clearly or really knowing
what we want. On the other hand, if people are so "needing" to help us
then, why do we live in a society that, for many years now, has been doing
its best to eliminate most forms of public transportation? Why are shopping
areas, office complexes, and entertainment facilities such as movie
theatres, being placed in locations which are only accessible to the
private automobile? Why are local streets and roads being designed in such
a way that they are not safe for passage by anyone
other than those inside of or on motorized vehicles? I could go on and on
but, I think you get the point. That has much to do with my frustration
about this help issue. Well, that's my two cents worth.”
Bob Simonson (Omaha, Nebraska, USA)
**35. “I loved Renee Tucker's viewpoint as a sighted person. Thanks for
I'm going to be frank here. After I went blind in 1984, I became
a miserable vindictive asshole... more than once I told someone to
fuck off when they tried to help me on the street. I got equally
angry when I was having trouble... "Can’t they see I'm blind?!”
I'm sure more than one person wanted to put me out of my misery,
thus helping them out of theirs.
There are two basic experiences here. The first is we as blind
people, often being approached and asked if we need help (or the
"help" being "forced" on us). This is daily experience.
The second experience is that of a sighted person who has not
encountered a blind person before. I don't know how many times a
person guiding me for the first time has said it was his or her
first time leading a blind person and are they doing it "right".
I have found that when I make a behavior or response into a rule
that everyone I meet should follow (such as telling them off when
they offer to help me across the street), then I put myself (and
other people) into a lot of stress and anger. It is equally
unenjoyable making other responses into a rule (such as I have to
patiently explain about being blind and using a cane). Life gets
stressful and boring when it's made into a set of rules.
It's funny this Provoker came at this time... I recently began
wondering what would happen the next time some stranger asked if I
"Yes... could you give me twenty bucks.”
So far I haven't had the opportunity to ask. *grinning* Actually,
I've been making my experience of being blind more and more fun. For
example, I was going up an escalator to the Sky Train (a type
of mostly aboveground subway here in the Lower Mainland) a few
weeks ago. A young woman ahead of me turned around and said, "I
look like Brooke Shields!" I grinned and asked if she _felt_ like
Brooke Shields. There was a very long pause, then "I wish!”
I don't know how many "horror stories" I have heard from other
blind people (such as being distracted by a sighted person assuming
they want to go in a particular direction). I have deliberately
learned to be firmly "connected" with the earth, to "focus" on
where I am going and what I am doing, and paying lots of attention
to sound in all directions around me. I have developed excellent
cane skills, and generally take my time going somewhere. Even when
I'm in a hurry, I usually "keep my faculties in order".
A few days ago I was tired and not paying as much attention as I
usually do... and walked hard into the side of a truck in the
middle of a busy intersection. True, my cane went under the
elevated bottom of the truck, but normally I would have sensed this
and slowed and stopped before I got to the point where I did,
giving myself a nasty scrape on the forehead. (And, yes, someone
did want to take me somewhere else at that point, but I had
maintained enough sense of intent to say no, I want to go in _this_
direction, which he helped me to.)
_I_ am responsible for my life and my actions... _and_ my feelings
and reactions. Nobody else is.”
David R. Sky
(Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada)
(+1) (604) 687-6898
**36. “An ex-member of our NFB chapter has had some fairly unpleasant experiences
because people don't know he is blind.
His eyes don't work together, so once on an airplane, he was arrested for
being under the influence of drugs.
He can't see the bus route sign, and has stopped buses that travel part of
the way along the route to ask which bus it is. The drivers get really
He can't see one's expression at a decent distance, so he moves right into
your face to see your reaction!
He sometimes doesn't see large objects bearing down on him, so once fell over
into the lap of a wheelchair user, a young girl, whose over protective
brother decided he had been looking up her skirt, and pressed charges. He
spent some time in court, and has been barred from a certain amusement park.
Recently, his father sat him down and said, "You are making $5,000 a year.
You ought to be making $100,000. I want you to get some training." He
called me and asked if he could get referred to Louisiana Center for the
Blind. I sent him to his Commission Counselor. However, unless he is
willing to admit he is blind he won't last two days.”
Lori Stayer (Merrid, New York, USA)
FROM ME: “I think I can use this anonymous man’s incidences as an example of a whole sub-class of “What’s Help.” When to use a long white cane I know is a touchy grey area for those of us who are partially blind/sighted and for those of us who counsel and teach them. Being labled blind, versus should a person “help” themselves via alternative techniques and the tools and reactions associated with it is a very personal one and tough. Think of it, here we have a person who can see to do some things, but can’t see to do others. In the area of where this type of person is experiencing functional problems, like in travel/mobility, we find him having accidents that mostly likely wouldn’t occur if he used a cane or dog. Also, we find him unemployed and you wonder how much of that state of affairs is associated with the functional difficulties he is experiencing, the impression he is giving and the possible lack of confidence needed to seek, win and hold a employment? Granted, I know this individuals story may be a little extreme, but there are several fundamental principles here that don’t go away easy; how about beefing up any of your/my weaknesses via tools and/or expanding your mind-set and/or boosting self-confidence, helping yourself, etc?”
**37. “This is an interesting scenario and as a person who works with blind children I am fascinated at the type of responses aimed toward the visually impaired. There is this constant question that I am faced with by my sighted peers that implies a "pity" stance for the poor child. I have never felt this from day one. My feeling is, these are the cards you are dealt, let's make the most out of what you can do. The goal is independence and freedom in personal issues and style. I find myself getting angry when people come up to me and ask questions directed to my student as if he is not there. I say, "Ask him and he will tell you if he wants you to know."
There is an implied message that the blind are incapable, that they could not somehow exist without the sighted there watching over them. It is a paternalistic approach that demeans the individual. My student is so bright that I should go back to graduate school to keep up with him in quantum physics. Not today I don't worry and fret at times, or shed a tear or two when he is left out of games that sighted children are playing. If he were with a group of blind children though, he would not be sitting out. They have no problem interacting and finding things that they can all do. My Grandmother lost her sight late in life and refused to learn to use her cane. She was fiercely independent and when relatives tried to put her in a "Home for the Blind" I urged her to stay out on her own. I felt she needed to control her own destiny and not become dependent. With some adaptations, she lived at home until she passed away.
My response to the thought provoker is if you see a blind person or visually impaired person who seems to handling themselves just fine, say a word of greeting and treat them like you would anybody else. And for God's sake don't stare at them, even though people they can't see your rudeness, people like me can.”
Suzanne Lange (California, USA)
FROM ME: “Do examine that thought… some will stare. I know of several reasons why that is, how about you?”
39. “Like it or not, as blind people we do educate everyone we meet for
good or ill. Even when we don't interact with a person, he or she
gets some idea of blindness or handicap by the way we carry ourselves,
etc. I am not aware of it, but my sighted friends tell me that I get
a lot of stares. This reminds me of a verse in the Bible which I'm
sure is totally out of context, but somewhere we read: "Partly whilst
you were a gazing-stock." We surely are that.
On the subject of doors: I have had well-meaning sighted friends open
a car door right into my eye, if you know what I mean. Folks want to
be helpful with the opening of a door, but sometimes the best way is
to make sure I've found the door handle on the outside. I much prefer
opening car doors for myself. I'm never quite sure of the intentions
of the sighted door-opener. Am I supposed to go forward, stand back?
Consequently, I get the door in my eye.
Well, I've not solved anything, but I can truthfully say two things:
1) I know I'm a gazing stock.
2) I educate people all the time, even when I am not interacting
This school teacher is now going to take a leisurely Sunday afternoon
Penny Golden (Columbus, Nebraska, USA)
40. “The issue around help is much more complicated than most
non-disabled people seem to realize. Some people think that help of any
kind is good because after all, help is a good and kind thing. Helping
our children, helping the sick, etc. is important, even when it may seem
inconvenient. The problem for us, as many have already written, is that
one's perception of a need and method of helping, plus a perception of "I
know what you need better than you do." Or "You're blind which means
you're helpless, which means I have to help you whether you like it or
not" gets in the way. If someone asks me if I need help, sometimes I
take it, sometimes I do not. What's important to me is that I be the one
to judge whether or not I need help and what kind of help is appropriate.
I know that some blind people insist that they never need help but when
I hear this, I know that they are in some kind of denial. Sighted people
need help sometimes, so why wouldn't blind people need it equally? The
assumption that we need more help is part of the problem. We may need
certain kinds of help, but those things are counter-balanced by all the
everyday areas in which we really do not need as much help as some may
hose who initiate help and will not allow us to choose whether we need
it or not, tend to be codependent people who are into controlling those
they presume to be more dependent than they are. They are so busy
controlling others that they have very little self-control. We tend to
attract such people not because we need them, but because they tend to
perceive that we need them and they're looking for their "helping fix."
We can spot them pretty well. They are the ones who are likely to say, "I
was only trying to help" or "see if I help you again.”
The question of intention is a tricky one. Some will claim that since
they had good intentions, we shouldn't reject their help. Their feelings
might be hurt or they feel unappreciated. However, if I am at a shopping
mall and some punk wants to show off to his friends, comes over to me and
offers to get the door and then deliberately shoves me into it or swings
it open and bangs my head up, I'm going to be injured. If a minister who
happens to be shopping for her husband comes running up to help me,
stumbles over her packages and winds up accidentally shoving me into the
door or opening it on me in a painful way, the results are the same.
Certainly intention matters, but when helpers use their ignorance as an
excuse, we may doubt their sincerity. "Forgive them for they know not
what they do" is a big order for some of us humans on too repetitive a
basis. Sometimes it just plain gets old!
Dr. Nyman was correct in his mention of the 11-and-a-half year struggle with Clarkson Hospital in trying to get a job. Their main concern, which happens a lot in our lives, was safety. The hospital staff insisted that
I couldn't be around needles since I would get hurt. They insisted that
I could not move things around on carts in hallways of a hospital since
that would not only endanger me, but others. I cannot remember now
whether it was Clarkson or another Omaha hospital that said "Your being
here moving around in the halls could frighten patients and cause them to
have a heart attack." The most ridiculous claim was that I could not
work with the autoclave (sterilizer) since I couldn't see if there was
heat or steam. Now come on! You feel and smell those things. Like we
don't know when our oven is on at home, right? They thought I would be
an insurance risk even though we explained to them that there is no
actuarial evidence to suggest that blind people are more of an insurance
risk than sighted people; in fact, we may be more careful in some cases.
These well-meaning people knew diddley about the capabilities of blind people, nevertheless, they would not admit it and would not listen to our very logical explanations. It was like we were all in a deadlock asking, "what part of no don't you understand?" I was saying "no you cannot
discriminate against a blind person who could do a fine job" and they
were saying "No, we don't think you could do it, therefore you will not
do it." They even out-and-out said "We don't have any openings down here and even if we did, there is nothing down here that you can do." This was after I had been to the human resources office and found that there were openings in Central Supply.
I still deal with medical people quite often and they tend to be missing
some important facets of their education, only one of which is
how to deal with blind people reasonably. Just in the short time I've
been up here I have had some strange things happen. I was assigned to an
ear specialist who wanted to prescribe some eardrops. He asked if I
would have someone to help me with them. After all the ear and eye drops
I've given myself! Then, as I had the prescription filled, the
pharmacist asked me the same question. Duh! As my daughter would say.
Just a few days ago I visited the presurgery nurses prior to a
reconstructive skin graft to the left eye socket, and they asked all the
usual questions. But the clincher was "Well, it looks like your doctor
is having you do this as an outpatient. Will you have someone to help
you? Who helps you at home, your husband?" and so fourth. I said that
my husband and I help each other and I would be fine. I further
explained that I couldn't drive or read print but neither of those
situations would be that much of a problem after the surgery. I just
KNOW she was thinking about the little things: dressing, bathrooming,
food preparation, eating, well, you know. Mostly I heard it in the tone
of voice which had gotten very syrupy.
Last Christmas, Jim and I sang carols with his work people at a rehab
center. I know they were worried about my moving around the place. I
stayed with my bunch and was fine. As I was waiting for Jim to get the
car (it was rainy so I stayed inside) someone came up and asked "Are you
new here?" The woman who had guided our "tour" said "Oh no! she's one
of our musicians!" Then someone else came up and said "Do you work at a
sheltered workshop?" No way, Jose! In both cases, the person was all
ready to take me somewhere and otherwise "help." The other day in our
choral rehearsal I came back to the alto section and asked which row it
was (the chairs had gotten quite disarrayed) and a woman said "Your hand
is on the back of the chair." I was flabbergasted. Finally, I just
repeated my question and got an answer from someone else. The same
woman, as I was holding a cup of tea at break time, said, "That's hot!"
Oh dear! We are so often perceived as having no brains. Oh by the way,
not long after I had asked the question about which row, I heard another
choral member (sighted) ask the same question. The answer to her was
"This is the row you were sitting in before but it is hard to tell.
We'll do better next week." Why couldn't they just say something more
ordinary like that to me?
I have noticed the phenomenon that when I don't need help,
hands are everywhere; when I do need help, there's no one around. The
good news though is that in most cases, we can help ourselves and each
other, too. It's not a one-way street. We too want to help those who
truly need it. “
Laurie Merryfield (Bellevue, Washington, USA)
39. “All of this brings to mind a situation where I chose to educate a member of
the public, and this sort of experience has brought me to take such events
with both understanding and humor.
I was mid-way across a very busy intersection in Norwood Pennsylvania, where
I was living at the time, when an older woman grabbed my arm and stopped me.
I was preparing for the usual overly helpful act of kindness, but instead
she asked me a question. "how did you know the light turned green. We were
standing next to an island park that divided Winona Avenue, so I suggested
that we step up on to it before I explained. I gave her a very complete
explanation of how I was lining up on the sound of traffic, and listened
for the traffic beside me to start moving. I was very pleased with my
efforts to explain all of this, and feeling rather proud of myself. She
then looked up at me and said, "Oh, and you're intelligent too!”
I believe that each of us goes through stages as we develop our own
philosophy of blindness, at first we want help, at least until we learn some
alternatives, and then we want the world to leave us totally alone, and
finally we have the confidence and skills to strike a reasonable balance.
Yes, I fully understand the stress of traveling and dealing with the
excessive offers of assistance, and I also know how I have tended to push
myself to the very edge of my skills in order to avoid those that would
assume that I must have their help to succeed in reaching my objective. At
times I have honestly pushed myself beyond the limits of my skills, and I've
not always gotten away with doing so. I now try to take charge of the
situation immediately, and make certain that the person I am dealing with
understands that I appreciate their offer, and that I am fully aware of what
if any help I need. I don't always succeed, but most of the time I come
In regard to educating the public, I try to help folks to realize the
difference between offering help and imposing help. Telling someone that
the light has turned green, is imposing help, asking if that person wants
assistance is offering help. I always tell folks you can't get into trouble
if you follow a simple method. First greet the person as you would anyone
else, if they want help this gives him or her the chance to ask for it. If
they don't ask, but you feel they may still be in need, then ask, "Do you
need some assistance?" If the answer is "No", then you should leave the
person handle the situation independently. If the answer is "Yes", then ask
one more question, "What sort of help do you need?”
These are good-hearted folks for the most part, the majority can be
educated, and very often they will spread the good word. We all have bad
days too, and it isn't easy to keep our frustration under control when the
seventh or eighth good hearted person has told us that the light is green or
grabbed our arm to save us from running into the very landmark we were
intending to locate. I feel the frustration and the anger, but I have done
my best to apply this energy toward solving the problem rather than simply
reacting to it. I have found that the smaller the community in which you are
living the less the problem will continue to affect you, and in larger
communities it is a much greater problem, and so the process to educate the
public becomes a greater challenge. The more of us that have good skills,
and a desire to educate, the more likely the problem will one day no longer
be an issue.”
Jeff Altman (Lincoln Nebraska, USA)
41. “This is a real tough one. Its one of those where we both, the blind and the public get caught in the middle of disability ignorance. It is surely a problem of education of the non-disabled; not saying some disabled people don’t need some straightening out too. As to how to Educate all needing it? I don’t know. But if I were to advise them all, as I will educate those who come into my sphere of influence, I recommend that a person who wants to help, ask first. And for those who want help, ask. In both cases, this follows an already polite convention that has been around for all time.”
FROM ME: “Makes sense. How about any one else?”
42. "It seems to me that education will assist in this situation regarding giving
help when it's not needed. Perceptions need to be changed. Some years ago I
went to a week-long seminar (Stop me if I've told this before!), and left my
family home to cope. My husband had to get rides to work, which he did,
whether friends or cabs. He also had to prepare meals for everyone,
including some company we had, which he also did. Two days into the week, my
older daughter took a bike ride with a friend, and mentioned to the friend
that I was away for the week. The friend said, "Does this mean you left your
dad alone in the house?" Our answer to this bit of misunderstanding was to
have David visit the children's classrooms at school and explain about his
work, braille, cane travel, etc. I'm not sure of the long range effects, but
expect they were positive. Which doesn't mean that my daughters don't run
into the attitude now and again still! Sometimes from college teachers!"
Lori Stayer (Merrick, New York, USA)
43. "Wasn't that a film by the Beatles? Actually, help from passers-by can
be rather funny at times. As my guide dog, Delsie, and I were going
through the BART subway station in San Francisco one day, heading for
the gates, a man spotted us. He immediately came over and, ignoring me
completely, said to my dog "Hey, this way! Here Girl, here Girl!" and
made that smacking kissing sound with his lips that one makes to get an
animal's attention. My dog ignored him completely. When he persisted, I
responded in a carrying voice "Excuse me, Sir, but if THAT is your
technique for getting a date, no WONDER you're alone every Saturday!
Delsie, Forward!" and off we sped to the sounds of laughter from the
others in the station.
I find that, as half of a person-dog team, I become invisible as
everyone focuses on my dog when offering help! I find that often, I have
to help OTHERS instead of vice versa because they are full of questions
that I take the time to answer. Now if only I could convince parents
NOT to allow their children to run up and grab my dog! They are the ones
who may need help someday."
Sylvia Stevens (San Francisco, California, USA)
**44. "Wow ! I just couldn't pass this one by.
Here in England I think it's probably fair to say we like in a more reserved
society than in the States so just imagine how hard it is for those of us
who deal with a cross section of VIPs here. I am a Guide Dog Mobility
Instructor so I am used to working with people with various sight conditions
and outlooks on life, and adapting my training style accordingly. I am paid
to do this and have received training myself, however it is still difficult
to get it right all the time ( I have got noticeably more grey hairs since
starting this job). How is a member of the public supposed to know ? I think
people who offer help are well meaning but I also understand the frustration
of the VIP.
People stare because they do not understand or have not experienced
blindness before. A child will often stare because they do not understand
etiquette, but curiosity usually prompts an embarrassing (for the parent)
question. As that child learns society's acceptable behaviour they will no
longer stare or ask; but the desire to know is not satisfied and they will
stare at a VIP because they think they can without offending.
There is lots of interesting talking points in this piece so far. I have
printed it off and intend to leave it for other staff here to read."
KIERA Bentley (England)
**45. " Sounds pretty much like every day of my life. It gets real old some days, but most of the time you simply have to just smile and nod and say
"thanks," and go on your merry way. You hope that most people will add up
the number of things you do every day without help and determine that you
are a capable and competent person. Some will never never reach this
conclusion, others will -- such is life.”
Brian Miller (NABS/NFB)