Don’t help them, a tale of two pedestrians, Blog Post By Jessica Hodges
I was lost. Completely, thoroughly lost. I was also in a bit of a time crunch, because class started in twenty minutes, and while I knew I wasn’t too far from campus and the building I needed, I also knew, due to the nature of being lost, that I could easily end up eight blocks away headed the wrong direction. It was time to flag down a person.
“Excuse me,” I said to the owner of a clicking pair of high heels passing me by. “Do you know where Rosebud lane is?”
“Why, yes, you’re not far away.”
She proceeded to tell me, in detail, how to get to the street I’d asked about. When she was just about done, and I was preparing my usual thank you, I was slightly distracted by running footsteps and panting breath coming our way. At first, I thought nothing of it, runners are common enough in a city, after all. That changed rather abruptly when the runner in question skidded to a stop in front of us, and blurted loudly, “Excuse me, but you shouldn’t help them. They get angry at you.”
If my range of facial expression would have been big enough, my jaw would have crashed to the concrete. The first woman stepped back, confused and nonplussed. “But she was…”
The runner cut her off. “It’s better just to let them wander around, they’ll yell at you if you offer anything.”
Fed up with her line of reasoning, I speak before she has the chance to say anything more absurd.
“Excuse me, ma’am, but that’s simply not true. I am sorry someone yelled at you because you offered help, that was very rude of them. That person, though, is not all blind people. I was asking this lady for help, and she was actually in the middle of giving me really good directions and keeping me from being rather late to class.”
For a moment, silence reigned. Then the woman stepped back, and awkwardly said, “Oh, I see. I’m sorry for interrupting… have a good day.”
“You too,” I said, and carried on my original conversation.
I made it to class that day, but it got me thinking on the nature of help, and pedestrians, in relation to getting around. In an ideal world, before someone tried to help a person, they would ask first. However, this is not an ideal world, and many people have many assumptions about what should and should not be. It has been the argument for many years that when one blind person is seen, we are representative of all blind people. My thoughts on this matter aside, this has some interesting results. One of which is an extreme need to be viewed as independent by the community at large. On top of this, it can be ridiculously frustrating when you know exactly where you’re going, and suddenly have someone freaking out because you’re about to step off a curb, or tugging at arms, canes, and other various body parts in an attempt to get you to go in the direction they perceive as being the right one. It is, in these times, occasionally very easy to snap, or get short with, these helpful hands, especially so if you are trying to, “Set an example of an independent blind person.” This is completely sensible and understandable. But every coin has a flip side.
First, let’s examine independence. According to the dictionary, independence is freedom from control or influence of another or others. Broken down, it means that somehow, you get done what you want, in a way that makes sense for you. It gives absolutely no limits on the ways this gets done. The logical extension of that then is that help, in various forms, can fit very nicely into one’s independence. And yet, the general attitude of those who accept help in public places, and to those in the public that offer it, is one of at best reluctant tolerance, and at worst harmful scorn. There are many who have multiple disabilities, both visible, and invisible, that need assistance to do a lot of tasks that the typical individual would find incredibly easy. For many of these, each day, in one form or another, is a struggle. Not being one of those people, I cannot speak truly of that experience; but I wonder if the assistance they need is perceived so.
That being said, throughout the world at large, not all help is helpful. Sometimes, it can even be a hindrance. There is nothing wrong with refusing help, sometimes it is even necessary. Just today, I refused to follow a woman who was going the opposite direction I needed to, despite her persuasions, pullings, and profuse worries. But when you accept or refuse help, you leave a mark. Each blind person is different, and the help, or lack thereof, that may be needed at any given time varies greatly. While everyone loses their patients, and it is a very, very easy thing to do in the heat of a moment, the impact for others is a lasting one.
Finally, consider the poor pedestrian. From the perspective of these helpers, they were trying to set right a wrong, and be a help to someone else. However misguided the help may be, and whatever they think of the abilities of the blind, on its own, there is no harm in their intent. That is not always easy to see when someone won’t let go of your cane, and you have to engage in a tug of war, but being rude or sharp is not going to solve the problem of the overhelpful. It will only make it more difficult for those who need it to get the help they require.
All of that aside, when anyone is asked for help, they have rights. No one is allowed to touch anyone else without permission. No one should accept anything if it makes them feel uncomfortable, or unsafe, and as stated before, there is never any obligation to accept offered help. Blind people, or any other person with a perceived disability, are still people, and this dictates they ought to have the same treatments as everyone else. So there is no reason that a blind person should lie down and let someone offer to wash their hands for them, who is capable of doing so, without comment, for example. Being firm, repetitive, and polite are all wonderful things in the face of unwanted, constant, or counterproductive help. However, there are ways of stating what is, and isn’t appropriate, without making a clamor and leaving a bad taste in the mouths of others looking to assist.
So let us remember that we are not the only people in this world, and be gentle with the people around us. We can clutch our independence close and display it proudly by doing what is needed every single day, while still leaving people able to get the help they need, and preventing pedestrians from needing to chase after me to save another hapless woman from my imagined wrath.
By Jessica Hodges
Thank you for listening!
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