Archive for May 2012

Helping Blind People   Leave a comment

When encountering a person who has a disability, what are you expected to do? It maybe your nature to offer some kind of help. Will your help be accepted or rebuffed? Opinions vary among the disabled and the non disabled about whether help should be offered and how it should be offered.

Suppose My Help Isn’t Wanted

When I was training to use a white cane my mobility instructor showed me a maneuver to use when people tried to help me. I hadn’t asked her to. She just showed me—as if warding off unwanted assistance were an integral part of my training. It seemed more like a self defense maneuver than something I’d do when someone’s trying to help me. Do that to someone once and they’d never try to help anyone again. But there are some people who shun help. Perhaps they don’t want to be viewed as helpless. Perhaps the space around them is the only thing they feel they can control and they don’t want anyone violating that space by touching them. Of course, most of us wouldn’t allow a blind person to walk off a cliff just to save their pride. However, the situation is not always that clear. Sometimes determining if a person needs help is a judgment call. Sometimes it’s just a nagging feeling that offering help is the right thing to do.

Sometimes No Help is the Best Help One Can Give

Then there are some people who really do feel helpless and won’t even try to do anything for themselves. My vision went very slowly, like boiling a frog one increment at a time. I was actually standing at an intersection, about to cross a street ,when I realized I could no longer see the cars until they were nearly right in front of me. I had been profoundly deaf for twelve years and now I could not see either. How frightening. I decided not to continue where I was headed but just turned around and went back home, I somehow made it back and once there I seriously considered never leaving the house again. I saw the world outside my front door as a danger zone and was ready to become a 34 year old recluse. Somebody could have offered to help me then. People had cars and I could have become dependant on others to take me where I needed to go. But I knew if I did that, my comings and goings would be subject to other people’s schedules and what they felt like doing I shunned the sort of help that reduces me to a child with a child’s say so about my own business. It would no longer be my business. Besides, my family wouldn’t hear of me staying in the house and not doing anything with myself. It was on me to overcome my fears and learn to navigate the world as it presented itself to me. Until I did that, no one could help me in a way that would not make me more dependant and, at the end of the day, helpless.

How to Offer Help

So what kind of help can you offer people who have a disability? You can’t offer help that is not wanted nor withhold help that is sorely needed. It’s not a guessing game really. Instead of sticking to a one size fits all rule of thumb to help or not to help any and all, it’s a good idea to just ask: “May I help you?” But suppose the person says no they don’t need help when they really do? That is not your problem. That is their problem. I walked around Los Angeles legally blind for six years. When I got tired of busting my knees and having people on the street angry at me for not doing what I could not see needed to be done, I got a white cane. Sensible people will accept needed help when it’s offered in a polite and friendly manner.

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