I hope you’re all well, and ready for a fairly long post today; it’s taken me over an hour to write, rewrite, proofread and edit. I don’t often take that much time over a post, but this is something that matters a lot to me, and I feel that it deserves my greatest respect.
I saw a post on a blog which has only recently been created. It is written and run by one of my closest friends, who has helped me out on many occasion. You can find the post, and subsequently her blog, Here. Already, she’s written some great stuff, which I recommend you check out. This post was about the misconceptions associated with having a visual impairment, as both of us do. One of her points relates to the common belief that being blind also, in some way, means that an individual must be of lesser intelligence.
I would like to say that this blog proves that theory wrong, but I’d be lying if I told you guys that!
However, I hope that you guys have some common sense, and can figure out that this “myth” is not true. Blindness is to do with the eyes, and just because someone’s eyes don’t function, that doesn’t make them less intelligent, or not as nice a person.
Unfortuantely, I can fully understand why people make this misguided assumption. Society has drummed it into our heads that disabled people are helpless, needy individuals. It’s taught that disabled people rely on the abled-bodied – so-called “normal” people – to live our daily lives. Even the word “disability” begins with a negative prefix, “dis”, suggesting negativity or a lack of ability. And so, with the presumption that disabled people can’t live their daily lives independently comes the “understanding” that disabled people must therefore be unable to think for themselves, unable to act as an individual. Again, this is not true.
I ofen surprise members of the public whe, for example, I stand up from sitting down on a train and unfold my white cane. It’s not unusual for the people around me to fall silent, before the whispering and muttering begins.
“Is he BLIND?”
“Is he on his own?”
“Do you think he needs help?”
What shocks them more is when I independently negociate my way out of the carriage, to the doors and locate the button to release the doors once the train has pulled into my station and the doors have been unlocked.
Despite the queries over whether I might need a sighted person’s assistance, I very rarely get approached with the offer of help. Despite the misleading teachings of society in regards to the inability of disabled people to live our lives, people tend to feel an overwhelming sense of awkwardness or uncomfortableness when the prospect of having to help a blind person reveals itself to them. I can only blame this on certain disabled people who, when offered some form of assistance, rather rudely reject the well-intended offer, and show signs of offense that someone thought they were incapable. I cannot express how disappointing this is, because these very negative people’s reactions have most certainly created difficult situations for disabled people, especially those with less confidence.
In no way am I saying that an able-bodied person should not offer assistance to a disabled person if they look like they potentially might need some help. I mean, if anything, it’s common curtesy and social awareness. But besides that, there will be a situation, one day, in one place or another, where a disabled person does need assistance of some sort, but perhaps lacks the confidence to request it. By rudely refusing help when it is offered, a disabled individual is effectively creating more misconceptions and confusion around the topic of disability, as well as putting other disabled individuals at a distinct disadvantage.
I suppose what I’m saying here is to offer help to disabled people, not fear them, or just look on pitifully, but do nothing. On the other hand, do not make the fatal mistake of giving help without asking first; you’d be surprised how many stories I hear from blind and visually impaired people who have been helped [and I use that term very loosely] across a road, when in fact they had absolutely no intention of crossing it in the first place.
The other misconception relating to disability, and the presumption that disabled people are incapable or of a lesser intellectual standard to “normal” people is that disabled people can’t speak for themselves. Often, when I’m out with an adult, like my parents or a mobility professional [which is a frequent occurrence as I get closer and closer to training with a Guide dog], people will approach us, the same pitiful, sorrowful look plastered all over their face. They’ll stop, look condescendingly down at me, and say to my companion: “Isn’t it such a shame, him being blind”.
This, of all things, angers me a lot. For starters, I am present, and can hear every word you’re saying. Would you walk into a room, notice a very tall person and say to your friend: “Oh, isn’t it a shame that they’re so tall?”
No, of course you wouldn’t; it’s rude, it’s condescending and it’s patronising. But worse, people don’t just stop there: they’ll ask my companion all about me – whether I read braille, what my ”long stick” is for [that one always cracks me up; it just sounds inappropriate], and so on. My current technique for dealing with these people is anwering the questions aimed at whoever is with me myself.
“Does he read Braille?”
“Yes, yes, I do thank you very much.”
I have absolutely no problem whatsoever with curious people; I think it’s great that people want to know more about disabled people, and the different ways in which we live our lives. I do have an issue with people incorrectly assuming that I can’t talk for myself, because trust me, if you knew me in real life [I hate that term], you’d know that I am more than capable of speaking, and speaking for a rather long period of time at that.
For the first time ever on this blog, today, I set you all a challenge:
If you see a disabled person who looks like they may want some assistance – perhaps getting off of a bus or a train, or crossing the road, or finding the shop -, go up to them and ask them. Offer your help, because there’s nothing that makes my day more than a member of the public showing some social awareness, and asking if they can help. I’m sure there are other disabled people out there who feel similarly. If they say no, don’t be disheartened – just accept their decision and keep on going. Although help can be invaluable, it can also be unnecessary, and however harsh that sounds, having help at the wrong time can lead to a disabled person relying on others, and when there isn’t anyone to rely on, problems occur.
I’m going to leave you with a quote which initially appears fairly simple and plain, but means a lot when you look into it and think about it:
I’m a person with a disability, not a disabled person.