This week on Twitter there has been a lot of talk around disabled people being grabbed, pushed and pulled when out and about. About Guide Dogs being hit on the head, or had their paws trampled. Another story which keeps coming up is wheelchair users who are having people push their chairs for them without asking. How is this OK? It is not is the short answer.
I am a visually impaired person who has used a guide cane for a little over a year. Using a guide cane is one of the best decisions I have ever made. I can use it to feel my way around. I used to use a symbol cane but after an experience on a bus it was time to use something bit more obvious.
Something which happened to me this week on my way to work was not unheard of, or something I haven’t experienced before. I was getting off the train and a person walked up at the side of me and asked me how much I can see, what’s my vision like? I was a bit annoyed as I was quite tired and just wanted to get to work. I explained I can see out some what out of my left eye and left it at that. They asked if I was OK and I said ‘yes thank you’. I was hoping just being polite and giving short answers would be enough to give them a hint. It was not.
We approached the escalator, by this point they had already asked me ‘do you need a hand?’ to which I replied ‘I’m OK thank you’. I went to grab the hand rail and saw them make a dramatic stop there sign to the other commuters by sticking out their arm to stop them. Then as we got on the escalator they grabbed my arm. Instead of telling them to let go I tucked my arm in so they couldn’t grab my arm more. As I got on they said ‘thats it, you’re doing well’. I was not happy. I chose to ignore this condescending comment and focus on breathing to try and stay calm. I was using all my energy to focus on getting out the train station quickly. We approached the top of the escalators and I got off, walked to the end and got on the other escalators. They then made a comment about my abilities to negotiate escalators to a fellow commuter. Again, condescending and ableist.
We approached the barriers and I walked through. Once through I made sure to say thank you and goodbye. They left me after I said I was OK getting out and to my destination. I walked quickly to work and was happy when I got there. Knowing I was surrounded by people who are supportive and in no way condescending.
I was not happy as you can tell. If you are reading this and thinking they was only trying to be nice. I agree, they were trying to help and for that I am thankful. However, you do not start a conversation with a disabled person by asking them about their disability. It’s rude. It’s not good etiquette and its quite ableist. I said I was OK to the person and they continued to follow me. They touched me. That is not OK.
They were right to ask if I needed help. I am thankful when people ask me if I need help. Sometimes I do. I am grateful that there are nice people out there who will help me. What I am not thankful for are people who are there to grab and condescend me. I am a woman who was trying to get to work. I am not a child, or an object.
If you see a disabled person and you would like to help, just ask and if they say they’re ok, move on. They know what’s best for them.
I hope this person doesn’t stop asking people if they need help, but I hope they reconsider how they go about helping. Even as I write this I can hear and see all the ‘well, disabled people should be grateful’, ‘disabled people don’t know what help they need’ ‘they should just accept it’. No we shouldn’t. I realise some people might say it would have been better to explain to them that I was OK and that my guide cane helps me to feel my way around and please don’t touch me. I feel that I shouldn’t have to explain myself.
I would urge you ask people if they need help, because sometimes, there’s too much going on for me to be able to stop and think ‘I need help’. I like that people want to help because it makes my day easier.
You can help by offering your seat on public transport. Don’t just sit and wait for us to ask.
You can help by not jumping over out mobility aids.
You can help by not grabbing our wheelchairs.
You can help by not zig zagging in front of us and saying ‘just wanted to check your vision’.
You can help by not filming us as we park our cars (not me I’m not allowed a license, because you know, visually impaired) and put our blue badges in the window and give you a thumbs up.
You can help by not petting our guide dogs.
You can help by not hitting our guide dogs after we have said no to your request to pet our guide dog.
There are many other things. I am sorry this blog post is quite negative, but its stressful being disabled and being treated like we should be grateful to even exist. Yes, that is how the world makes us feel.
Please remember we are people too and all we want is respect. Please offer us help and we will say ‘yes please’ or ‘no thank you’.
Thank you for reading and I hope you enjoyed my post. To all of you there on Twitter who I follow and sadly who’s stories I am referring to here, remember you are all wonderful and following you helps me find answers and support.
Until next time.