Disability and the Samaritans….

planet of the blind

Once when I was walking in Manhattan with my first guide dog (a big yellow Labrador named “Corky”) a stranger grabbed me while we were crossing Fifth Avenue. No one likes to be seized and blind people especially dislike it. I required no help but there it was—we got to the far side and the man apparently bowed and ran away. “He thought he was saving your life,” said a woman who happened to see the incident.

I’ve thought about this for years. On the one hand it was invasive and frightening. But I realize my silent sentinel was sincere even if he’d no idea about how to engage with blind people.

Sincerity might not be a wholesale excuse but one shouldn’t underestimate good deed doing.

Blind folks dislike unsolicited help—at least generally. If they have guide dogs they certainly don’t want you talking to the dog or petting it. But let’s take blindness out of the situation. Do you like strangers walking up to you and patting your dog without an invitation? Do you like being manhandled? Do you like unsought help from strangers? Of course you don’t.

Back to my earlier point. We shouldn’t underestimate good deed doing.

I’ve come to this because (as we all know) civic life has been eroding. The man or woman who wants to help but doesn’t understand what’s called “disability etiquette” is at least trying to walk in my shoes. Right now Americans in their partisan divides are not imagining the shoes of strangers.

If you’re not familiar with the term disability etiquette it simply means having some common sense when interacting with the disabled. Don’t walk up to a wheelchair user and say “what happened to you?” (I remember vividly a classical composer at a famous arts colony who asked me first thing: “How did you go blind?”) The question is always reductive and irrelevant. That composer didn’t ask me, “what art do you practice?” In his mind I was just my disability.
BTW: I’ve a friend who’s a renowned physician. He’s very tall. Strangers ask him straight off if he played basketball. He hates this.

Don’t do what a college administrator I know once did to a student with a disability. She leaned over the woman’s wheelchair and said loudly: “Oh we’re sooooo glad you’re here with us!”

Don’t yell at disabled people. We’ve had plenty of this in our lives.

When a disabled person says something is inaccessible don’t label them a malcontent.

I’m just like you except I can’t see. She’s just like you but she is a wheelchair user. Note: stop saying “confined” to a wheelchair, for the love of God!

Stop acting so damned superior because “today” you appear to be “normal.” Get over your fealty to a narrow way of living. I promise you it won’t end well.

Quit acting so put out because you have a disabled student in your classroom.

Talk to me and not the apparently non-disabled person next to me.

Please keep your hands off me.

Oh, and for the love of God, stop referring to us as sufferers.

And for good measure: quit trying to take our limited health care away.

Author: skuusisto

Poet, Essayist, Blogger, Journalist, Memoirist, Disability Rights Advocate, Public Speaker, Professor, Syracuse University

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