Wednesday 16 May 2018

Crossing Roads

By Roiben

We all hope in today’s society with its constant rush and pressure that people can still be good, helpful and polite. That we would, upon seeing a person in need, stop like the much-fabled good Samaritan, and help. That we would hold doors open, offer to carry heavy bags and help an older person across the road.

However, there is such thing as being a little over-eager to help and perhaps misguided in how to go about it. I have recently begun using a long cane. Michael Cane, my new and trusty friend, is helping me get about my daily life. I had been warned that using the cane does have its drawbacks, in attracting overly helpful people. It was still a shock to the system when it happened.

I was walking a well-known route from an underground station to work. This involves crossing a few roads. I stopped at the traffic lights to the first road and prepared to wait for the lights to change. Out of nowhere a man grabbed my right arm (the arm holding the cane). He had said nothing to me up to this point. He pulled me forward a step, then signaled for me to stop by pulling my arm backwards. At that point he said “It’s red.” It took me a few moments to realize he meant the traffic light, not my stripy cane. We waited, then a lady on my right (who apparently was with the man) said “Go” and we all walked across the road.

I was glad to get across the road safely, but would have much rather done so under my own steam like I do every other week-day. The key thing here is not that the couple wanted to help me. It was how they went about it.

There is a rather over-zealous belief in today’s society that the disabled need to be helped. By this I mean a belief that we are not capable of making decisions and doing things for ourselves, so we need help to do it. In taking my arm, the man had decided I needed help to cross the road, due most likely to my cane. In doing so he removed my ability to choose for myself whether or not I wanted assistance.

This is a common thing: people “helping” disabled people because they have a cane, a wheelchair or otherwise. I have heard stories of people being pushed across the road when they did not in fact want to go that way, or being dragged to places they had no intention to go to. All because someone has assumed that is what is wanted and wants to “help”.

So, what point am I trying to make? Yes, it is a good thing to want to help your fellow human. However, doing so in a way that removes their independence, choice and in many cases dignity, is not good. I would ask that if you want to help, do one simple thing first: Ask. Ask the person with the cane, or dog, or wheelchair if they want help. They may say yes, they may say no. The point is that it should be up to the disabled individual if they require assistance in that moment.

I have had many people ask me if I want assistance. In most cases I say thank you, but I am okay. Because in all honesty, in most cases I am fine. I know where I am going and how to get there. I am still so new to using the cane that I haven’t yet been in a situation where I have needed help. I have not got lost yet or had my normal route changed to the point of disorientating me. It will happen, eventually. It just has not happened yet.

There are some indicators that a person may need help and that help would be gratefully accepted if offered. Firstly, as with non-disabled people, if someone is standing looking lost or distressed, especially if it is somewhere with many junctions, such as a tube station. Or, if someone with a guide dog is standing or sitting, and the harness is not being held (but the lead is). This may mean the individual needs assistance. In both of these cases, you should introduce yourself and then ask if assistance is needed, and what assistance that may be.

A person in a wheelchair who is just sitting looking around may well be taking in the weather – so don’t assume they need help and certainly don’t go about pushing them around places without first asking. They may have a mobility impairment but that doesn’t mean they are incapable of making decisions for themselves.

In my experience those of us with disabilities are great at adapting to the world we are faced with and are fabulous problem solvers as a result. Some of the cleverest people I have ever had the pleasure to meet have been disabled.


About the Author

You can find Roiben on Twitter (@roiben).


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