#JustAskDontGrab

Carin and I talk about this a lot. For the life of me I have no idea why you wouldn’t want to be handled the way you seem to be ok with handling us so please stop doing it is such a difficult concept for people to…uh…grasp, but that’s the world we live in. Hopefully this campaign can help even just a little.

The video cuts off in a funny spot (at least it did when I watched it), but there should be more than enough here to get the point across. If not, here’s an article on it.

Dr Amy Kavanagh has launched the #JustAskDontGrab campaign to help change the way people interact with those with disabilities.
She says that while people with disabilities often receive well-meaning offers of assistance, they’re not always in the most helpful way.
Navigating the world with a visual impairment presents a unique set of challenges.
Sometimes I need a bit of help with everyday tasks, like crossing a road, going down the stairs or getting on the right bus.
I rely on the kindness of strangers to help me live an independent life. However, sometimes the good intentions of the general public have unintended consequences.
Almost daily I am pushed, pulled or grabbed without warning by strangers who are trying to help me.
This sudden unexpected and unwanted touching is often frightening, disorientating and sometimes even dangerous.
Imagine what it’s like to be pulled into a road when you can’t see the other side of the street or if the cars have stopped. Or pushed onto a train when you can’t tell where the platform ends or the carriage begins. Yet, whenever I explain that being pushed or grabbed has scared me or disorientated me, people reply “I was just trying to help!”.

The more I talked about these experiences on social media, the more replies I got from other disabled people sharing their stories.
Wheelchair users being pushed around like pieces of furniture, people who use crutches or canes are being unbalanced by enthusiastic strangers. I even heard from a guide dog owner who had his dog’s lead pulled out of his hand!
Each time, they were told that the person was just being kind, just trying to help.
Yet frequently these incidents have resulted in damaged wheelchairs, caused pain or injuries, or sadly made someone too anxious to leave the house.

Let’s Be Smart About This SmartCane

I appear to be on a smart cane jag today. I saw this one on the news, and good lord, getting the video clip to replay was a giant pain in the neck. If you want to get it to play, maximize your screen, I think, then go down to the h1 that says video player, I think, and then tab around and some buttons should appear. Then left click play. If it changes to pause and nothing is playing, tab over to the volume button and left click it. Then hit the rewind button to catch what you missed. I think that *should* work. Yuck!
Although this isn’t as recent, this old video should give you the gist of things without going through all that garbage.

Let me start off by saying that Riya Karumanchi is going to go far in whatever she does. She has the determination to try and build a technology, she started from only an idea, she has pitched her idea countless times, sought out contacts and gone from idea to developing a team and a plan and she’s 15. That’s awesome! But, I think the idea could use some tweaking because I don’t know how well-received it might be in its current form. It has potential, don’t get me wrong, but maybe it could benefit from some reshaping.

Riya, if you’re reading this, just so you know where I’m coming from, I myself am blind and have been blind since birth. Until I was 28, I used a cane, but now, I “rely on” a guide dog as you put it in your news story, but the reason I use a guide dog is not solely for the benefit of avoiding overhead obstacles. She allows me to move a lot faster than I ever could with a cane. A cane with technology in it is still a cane, and I will still be moving it about to encounter things. Yours might find things a little faster because of the sensors, but I still think I would move a lot slower than I do with the dog. I would absolutely love to be proven wrong, but that is my suspicion.

Let’s start off with the good things. A cane with the ability to detect overhead obstacles sounds like a pretty darn good idea. That is the one area where the poor cane does not do well. Also, putting some vibratory feedback in a cane handle that is linked to GPS might be handy, especially in noisy areas. Nothing wrong with that. I also saw in that other video that you thought about having an emergency button. You know what? That might not be such a bad idea either…as long as it doesn’t get triggered all the time by holding the cane. I don’t want to be the first one to pocket call 911 with my cane. *grin*.

I know you have incredibly high hopes, and high hopes are wonderful things, but I doubt your cane will replace caregivers. If a person is in need of a caregiver, they have not figured out how to travel independently because there are other things going on. Either they have just gone blind, or there are secondary disabilities, or maybe they simply haven’t been given the skills to travel on their own. Handing them a piece of technology will not fix this because they don’t know how to fill in the inevitable gaps that there will be. Problem-solving can only be taught by training and experience. I understand the desire to fix a problem with a piece of technology. I am guilty of this time and time again with my own relatives. I wanted to get my grandma an Amazon Echo because it would allow her to get the news and the weather and perhaps it could read books to her. But I forgot that the way of talking to these things isn’t something a senior is used to, and she already is having enough problems that adding something else to learn won’t help, and it won’t feel intuitive to her like we think it will. There are a lot of us that don’t have or need caregivers, and the ones that do don’t have them solely because of blindness.

There is something you need to take into consideration about GPS. It rarely takes you directly to the door of a business anymore. Many businesses are in plazas set back from the street. I would love to take your cane and have it help me find the Shoeper Store on Fairway Road in Kitchener, for example. My GPS always gets me close, but it’s the last mile, or last few feet, where I inevitably need to ask for directions. So, because I’m a hope-dasher all over the place, I have to say I doubt your cane will remove the need to ask for directions either. GPS’s level of precision is fine for people who can look around and see where the building is, but for people who can’t, it always leaves us with a wee smidge of guesswork at the end. I still love GPS, but I’ve never had it take me directly to the door. Also, a lot of us don’t have standalone GPS devices anymore. Much of that has been taken care of by apps on our phones. Maybe there are folks who don’t have a smartphone who might have a GPS device, but I’m not sure how big a chunk that is, simply because, as you say in the one video, the standalone devices are really expensive. Just to put it into perspective, I’m on a mailing list for one of the major makers of these devices from when I got one second-hand nearly a decade ago, and I haven’t heard a peep out of the list for a year or two. There have been no new members and anyone who might still be there never says anything. I think that speaks volumes.

I think you need to accept that your device will only offer another choice. It will never replace everything that’s out there. Others have had similar aspirations, and I don’t think they have succeeded. A stick has been a stick since 1921 because it works. It is less about the stick or the dog and more about the person with the skills to interpret the feedback they’re getting and navigate accordingly, and they’ll still need those skills to operate your device. I’m not trying to slag your friend’s grandmother who was knocking her head and shoulders on things, but I would venture a guess that she was still learning about this blindness thing. Most of us don’t walk around tripping on stuff. We occasionally bump into something, even people who can see occasionally bump into something, but if we have learned some skills, we usually don’t end up covered in bruises. If we’re new to the whole blindness thing, what we need, as I’ve said before, is training and practice, not another piece of tech.

Also I have a question. Your older video referenced putting braille into the cane. Are you still considering doing that? I’m worried that having scrolling braille in my cane would serve as more of a distraction than a help. Navigating is hard enough as it is. There are many inputs happening already. I don’t know if I would find another to be beneficial.

I’m glad you’re involving users now for feedback, but I wish you had involved folks who are blind and have low vision of several different levels of ability at the development phase rather than waiting to get our feedback at the testing phase. There is a saying in the disability community. “Nothing about us without us,” and it is so very important. I know you’re just learning this, but I hope that maybe it will help you in the future. This story might illustrate what I mean. I am not saying you haven’t done research and I’m not saying you have no clue. All I’m saying is it’s good to get as many inputs from actual potential users as possible as early as possible. If you did, and the news helpfully cut that whole piece out, I’ll take back this paragraph.

And please, I’m down on my knees, begging you to stop saying we “rely on” our guide dogs and canes. I know it probably sounds like I’m playing with semantics here, but that phrasing is demeaning. It’s the difference between saying someone is confined to a wheelchair versus them using a wheelchair. We use our guide dogs and canes and we’ll use your device. You use a computer to do your research and reach out to people. Would you say you rely on it? Probably not, even though you do. It changes the whole tone of what you’re saying. Here’s a page full of stuff about ableist language and some less than awesome words to mull over. I admit that some of this stuff is kind of confusing and brain-twisting. The bottom line is try and leave the people who you are trying to help with as much dignity as possible.

The last point I’m worried about is the price point. $500 is quite steep for the average consumer of this stuff. I know you referenced $50000 for a guide dog, but a lot of that is breeding and training cost, and that is paid for by the schools’ donors and isn’t directly carried by the guide dog users themselves. Also, some people receive assistance in paying for the regular $40 white canes. I bet your intention is to get this onto something equivalent to the Assistive Devices Program, but at least here in Ontario, the program is pretty tight with what it approves, so it may be an uphill climb. But beside the point, you may not want to rely on agencies to set your market value. If they don’t bite, frankly, you’ll be screwed.

I’m not trying to smash your hopes and dreams. I just worry that you may end up getting discouraged if you don’t tweak a few things. This thing has potential, but it cannot replace training and experience or be an all-encompassing solution.

Feel free to shoot me an email or comment if you want to talk more. Seriously. And, good luck with everything. You are going to do awesome things.

A New Spin On The Old Refrain Of Please Refrain From Grabbing Blind People

Here’s another article about people’s need to grab blind people in an attempt to help. It’s saying a lot of the same things we said or mentioned before, but with the addition of an aspect I hadn’t thought of, how it must feel to experience this when you’re new to the whole blindness thing, and how downright terrifying it would be. I’ve definitely had some terrifying instances, like when I was new to KW, and some woman grabbed me and started trying to drag me through the bus terminal without asking where I was going first, and I wasn’t super familiar with the area, but most of them, to me, are just annoying and demeaning. It’s amazing more of us aren’t dealing with severe anxiety. Or maybe we are and I’m just blissfully unaware.

So, please, unless I’m about to die and there’s no time to explain, ask me how you can help. And sometimes, what looks like struggling actually isn’t. If I’m searching for the rail to get on the bus, it’s not for balance, it’s to get a sense of how far I have to step to reach the bus. Seizing my wrist in a death grip actually makes things worse and makes it more likely I will slip and fall. Words are wonderful things, you should use them.

Curiously Awkward

Gill returns to talk a little bit about some of the different people that blind folks tend to run into in our travels.

Having limited eyesight has made me become quite used to having to swallow my pride at times and ask for help. Unfortunately, not all help is created equal. Here are a few examples of some of the different types of people I’ve dealt with.

  • The Touch Happy person – This is that person who feels that in order to help me they must touch me at all times. Not ok. If I did that to you you’d call the authorities.
  • The uncertains – These people are often younger, and while they usually have good intentions, they have limited experience with blind people.
  • The Baby Talkers – These people boil my potatoes. I mean you try to have a normal conversation with them and they say something like “I didn’t know you knew that!” in that obnoxious children’s entertainer voice.
  • The Follower – This name is self-explanatory, but for those not in the know it’s someone who literally follows you around, and even though you’re kicking the tasks rear end they still won’t leave you alone.
  • The Forgetter – These are the types I love best. They’re more interested in the “you” than the “blind you” and will treat you and talk to you like you’re sighted. E.G. I was at my church yesterday, when one of the other congregants handed me a bulletin. I remarked “thank you, but I can’t see the writing.” She thought for little more than a second and replied with “I’ve never thought of you that way.”

And since we’re here and it kind of fits the theme, she also sent this along.

Being visually impaired, I’ve dealt with many questions and declarations from people in my lifetime. Little kids with their unfiltered cuteness and curiosity make me smile, but it’s those uneducated adults that have me shaking my head and sometimes getting angry. If you have any kind of disability, you’ve probably been subjected to some of these.

  • Where’s your worker? – Here’s the situation. You’re out doing some fairly average things, and you stop in at your favorite bakery to pick up that Italian herb bread that tastes like all sorts of more. You’re standing in line to place and pay for your order when someone asks, “Where’s your worker?”

    Note from Steve: The best response I’ve heard to this one came from my brother, who simply replied “Where’s yours?” That shut things down right quick.

  • Who sings that? – This is that assumption that all blind people know all things about music. Even my parents sometimes do this to me. #stereotype!
  • Can I pray for you? – As an Evangelical Christian I debated writing this one for fear that some of my fellow Evangelicals would see it. It’s one thing to pray for something, but it’s another to assume that the person is a “very filthy sinner” for having a vision issue or any other type of impairment. My feeling is that God made us a certain way for a reason.
  • You’re very smart for a blind person – This assumes that all blind people also have intellectual disabilities, which is obviously ridiculous.
  • Who dressed you today?- Come on people! I put my socks on one at a time like anyone else, and most of the time they even match!
  • You’re so special! – This is usually followed by a hand or head pat.
  • How do you wipe your butt? – This one boiled my potatoes and made me laugh at the sheer knuckleheadery of the question all at once.

Question

What’s the most embarrassing or degrading question you’ve been asked?

And Now, Your Periodic Reminder Not To Be Asshats To Blind People


Lord knows if it does any good (judging by what happens when we have the temerity to go outside and try to live normal lives it’s often tempting to say it doesn’t), but now and then I feel it’s good to post one of these things in the hope that this time, maybe, just maybe, some of you will start catching on. Maybe you’ll stop yelling into our ears. Maybe you’ll stop asking complicated questions and then moving on to the next shiny thing after four seconds. Or maybe, as the one guy so eloquently puts it, you’ll “get your fuckin’ hands off me!” You probably won’t, but we can dream.

I know you Heavy Black Heart Emoji, But If You Use Too Many, I Loudly Crying Face And Your Post Becomes A Smiling Pile Of Poo!

Oh my god this is amazing, and I wish I’d written it. But since I didn’t, I’ll just link to it and give it a +1000.

Emojis are cute and they are everywhere. Some of them are quite amusing and I have learned about a few new ones over the years. I don’t mind a few here and there. But, when people’s user names, tweets and Facebook posts are encrusted in the things, it gets old really fast.

Look at the title of this post. Those are actual examples of some of the written out descriptions of emojis that we read whenever you put up a little face. Imagine if every time you came upon a given username, you had to listen to a million of those descriptions before hearing what they had to say. Now imagine if that username was also in a thread of tweets that you were reading. If you had to do that, would you actually stay around to hear what the user had to say? It’s especially frustrating when the tweet is shorter than the long and winding mess of emojis that is the username. Here’s a recorded example of just such a tweet.

Yes, one of those tweets just says “here’s a thumbs up gif.” Imagine having to wade through the globes, rainbows, avocados, masks representing the performing arts, just to hear “Here’s a thumbs up gif” and see a link to a video.

The short version is emojis are great and the descriptions let us in on the message you’re conveying with those little pictures. Every now and then, I still see a new one that cracks me up. But please, please, please use them sparingly. You don’t need a bunch of them in your username. Also, in a given tweet or post, you don’t need blue hearts, yellow hearts, green hearts, purple hearts, and pairs of hearts revolving, all in the same message, to convey your love for something. One heart would suffice.

Aside: People seem to use “heavy black heart” to convey something is very loved or close to their heart. I would assume if you have a heavy, black heart, you’re one miserable human. Am I wrong?

My Dog Shouldn’t Be The Only One Watching For Traffic!

I know this happened a month ago, but it is always relevant.

An acquaintance of mine wrote a post about the consequences of careless drivers to service animals, and I wish I could make this mandatory reading material for people who drive vehicles.

People never take into account that just because they didn’t actually hit the dog, they might have scared the dog so badly that they may stop working. People’s need to get through that intersection illegally may have just given an animal PTSD and shortened their career.

It’s also interesting to read all the comments from other people with similar experiences. I haven’t had many, but I have had a few. One time, Tansy actually had to back up and kind of twist around because a driver had to fly through a tiny stop sign in front of a drug store. Really? That was necessary? Another time that was especially weird, I was at a crosswalk at the mall here. I pushed the button, I waited, I was sure nobody was moving and all the cars I could hear were stopped, and somebody decided that they didn’t feel like stopping after all and drove right through as I stepped off. Without thinking, I said “cocksucker!” Somebody happened to be around, laughed and said I was right.

I’m lucky that none of these incidents have ended Trix or Tans’s career, but the point is they could, and they’re completely unnecessary. If people are crossing the street, people in their cars can wait. And just because I have a dog who is supposed to keep me safe doesn’t give drivers license to drive like assholes.

She Took Your Money, But Hopefully Not Your Independence

This story of someone befriending and then ripping off a blind lady is another example of something I could see very easily happening to me if I just did one thing wrong. It also illustrates why, when someone offers to “help me” by taking my stuff, I’m not exactly willing to hand it over. I actually had a woman come up and without a word try to take my groceries. She couldn’t understand why my response wasn’t brimming with gratitude, and was more brimming with scream and flail. For future reference, words are wonderful things. Ask if you can help, and ask how. In that case, if she opened the door, that would have been immensely helpful. I had no problem carrying the stuff, but it made it hard to reach in my pocket for keys. Silently stealing my food out of my hands isn’t exactly immensely helpful.

The woman, who wished to be identified only as “Sally,” took a bus from her home in Sudbury, Ont. to Toronto for a medical appointment. She chose to make the journey on her own, without her daughter at her side.
Sally said she passed the time on the hours-long chartered bus trip by chatting with a woman seated beside her, who spoke of a rough life, marked by a failed stint in rehab and sadness over the death of her mother.
“I felt sorry for her. And then she was telling me she had no place to go,” Sally told CTV Toronto, explaining that her travel companion asked if she could go to Sally’s hotel room in the city.
“She asked to stay here, and I told her she could,” Sally said, recalling how they chatted for hours. But when Sally went to the bathroom, she says the woman rushed out of the hotel room.
“I came back out, and she was passing by me to go out. She said she was going to the vending machine,” Sally said. “(It) seemed weird, so I went and checked my jacket and my wallet. All my money was gone. I had $800 in there. She took my money.”
Sally said she rushed to the front desk, shouting after the woman. She was told the stranger was last seen getting into a cab. All she had left was the $100 she hid in her bra.

Good on her for having $100 in her bra. I would not have done that. But I also don’t carry that much cash. But that doesn’t mean someone couldn’t try to take something from me. One time, when I was in the states, I had some US cash, but since the bills all feel the same, I had different denominations in separate bundles with paperclips on them. After some money had been spent out of the 5’s bundle, it had the same number as the 50’s bundle. I went to tip the airport guy, and was quickly trying to find the right bundle and the right bill. If he hadn’t been honest, he could have taken me for 10 times what I was intending to offer. It can happen that easily, and especially for someone who might not be used to doing a little extra planning, like this woman who’s only been blind for 8 years.

I would like to believe that \I have a good gut instinct and 9 times out of 10, I obey it if something feels wrong, but there’s always that 10th time. I remember some circumstances where I have taken a ride or an offer of assistance during a particularly snowy night, and that gut has been screaming “Do you want to get killed? What the hell are you doing?” and I have done it anyway. Thankfully it’s turned out ok, but I’ve arrived home questioning if I have lost my mind.

I don’t know if I would have let a stranger share my hotel, but I am not blaming Sally. I’m just saying that a slick con artist probably would have found another way to get what they wanted if I didn’t pay attention.

Thankfully, the person who did it surrendered to police, and Sally got her money back and more thanks to a GoFundMe campaign, but still.

As one blind person to another, I really hope that Sally continues to travel alone, and her daughter doesn’t try to persuade her that she can’t do this. Honestly, most of the world isn’t made up of arseholes like that. Just learn from this, and I don’t mean turn into a hard-hearted person. Just develop a gut instinct and if you want to help this poor stranger, figure out a way to help without bringing the person too far into your world.

This Boils My Potatoes

Gill has a question. I’m not going to answer it myself since complaining about shit is one of the reasons this place exists and anything that’s already happened has likely been covered, but the rest of you can feel free to have at it.

Do you have pet peeves, or things that make you just want to dump a glass of ice water on someone? Of course, everyone does. If you have a disability you might have some of these potato boilers as I call them.

In Someone Else’s Shoes

One day I was talking to a friend of mine, and he asked what my pet peeves were. I told him that I hate when people assume:

  1. That I know or want to hang out with their blind cousin.
  2. That I don’t wash frequently, and bring bed bugs.
  3. That because I’m blind it’s ok to say something like “wow! Your smart` in a tone that means “you don’t have brain damage? I thought all blind people did.”
  4. That I always have someone with me.
  5. That it’s ok to violate me with out asking. E.G. if I’m standing minding my own business at the street corner don’t just grab me!

He thought about it for a moment and before I get to his I must give background. My friend was born in Cambodia in 1979 during the reign of The Khmer Rouge. At three weeks old a bomb hit his home leaving him with severe burns to 70% of his body and traumatic brain injury. Here’s what he considered his potato boilers.

  1. When someone suggests that it’s a good idea for him to go kill himself to end his pain.
  2. That he’s Chinese, even though some relatives of his came from there hundreds of years ago, he self identifies as Cambodian.
  3. That his mom could give a good pedicure, come on people it’s 2017 let’s be civilized here!
  4. That one or both of his parents committed horrible sins and that’s why he is the way he is.
  5. That he can’t speak English very well.

My challenge for you is to tell me some of your potato boilers {pet peeves} let’s start a discussion.

The Pain In My Brain Is Caused Mainly By The Cane

Meet another group of police officers who need to learn the difference between a white cane and a weapon. This happened last year in Winnipeg, but I finally got around to writing it down.

It seems that Steven Stairs was walking from a bar to a payphone, and he had the misfortune of being in the same area where they were looking for a man with a concealed weapon. He had an ID cane on his hip, and they thought it was a weapon. They asked him to stop, but being legally blind, he didn’t know they were talking to him, so kept moving, and that’s when they tackled him. They say he was drunk and disorderly. I wasn’t there, so I don’t know, but I would at least be disorderly if I was suddenly tackled by a bunch of unknown folks for doing absolutely nothing. Come on, wouldn’t you?

An ID cane
Yeah, that is a scary weapon…if you’re a toddler maybe.

The “dangerous weapon” in question, if his ID cane looks like any other ID cane I’ve ever seen, was one of these. You can’t even use these things as a proper cane to tap obstacles, because you’ll probably break it. I’m sure if you really tried you might be able to bruise someone with one of these, but that’s if you’re really trying, and if they stood there long enough to let you.

In my googling to figure out if Stairs has followed up on his legal action he wanted to take against the police, I found out that this happened to another guy way back in 1989. This time, some police officers in California mistook the guy’s folded cane for a set of nunchakus. Ok, cops, let’s sit down and do a little comparison.

set of nunchakus
Not a white cane, though it would make getting through crowds much easier.

folded white cane
Dishing out beatings…to the ground as intended.

The officers thought because his eyes were open and he seemed to be looking at them, he wasn’t blind, even though his eyes were milky in colour. Ok, while we’re at it, watch this here video.

I wish I could find the old CNIB “not everyone who looks blind is totally blind” commercial, but it has been lost to history. Anyway, are we good now?

I know that sometimes police have to make split-second decisions and they think they see something that turns out to be not what they thought it was, but some of this stuff feels completely unnecessary. In all of these cases, people were walking, using a payphone and standing at a bus stop. None of them were running, lunging aggressively, or doing anything that would make the officer feel threatened, judging from the descriptions. In the case of the bus stop guy, why assume he can see your uniform. Identify yourself as police, and ask a couple of questions to make him realize you’re talking to him, and you’d soon find out that’s a cane, feel foolish and walk away, without needing to clonk the guy with your baton. In the case of the pay phone guy, say something specific like “Sir, this is the police, put down the phone.” to make him realize “gees, that’s for me and I should listen up,” and you could have likely been able to have a conversation. If I hear someone yelling “Stop!”, I’m not going to assume that’s for me unless you’re super close to me, and heck, I might want to get out of there faster in case some shit’s going to go down that I don’t want to witness in an up close and personal way. But I’m not running away because I’m evading you, I didn’t realize you were yelling for me.

I’m pretty sure police get some kind of awareness training to do with disabilities, but I’m starting to think it should be refreshed like CPR training so maybe a few less of us get our heads caved in unnecessarily.