I assisted another blind person yesterday. I was sitting on a patio at a coffee shop, which has steps leading down to the street. He approached my table and asked how to get back to the street. It took me a minute to realize that he was blind and using a cane. I must admit I almost ignored him because my self-preservation brain kicked in with, “Man. Right next to you, way too close to your face, saying something you can’t make out. Pretend busyness, invisibility, do not engage.” Once I realized what was happening, though, I knew I had been given an opportunity.
Rather than trying to give him verbal directions, I explained to him that he was on a coffee shop patio and offered to accompany him down the stairs. I stood up, in one place, and continued to talk to him until he reached me. I said, “Is it ok if I touch you?”, and when given consent, I put my hand briefly on his shoulder to let him know my proximity. I offered him my elbow and we walked the few paces to the steps together. I asked if he’d like me to accompany him down the steps. He declined, I did not push, I had no agenda here. I assumed he was saying no because he meant no and was perfectly capable of walking down himself. I told him that there were four steps down to 45th Street, and that at the bottom, he would be facing 45th with Midvale Place on the right and Stone Way on the left. He said, “Thank you.” I said, “Of course.” We parted ways. The end.
Why am I relating this in meticulous detail? I don’t consider myself a saint or incredibly woke, nor do I think I made a significant difference in his day. But, I had the privilege to give him a positive interaction receiving assistance from another human: one that I would like to receive, without agenda, desperation to be a do-gooder, or a white knight complex.
I can’t save anyone, least of all myself, from shitty interactions with unaware sighted people. But I hope I can do my part to reverse some of that for others. One positive interaction can, sometimes, renew my faith, reinvigorate my desire to be an ally to others, and rekindle my belief in solidarity. You might think one small two-minute act of good faith and dignity can’t restore a soul, but it can. I know.