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Blind activist wants to change how people interact with those with disabilities

4:47 am, 26th August 2018

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.

I started the Just Ask Don’t Grab campaign to explain how best to assist disabled people.

It’s very simple, there’s one golden rule: just ask.

If you see somebody and you think they might need help, don’t jump in and grab them.

Don’t push them towards the train door or pull them across the road.

Just ask if they need a hand, and that way you’ll find out how you can best help them.

By asking what assistance is required and listening to the response, you will be able to best help that person. They can tell you what they need, how to make sure they are safe and then you will have a positive experience helping them.

People often say they are worried about offending someone if they offer help.

I’m never offended by polite offers of help.

Sometimes I decline offers of help, but it’s not because I’m offended.

Maintaining my independence is really important to me.

I’ve been trained how to use my white cane so that I can navigate safely by myself.

I might do something slower or differently to you but I want to do it myself.

When I’m grabbed the person takes away my independence, they’ve presumed I am incapable and they’ve not given me a choice. It’s frustrating as well as frightening.

However, there are times when I am struggling. Like many disabled people I don’t always feel confident enough to ask for help, and if someone offers a hand – it’s fantastic.

I know it takes a lot of bravery to go up to a total stranger and talk to them, but I’ve had some amazing conversations. The people that help me have often brightened my day and made a difficult situation so much better.

Recent research from disability charity Sense found one in four disabled people feel lonely every day.

Offering help not only means that you will make a task easier, but you may help a disabled person better connect to their community and feel more able to go out independently.

So if you see somebody with a disability, and you think they might need some assistance, remember just ask and don’t grab.