There are times when I stand on the sidewalk, Camille Guide Dog Extraordinaire at my side, trying to figure out some navigational complication. Often I’m simply trying to “hear” what’s going on. Passers by may stop and ask or offer assistance — an appreciated gesture that I sometimes accept gratefully. Unfortunately, a response from me of “No thanks. I’m good,” can result in problems.
People step back and *watch*.
I know this because when I get past the challenge, they might comment, my ears may pick up a slight sound or I can feel the weight of their eyes upon me.
So, there I am, trying to sort out a mobility issue, while somebody hovers. It’s creepy. It’s annoying. It’s rude. And, if I were sighted, it wouldn’t be happening.
Most significantly, it shows a profound disrespect for my own judgment for if I’ve said I can take care of it, standing to watch implies at least a suspicion I am wrong. Well, either that or some over-the-top fascination with how I function as if I’m an exhibit at the zoo. (I am not an animal in the monkey house. Promise.)
There is one crucial fact that might escape the average non-disabled person. Taking time to listen to my surroundings allows me to deal with situations as I study them with my ears. I may be working through a set of circumstances that challenge my skills and if people always save my butt, I will never learn how. Saying “No thanks,” can be me granting myself a learning opportunity. Those are good for me, right?
I suspect people’s motivation to stand and observe usually comes from a good place. They don’t want me to get hurt. While I value the goal of keeping me in one piece, I still cannot stomach it when someone lingers. It’s yucky. And did I mention creepy?
So, I am declaring anyone who walks away when I say, “No thanks,” off the hook if I turn out to be wrong and break a body part. Absolution is yours.
But I know this won’t be enough. Here’s a way to handle it that helps the non-disabled person feel good about leaving whilst demonstrating respect for me.
Tell me your concern while acknowledging your ignorance and taking responsibility for the discomfort you feel with moving on. “I don’t know much about how blind people navigate. I don’t know how you would handle x situation which is making me unreasonably concerned.”
Make it your fault – because it basically is – and see what happens. Since nobody has ever done this to me, I can’t guarantee the response. I can say that it would feel better than the hovering. Much better.
I encourage you to go forth and try it, then come back and leave a comment. I need data.