What Is Help?

Here is some food for thought. Uncertain what street I am on, I will stop and ask someone. This is categorized as asking for help. Uncertain about what street they are on, a sighted person looks up and reads the street sign. We do not call this help.

A street sign does not magically appear suspended above our heads. It was ordered, made and hung there to aid people navigationally. However, if you can read it with your eyes, the effort behind and purpose for the sign’s presence is stripped away. You are functioning independently by reading information that is just there.


Public Speaking “Adventures”

I was honored to be asked to speak at San Diego Pride’s Spirit of Stonewall Rally, which launches our city’s Pride celebrations. My mission was to come up with something true about both the Bi+ community and people with disabilities, distilled down into three minutes. For anyone curious, that’s less than 400 words. I found it incredibly difficult to accomplish this and in rising to the challenge, I learned useful things about my speech writing and public speaking process. (I’ll post the speech text in a subsequent post.)

While waiting to speak, the MC of the event — a member of San Diego Pride’s Board of Directors — invaded my personal space, touched me without my permission and made it clear he is bisexual. It is my hope that the last fact was uttered to find common ground with me, not as a sexual overture. The visuals of the entire event has been preserved for posterity.

Before you watch it, I should convey a few facts. Prior to speaking, I was warned the stage had a variety of obstacles and the back had no railing. I also suspected I could be seen from the audience as I waited for my turn to speak. Finally, as a Pride volunteer, the person invading my personal space was my ultimate boss.

You will find me at the back right of the stage, wearing a blue dress and accompanied by a black lab of incredible cuteness.


AS you may have noticed, the MC also “assisted” me to the podium. This was not based on any request of mine. In fact, it was not in keeping with the arrangements I’d made with San Diego Pride’s amazing staff.

So, to summarize, I was touched by someone without my permission and helped against my express wishes. Believe it or not, it took me a week to realize what happened was not acceptable. A week. (I’ll explain why in another post.)

Once it dawned on me that nobody should be treated in that manner, I brought it to the board’s attention. The person who responded said the board clearly needed more disability awareness training. When I pushed back, arguing no person should have this happen to them, disability or not, I received no response. Then life got a bit nuts with other things. (I’ll post about that later. I’m up to three now.)

I did not attempt to push the issue until September when Pride’s board did something else I found questionable. At a public meeting, I spoke about my experience in the vaguest of terms, allowing the offender to remain anonymous. Unfortunately, later in the meeting, when someone else referred to my accusation, Jaime Carrillo decided to announce, “I did it. It was me!” When someone suggested Mr. Carrillo apologize, I clearly said I did not want one. I just wanted him to stay away from me.

A month later, I attended another public board meeting and learned one of the board’s Co-Chairs had stated my situation had been resolved to my satisfaction. Having never even spoken to this person about what “resolving to my satisfaction would be, I objected.

At this same meeting, Mr. Carrillo managed to not honor my request to stay away from me. I grant you he was in a difficult position since the only path out of the room went directly by me. Instead of asking someone else to run his errand or verbally letting me know he was coming past, he simply walked by me, unfortunately tripping on my guide dog, which caused me to know he was very near me.

A week later, a story was published in the San Diego LGBT Weekly about what happened to me. It can be found at:



The same day the story was released, I was contacted by the board for a meeting to, no kidding, “discuss the safety and well-being of everyone.” I suggested a more specific agenda related to what had happened to me and they agreed to the meeting. One can only assume they have agreed to the items I listed.

Stay tuned for whatever happens next and I owe you all some follow-up posts.



The Road to Discrimination is Paved with Compassion

Lately I have become hyper-aware of situations in which kindness and compassion reign, but the end result is limitation and lack of choice. I tend to notice it happening when a group of people, including a person with a disability, are trying to pick an activity. With kindness and compassion, people will not suggest activities they feell aren’t possible for the person with a disability. That makes sense when it comes to not suggesting a peanut butter-making demonstration when someone has a peanut allergy, but not proposing a hike when a blind person is involved seems less reasonable.


My guess is the person not raising the idea of climbing a mountain is thinking, “Well, they can’t do that and I don’t want them to feel bad because they have to say no.” This sparing someone from having to be the “wet bllanket” is noble. On a deeper level, though, it might have less warm and fuzzy consequences.


Who said the blind person can’t hike? Unless that specific individual has directly mentioned they don’t hike, it is an assumption by a person without a disability about what a person with a disability can do, restricting the person with a disability. In the immediate, it means an entire group of people might miss out on a fun activity that had the potential to also broaden everyone’s understanding of what it is like to be sight impaired. What does a blind person need to hike? How does everyone work together to be certain everyone is enjoying themmselves? An opportunity was lost because someone assumed another’s abilities and tried to be kind.


There are also less obvious consequences. How, after allll, does a blind person learn how to hike if nobody ever takes them hiking? Will that blind individual ever think it is possible if the possibility is never presented? Someone else’s noble gesture mmight be, in fact, taking something away from someone ellse.


My cynnical side has a different possibility it keeps raising. On the part of the person not making the suggestion, how much is alltrusim and how much is self-interest? After all, including a person with a disability might mean everyone needs to walk a littlle bit slower or provide other forms of assistance. I can see space within this compassionate act that is more about just wanting to relax and have fun.


Much of what I write and think about these days boils down into a phrase that I would make the title of this blog, if that were easily achievablle.


Ask Not Assume

Events Previously Known As Legend

Every once in a while, a sequence of events unfolds that I previously thought only happened to someone else. And I had never in fact met that someone else. They were events found solely in rumors and I had more than a passing suspicion they were urban legends.

Well, the other day, I went out to the bus stop and sat next to a woman. We exchanged small talk before I zoned out. When I came back to reality, some man was standing before me offering me something. I’d missed the naming of the something.

“Hold out your hand,” he demanded.

“For what?” I asked.

“A dollar for you to take the bus,” he explained.

“No, that’s okay. I have a bus pass, so I’m good.,” I replied.

The man went over and sat on the opposite side of the woman on the bench, and then said, “When God gives you a blessing, it may not seem like a blessing, but you should take it anyway because blessings come in unexpected ways.”

“Uh, okay.” I said.

The woman on the bench is moved to get involved. Turning to me, she said, “I think you hurt his feelings.”

I did a flabbergasted open and closed mouth thing and ignored them.

You can’t make this stuff up because nobody would believe you if you did.

Please Pass the Butter

Imagine this: You are sitting at the table, enjoying a meal at a friend’s home. There is a lovely muffin on your plate that would be fabulous with butter. Nobody has yet mentioned the existence of butter and without being able to see, you have no idea if it is on the table or not.

If you ask and it is not there, then somebody will jump up to retrieve it. As much as you’d like the butter, you don’t want to inconvenience anyone.

This dilemma happens to me all the time. I hate the feeling of not knowing if I’m requesting something that will take a moment to passs or will cause drama to locate.

The situation is not limited to food and meals. At the moment, I am trying to figure out how to determine if my yoga studeo has a community board where I can post a flyer. Should I ask and it not exist, the staff is the sort to go to excessive lengths to somehow make an exception or create one or something. Given that I don’t want that, how do I ask to gain information without spurring anyone to excessive lengths?

Beyond What’s Comfortable

In all the promo emails of a band I like, they talk about giving to others beyond what is easy or comfortable. Reading between the lines, I think the idea is that giving to others when it is not much effort is a superficial gesture that while helpful to the person receiving your largess, does not come from the core of you. To connect with your core – to give in a way that moves beyond yourself to put the focus on another person,– is really what it is all about. Besides, giving to others shouldn’t involve you and your ego, instead it should be about the person and their needs.

Whenever I’ve read one of their brief references to this life philosophy, I’ve thought, “That. It’s about that.” Until five minutes ago, I hadn’t gone past that reaction to think about why the sentiment speaks to me on an instinctive level while not being a universal no-brainer to the rest of the population.

I think it’s about the nature of my life and the choices I make each day. Long ago, probably before I understood the concepts, my decisions about what to do and what not to do stopped relating to the ideas of easy and difficult. For someone with a physical disability, tasks can be harder than for the non-disabled people surrounding them. Quickly you realize that if you want to be a part of the world, you need to not let tough be a deciding factor. Rather, it needs to be about want, need, can and cannot. If I want to do it and I’m capable of it, then I do it. On the other hand, if I want to do it and no effort in the world will make it possible (i.e., a blind person becoming a neurosurgeon), then I need to rethink things.

My life is full of choices about desire and possibility not ease and comfort. It is no wonder that when it comes to giving to others, I instinctively don’t think in terms of effort and ease. I make decisions about aiding others based on their need, my ability, and my desire to help, largely based on how much I care about the person. And based on what these musicians are saying, this might be where I fall short.

Should helping be limited by how much you care? When I think about it with me as the helper, I see reasons to answer yes. Cast in the role of helpee, I have reasons to support the opposite perspective.

I like to think making helping decisions based on the amount I care is about allocating resources. I’m one person with limited energy and should probably distribute that resource with care. However, careful conservancy of energy is not dictated by caring. I’ve simply used that as an easy, convenient way to make choices. Possibly I need to move beyond using the easy benchmark of caring to other more selfless factors?

Far clearer are the variables when I am cast into role of helpee. Of course total strangers should help me if they can. Time, effort, convenience and caring shouldn’t limit others. I need help (damnit), so help me. And, yes, on some level I’m that ridiculous. I suspect anyone would be if they were standing on a street corner, confronting crossing a highway off-ramp, and pretty certain of becoming road pizza if they step off the curb.

The challenge in modern society is to find a way to navigate seeing many people in need while working with limited resources.  Our decisions should be less about ourselves and more about the one we would aid.  From what I can tell, many are challenged by having to look beyond their own ease and discomfort.  Once you move past those factors, others — like allocation of resources and decisions about who — are the new hurdle.  It isn’t like once you stop thinking about comfort and ease the situation is magically clear.  It just becomes about other factors that equally call upon us to dig deep and walk a path that requires us to care about those we don’t even know.

PTSD. Again.

In mid November 2013, I stopped writing in this blog. I had another traumatizing experience during a medical procedure and was unable to function normally let alone write anything that touched upon emotions. Coming back to this blog was prompted by a need to learn how to use WordPress on my iPad for the Braille Institute class. Then Braille Institute decided to establish a name badge policy and outrage worked as an awesome motivator.

Now it is time to write about what happened. As you read my recollections, please keep in mind that trauma is often stored in our brains not as narrative memory but as snapshots leading to disjointed recall.

I woke up from a trachea stretch with a tube keeping me from speaking and unable to move properly. There was a lot of chaos around me with people saying thins like, “Jen, squeeze my hand.” Nobody said things like, “Jen, I’m <insert name> and I’m going to do this.” Nobody appeared to be focused on keeping me informed of events or trying to establish a line of communication.

The tube came out quickly. The inability to move properly resolved itself. The damage was already done in the moment when I came to consciousness and couldn’t move, speak or understand what was happening, isolated in a scene of chaos. More trauma came as I learned that the situation might have been avoidable if better choices had been made by some of the clinicians involved.

Upon arriving home, I knew I would have some sort of reaction to my experience, but I wasn’t quite sure what. It took about twenty-four hours before the first signs became obvious. I walked across my kitchen and set the toaster oven tray in the sink. Then I crumpled to the ground in a ball and sobbed. There was literally absolutely no immediate cause for the tears. They just happened.

The uncontrollable sobbing became my life with tears unpredictably surfacing one to three times a day. I could be reading a book or chatting on the phone or sitting in a meeting and tears happened sort of like a sneeze – there are things you know will cause it, ways to possibly delay it, but sooner or later, it bursts forth.

Eventually I learned those delaying tactics, making being out in public somewhat more possible. Sometimes I was even able to identify what caused the tears and what emotions I was feeling. Once in a while it was even related to immediate events and not past trauma.

There is something unique about re-traumatization – having experienced trauma, developed PTSD and been successfully treated only to endure a situation similar enough to be the equivalent. then you are coping with PTSD from the recent trauma along with PTSD from your history of similar trauma. In some ways it is like light reflected between a multitude of mirrors so that the intensity of light is greater than any component part. It’s wildly exponential math. It’s emotion magnified, refracted, blenderized and placed in a pressure cooker with a faulty valve.

My entire life ground to a screeching halt. I gave up any notion of doing anything more than going to therapy, walking the dog and making sure we both ate and slept. I did things requiring use of my hands – sewing, baking, knitting – to fill my mind with something because it left less space for trauma. I didn’t visit my family for the holidays. I only talked to people who didn’t make me more upset. I kept asking for topics of conversation to be dropped before I lost it. Again.

Time passed and I was able to control enough of what was happening to begin tentatively living. Then, I knew another trachea stretch was on the immediate horizon because that’s how my stenosis works.

Part of my PTSD symptomology is that I cave in front of anyone I see as an authority figure or more of an expert in a field. Talking to doctors was harder than… crossing an eight-lane highway without a cane, dog or even audible traffic signals. I did it badly. I somehow got through it.

This time, the procedure went smoothly. With a positive experience the most recent in my memory, my life has settled down. I have been able to resume my regularly scheduled existence, just with way more therapy and a conscious commitment to real down time.

Here’s the interesting part. I’m being put back together in better shape than I was before November 15, 2013. I’m not doing it consciously, but I see things happening inside myself that I know will lead to a stronger me. I’m still having trouble wrapping my head around that.


Blinded By Jealousy

Even when I was partially sighted, I never used the term “visually impaired” to describe myself because it was too avoid-the-reality-by-using-a-warm-and-fuzzy-word for my tastes. Instead, I simply used blind.

Life has recently caused me to re-examine my feelings about this. A friend who is partially sighted and I shop at the same grocery store. We’ve noticed that employees who have worked with one of us first then assume the other one is exactly the same in terms of abilities and needs. The initial blind individual a TAB meets seemingly becomes their working definition of what it means to be blind, shaping assumptions that inform their expectations, perception of needs and predictions of ability. When the same word is used to describe markedly different individual circumstances, TABs cannot manage to grasp the difference.

These TAB behaviors shaped by the assumptions formed from observation of two people self-described as blind but with differing vision are at the core of the tension between those who are totally blind and people with usable vision. The totally blind are annoyed with those partially sighted for creating unachievable expectations in the minds of TABs. Those with usable vision are irritated when totally blind individuals describe themselves as visually impaired for the lower expectations engendered in TAB minds.

Guess what the common thread is here? Expectations of TABs. Aren’t they the ones to hold responsible for their tendency to assume one blind person is representative of all blind people? Yet, within the blindness community, much energy is expended arguing about blind versus partially sighted instead of viewing TAB attitudes and actions as the source of the friction.

Unfortunately, all that neat and clean logic hasn’t helped me. Spending time with people who can see some and identify themselves as blind, I have increasingly become frustrated. Their usable sight puts tools in their toolbox I do not have in my own. With these tools, they are able to do things not possible for me. For example, follow another person without needing verbal cues, identify landmarks even if they are just a blob and perceive grass from dirt by color. While they may seem small, they add up to something meaningful.

There is a flavor of privilege in those who are partially blind that irritates me. By using the same term, the benefits of usable sight are dismissed as unimportant. Think about it. I can’t make eye contact and that has major social disadvantages. Someone partially blind may be able to simulate or achieve eye contact and reap social benefits. How is that not privilege?

I’m really struggling with all this. I think using the word “blind” to label yourself is completely understandable and reasonable regardless of the amount of usable vision one might possess. I just equally find it frustrating that the privilege bestowed upon those with some vision goes unacknowledged by them. I want such individuals to call themselves whatever they want, understand they have privilege kind of like African Americans who can pass as white have privilege and not pretend we are exactly the same. Privilege is about socially sanctioned benefits based on social perception of the individual. If I could pass as a white, able bodied, heterosexual man, then even if I were a black, disabled, female lesbian, I would still receive privilege. How unfair would it be to pretend otherwise?


Pop quiz time everyone. Sharpen those pencils – or maybe in this day and age it’s create a new note on your phone – and get ready to answer a few simple questions.
1. If you needed a ride home from the emergency room, who would you call?
2. You need to move a piece of furniture that’s too heavy for you alone. Who can you ask?
3. It’s Thanksgiving and you aren’t cooking for anyone. Who will include you in their celebration?
4. You are sick with the MartianDeathFlu. Who will offer to come over and make you something to eat?
5. Who will go out of their way to come give you a hug on a bad day?
Now, on your list, please remove anyone in your family or that you are dating. Take off coworkers as well. Who does that leave you with?
One of the consistent problems plaguing my life is a lack of someone to help and support me. Whether the pragmatic or the more intangible of emotional support, I seem to routinely have no answers to the above questions.
For example, last time I needed to move my couch, I had to open the sofa bed up, pull out the mattress, put the frame back together, move the couch and then reassemble everything. Yes, it worked. No, it wasn’t any fun at all. I suspect the dog was plotting how to have me assessed for insanity.
Why, though, did I ask you to remove family, significant others and coworkers from your answers?
Many people with disabilities have complicated, difficult relationships with their families and are not close in the way necessary to receive ongoing support. While they might need the love and support relatives can give, the mere fact of dependency frames the entire situation in parent-child terms for that is the model we all know – the person needing care is the child and the person offering is the parent. Even when it comes to elderly family members, the relationship between those individuals and their children is often discussed in terms of the parent “becoming” the child. We don’t have a language or paradigm that allows for needing another family member in an ongoing, dependency based way that does not reflect an adult child relationship. and who wants to be a grown up having to accept the limitations of childhood in order to get their needs met?
People with disabilities are often more socially isolated than their TAB counterparts, find dating to be more challenging and more frequently are single as opposed to part of a romantic relationship. This means we are less likely to have significant others or spouses to lend a helping hand.
With the unemployment rate of people with disabilities at something between 60 and 75%, coworkers are often not a part of our personal landscape either.
This leaves us with our friends to turn to in times of need. In our twenties and early thirties, when many people live more care-free lives, reliance upon friends works great. They need you. You need them. Everyone gets their needs met. It’s not perfect, but things tend to work out most of the time.
Then TABs begin to pair off, acquire mortgages and kids and car payments and friends become the parents of your kid’s friends, people you share a meal or glass of wine with and those you keep tabs on via Facebook. Meanwhile people with disabilities have often not shifted to these life “milestones” and still need the friendships that sustained us in our twenties. We haven’t been able to replace those relationships with others and this creates a big void that often becomes evident logistically yet probably impacts the individual most on an emotional level. After all, you can go through an insane process to move your ridiculously heavy couch, but who will come give you that hug?

Nothing About Me Without Knowing Me

There’s a phrase – “Nothing about me without me” – that is used frequently in the disability rights movement. It is a means to combat the tendency in the “helping” professions to proclaim what is “best” for a person with a disability, while those making the choices are not disabled and have not found out the wishes of the disabled person. In other words, any decision about a person with a disability should, um, involve that person. It might seem very basic, but you would be surprised.

Parents of an adult with Down’s Syndrome speak with social service types about their child’s future, setting up such arrangements as what group home that adult will live in. Nobody asks the adult if they want to live with only members of the same gender or what neighborhood they might prefer. Legislators are writing new laws about how at-home assistance will work for people with disabilities, but there is not one disabled person involved in the process. My local public transit authority is making some drastic changes to routes, and while people with disabilities will be impacted by the alterations, they haven’t as of yet actually sought or even been open to the input of blind people.

The good news is that “Nothing about me without me” has made a lot of progress over the years.

With all this in mind, I was thinking about how people make judgments about me and my life without actually knowing me. They see blind person and think things like “Her life must be hard,” “She must not be able to enjoy TV,” or “She can’t possibly do X.” This, as you all know, drives me nuts.

When, through another’s words or actions, I encounter this directly, I can address the misconception the person has created. It would be even better if I could derail the process before it comes to that point.

Can the phrase “Nothing about me without knowing me” become popular? I want to know if just hearing that phrase makes sense to people.