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Out and About: Talking to People

picture shows someone's hand holding a business card that reads "Please offer me a seat - Remember not all disabilities and conditions are visible" There is also the Transport for London logo on the card.

So, another travel related post. This time I wanted to talk about the people one meets on one’s travels, because as anyone with a disability that’s visual obviously will know, you find some interesting reactions.

And as many of us often rely on the help of our fellow community members who we meet on the bus or the street or wherever we happen to be, I thought it would be quite a useful discussion to talk about dealing with people, both the helpful and the unhelpful.

People. We’re everywhere. Some folk even argue that there are too many of us. As I said before, as a disabled person, the way the people around you react to you being out in the community, can have a big impact on your experience of travelling independently.

For example, do people move out of your way, do they expect you to move out of their way or do they try to move you out of their way? Do people try to insist you need their help and you can’t possibly refuse it, come up to you and ask politely if you need help and then listen to whatever you say, or do they totally ignore you? All these things have an impact.

I could probably write a whole book on all the bizarre and more often than not humorous (though it should be noted here that I have a pretty crazy sense of humour) interactions I have had with people. But I shall spare you that.

So how do we deal with these people when they’re a problem?

Tips for Dealing with Unhelpful People

Unfortunately, meeting someone who is going to completely misunderstand your disability, if you have a disability that’s obvious is pretty much inevitable. The issue is, many people have never actually met a disabled person. They don’t know anyone in a wheelchair or anyone who’s blind or anyone who’s deaf or anyone who has any other sort of difficulty for that matter. They’re not used to it, so they genuinely don’t know how to react.

It seems to be a part of human nature that we don’t like things we don’t know how to deal with or understand. Different people react to that experience in different ways. So yes, it is highly possible that the unhelpful person you met while out the other day, genuinely thought they were being helpful.

With other people, who perhaps know disabled people or just don’t listen even when you try to explain something to them, I honestly don’t know what to say in their defence. Some people genuinely don’t care, which disturbs me, but that’s life.

Many disabled people are quite unnerved by the prospect of meeting such people. But it’s important to remember that there are good people in the world. And it’s important that we show the people who don’t understand, that despite being disabled, we are perfectly capable of going out on our own.

So here are some tips I have picked up from my experiences of learning to travel alone. These are based on my experiences of travel as a blind person, but that’s mainly because I don’t feel qualified to advise too specifically on how to deal with people as a person in a wheelchair or as a deaf person, because I’ve never done either of those things myself.

  1. Try to stay calm and clear. This is often easier said than done, particularly in a situation that involves an element of danger such as when you’ve got someone trying to drag you on to a bus or train. Unfortunately, I have experienced both of the above. But the most important thing in that situation particularly with a train, is that you do what you need to do to keep yourself safe and get yourself in the right place to go where you need to go. So, try to speak calmly, clearly and firmly and explain to the person why what they’re doing is a problem.

If you’re in a situation you perceive to be dangerous, such as they are trying to drag you across a road, just tell them not to do whatever they’re doing. Here, you may wish to be quite a bit more forceful. I’ve always been of the opinion that you should be polite when declining help while out and it is something that I personally always try very hard to do, with varying degrees of success. But if someone’s causing a situation that’s dangerous then safety is the main priority. I’d rather be perceived as impolite than dead.

  1. Explain to them how they should help you or why you are fine on your own. As I said earlier, many people haven’t actually met a disabled person. Their only experience of disabled people may be through the media, but trying to find accurate media representation of disabled people these days is hard, so it’s likely their perceptions of disabled people will be inaccurate. So, it may be worth explaining to them why what they’re doing is unhelpful and that may resolve the situation.
  1. Be polite. It may be the last thing you want to do, but the last thing we as a community need is to create a reputation where disabled people are seen as impolite. Granted, it is the non-disabled person who is causing a problem, but still, it doesn’t hurt to be the better person. The only real exception to this, is if the person is putting you in danger such as trying to drag you across a road or on to a train because quite simply, as I said earlier, it’s better to be rude than dead.
  1. Afterwards, when you’re safely back home or wherever, laugh about it. This may sound quite strange, but I think it’s very important. Like I said, there are going to be people, who totally don’t get it who will from time to time make your journey a nightmare.

As with many things in life, you can either cry about it and let it really wreck your life and let it make you hate travelling, or you can try to let it go and laugh about it. And I am a very strong advocate for the latter. Travelling is hard and I’d honestly rather make light of it and have a good laugh, than spend my life stressing about it. Plus, some of the things that happen are actually quite funny, though granted I do have a pretty wild sense of humour.

Seeking Help When Out

So, from a blindness point of view, in my experience, of every day travel, people will offer help in all sorts of situations and you may need help in a range of situations. For the purposes of this discussion, I shall focus on what I see as the three main things that you may wish to seek help with on a regular basis.

  1. If for some reason you’re out on your own and get lost, you may wish to seek help from someone passing by. There’s always the issue that some people bring up of, will that person lie to you, but in my experience, most people are actually good people. In this sort of situation, I would just usually ask where I am. For example, I would say, “What road are we on?” or “What shop is this?” if I was next to a shop in a town centre or something along those lines.

I know some people get people to guide them to somewhere familiar and others don’t like interacting with people at all, but I think this comes down to personal preference. Everyone will have their own strategies for when they are lost based on how they find that situation and what their problem-solving skills are like, so I don’t think there’s a right way as such, to how you interact with people in this situation or any situation for that matter.

  1. If you want to know when to get off a bus, if there aren’t good landmarks on the route. This is the main situation in which I regularly seek help of the people around me. Anyone who’s done mobility training should know that you should always ask the driver, because they are supposed to tell you if you ask. While I do do this, more often than not, they forget. However, I have found that the other passengers on the bus, particularly if where they’re getting off is close to where I’m getting off, will often remember. They cannot be solely relied on and it may be worth clarifying when you get to the stop, that you are definitely at the place you wish to go, by asking when they say that you are there, “Are we at…” and then specifically naming the place you intended to travel to. But other than that I have found them to be fairly reliable.

Some people give the argument of what if they lie to you and get you off at the wrong stop. My response to that, is that is why you learn what landmarks are around your stop so you can identify quickly if you’re in the wrong place That is also why you have people you can contact and other strategies for if you get yourself really lost. Generally, though, I’ve found this method has allowed me to undertake routes I wouldn’t be able to do otherwise.

The other thing people often say, is they don’t feel comfortable asking random people they don’t even know for help. Neither do I. It’s awkward at best and unsuccessful at worst. But I make myself do it, because it means I am more likely to get off the bus at the right stop. There’s no secret to making yourself comfortable doing it, well at least not one I’ve found anyway. It’s always been one of those things I’ve had to just make myself do.

  1. Crossing extremely busy roads. Many mobility officers teach people to seek help from members of the public to cross extremely busy roads. While it is something I have done before, as at one point I did a route where there was no other safe option, I’m generally not that keen on the idea. Oddly, some people who are not keen on the idea of relying on people to tell you when to get off the bus, are a lot more comfortable with the idea of having someone cross you over the road, which I find quite strange. The way I see it is, if you send me to the wrong place, the worst case scenario is I have to phone someone to come and find me. However, if you get me ran over, I could potentially be dead.

But it is a situation in which many people choose to seek help and most folk are pretty reliable. Stopping someone can be a bit more difficult because they’re walking, but more often than not, if you’re crossing, people often come over and offer help, which is quite nice. The other thing that’s quite nice about that actually, is you can get a sense of what the person is like by how they approach you which can help you decide whether or not you’d like their help. A similar situation is where, there’s building work across the pavement and you would need to walk in to the road. Then you should seek help, but most builders are quite good, to the extent that most mobility officers seem to have a fairly positive opinion of them.

So, we’ve already established that there are some pretty unhelpful people out there, so how do you find the cream of the crop when you want help? Here are some grains of wisdom I’ve managed to pick up in my time travelling.

  1. When seeking out a person, listen to the people around you (if you are not blind watching may be useful.) Listen to the way they interact with each other and use that as a basis on which to choose who to interact with. Yes, that is technically judging people very quickly and you may well be wrong in your assumptions, but it’s a slight improvement on going for any random person.
  1. If someone approaches you and asks you if you want help in a way you deem suggests they will be reasonable and you know you will need help shortly, see if they can help you.

What I mean by this is, say you’re walking up the path approaching the busy road where you usually find someone to help you and someone comes and politely asks if you want help, you could say that you are currently okay, but there’s a road coming up that you need help with because of how busy the traffic is and would they mind walking with you to it and helping you cross.

Similarly, people quite often offer help at bus stops. As a result I’ve often found sometimes, that I’ve been able to find someone who’s getting on the same bus as me, who’ll not only tell me when it comes, which makes the bus stop situation easier, but will also tell me when we’re at the stop I need.

  1. Trust your instincts. If you’re lost and someone’s given you some information you don’t quite believe, don’t be afraid to check it with someone else. Similarly, if you’re on a bus and someone tells you they’ll tell you when it’s your stop, but you feel like you’ve been on the bus long enough for it to be your stop, ask where you are, they may have forgotten.

What are your experiences of dealing with people on your travel? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.



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