As a user of a long cane, there are many things that the general population do that really annoy me.

If you see me, or any other blind person out and about (whether using a cane or a dog) there are right ways and wrong ways of offering help.  Guide Dogs NSW/ACT has made a nice little guide as part of their Don’t Turn a Blind Eye campaign.

It’s also worth mentioning that I’ve done many hours of work with Orientation and Mobility Instructors from Guide Dogs to familiarise myself with places I regularly go, and to learn the skills I need to go anywhere safely.  In addition, after over fourteen years of cane use  I hope that I have a good idea of what I’m doing.

So here, in general terms, I present my five pet hates:

5. The ones who think I’m faking it
This is less common the less I see. But even so, this group represent a particular section of ignorance. These people seem to think that you can either see perfectly, or not at all and so accuse you of “faking it” when something really big and obvious happens and you react. There is a small group, often shop owners who insist on placing displays and signage along the shoreline, who seem to think you’re “faking it” in order to cause them some great inconvenience by falling over their items and injuring yourself and complaining about it. (A shoreline is a clear path of travel which is easily followed using a cane, usually the side of a building. The Australian Human Rights Commission has some great resources around access to premisis and footpaths).

4. The One’s Who Don’t Think They’re Doing Anything Wrong
Like the dazed, these people seem totally oblivious to what’s going on. However, they’re actually not. They seem to feel that they can stand wherever they like and not move, and seem to expect you to know where they are and to move around them. They’re often offended by cane taps to the shoes or ankles.

3. The Dazed
The Dazed are responsible for breaking more canes than any other group of people, including my own foolishness. The dazed often gather in busy public spaces, and then wander around paying no attention to what is going on around them. They will often walk full into a blind person, as they seem to expect everyone else to do the seeing for them, and to dodge them. The secondary type of the dazed are the rushers. These guys also don’t watch where they’re going, but they do it at a rapid pace. There impacts with me and the twisting around my canes have caused several breakages.

2. The Talkers
This one doesn’t happen too often, though it really does top my list as a pet hate. There are occasionally people who will give a running commentary about where you are and what’s around, but not in any way that’s actually helpful. Things like “we’re coming to the top of the escalator” are generally obvious; “keep coming, you’re almost across the street” seems to indicate they think I’ve never crossed a street before; but the most common one is “you’re going to hit that object”, but gives no indication as to where object actually is. At the end of the day, the cane is providing lots of information, and often I’m actually looking for walls, polls and the like because they’re actually landmarks. Landmarks I can’t see, so I need to touch them to get my bearings.

1. The Grabbers
Grabbers are the most downright scary and potentially dangerous group. I’m talking about people who (a) think I don’t know what I’m doing, or think I’m doing it wrong; and (b) without saying a thing will simply grab me, usually by the arm, and attempt to drag me somewhere. So think of being in a crowded dark space, and having someone grab you from behind. What’s your immediate reaction? To be scared? To want to punch the person who’s grabbing you? This is exactly how I feel about grabbers. In addition, being suddenly pulled in one direction or the other can upset your balance. Now think of that on the edge of a train station platform. A slight variation on the theme are those who grab the cane. The cane functions as an extention of the hand, and its held in a fairly precise way to function effectivly, so grabbing the cane is probably worse than grabbing the arm. I once compared cane grabbing to poking someone in the eye.

The blind and visually impared aren’t just given a cane or a dog and sent on their way, since the recognition of the white cane as a mobility aide after Wold War II, many hours have been spent refining techniques, and teaching us how to get about safely. As this information from Guide Dogs NSW/ACT says, if you see someone with a visual impairment about, and you think they might need help, ask first.