An Autistic’s View on Helping the Blind
Last week (11-Aug-2015), I was listening to In Touch, the BBC Radio 4 programme for the blind, who had a report about a blind woman who had booked assistance with her flight. All she wanted was someone to walk alongside her to help her navigate around the airport. The airline/airport insisted she use a wheelchair. She was not happy about this as she felt it was inappropriate. She was, after all, quite capable of walking.
Scroll forward and this week’s programme followed up on that report with feedback from listeners. These ranged from those who supported the woman’s position to those who said she should be grateful for what she was given and not make a fuss.
The title of the program was:
Gratitude: Why is it sometimes hard for a blind person to accept help when it’s offered?
You can listen to the programme itself on the BBC Website.
I found the programme fascinating, firstly just from the perspective of the blind person. I have to say I agree with her, just think of the more obvious stupidity of providing someone who is unable to walk with a guide dog and saying “that’s all we have”.
One size does not fit all.
Being blind is only a disability because the majority of society are sighted and have constructed the world so that it works for sighted people. That is not unreasonable, but it does not mean that the same majority can dictate what someone who is not sighted requires to navigate this world. As I have said many times, the expert is right in front of you. If the blind person says they need someone to walk alongside, then that is what they need and we do not have a right to tell them they are wrong, it’s bad enough that we have designed a world that makes their life more difficult than it needs to be.
I was also fascinated by the parallel with autism. Again, autism is not a disability; it’s just different from the majority of society. The problem often isn’t so much to cure us, to fix us and tell us what treatments we need so that we can function “properly” in your version of the world. The problem is that you need to listen to what we tell you we need so that we are able to cope with how your world is organised. Maybe, and controversially, we need you to change your world so that it is less hostile for us.
My answer to much (but not all) of the problems autistics have is for society to understand better and have a broader view of what is normal/acceptable behaviour. Not to try to fit the ‘round’ autistic into the square neurotypical world.
I hate the word disability in all its applications, it’s just difference and that should always be welcomed, not treated as a nuisance at best and ignored at worst.