Sunday, February 19, 2012

Just Say No!

Today Mister Pawpower and I walked to a near by coffee shop for the usual bagels and hangman. After I had ordered my tea, I asked the employee behind the counter if there was space to sit on the bottom floor. The area is small, and I didn't want to go plowing in there with dogs and drinks and whatnot if I was just going to turn around and head back out due to lack of space. The store employee comes around from behind the counter and I told him that he didn't need to do that, just tell me if there were people back there; my dog can find a seat.

Instead of listening to me, this individual grabbed the sleeve of my coat and like a master with a dog on a leash, he started toward the seating area, towing me behind him, and with my dog confusedly trying to figure out what, exactly was going on. I stopped, removed my arm from his grip, and told him that either my dog would follow him, or that he could just answer my question of seating room, and I'd take care of finding the seat myself.

Apparently some people who can hear are deafer than I am, because once again! He grabbed me by the sleeve, starting out toward the seating area. I stopped, removed the sleeve from his hand, and said:
"Sir? Just for what it's worth, it is never appropriate, productive, safe, nor at all in good taste to grab a person without their consent and haul them around by either a piece of clothing or a body part. I appreciate that you are trying to help, but I have tried to get your attention several times and you continue to ignore me. Do not touch me. If you want to lead me somewhere, allow me to tell you how to accomplish this, and then follow my instructions when I give them."

Yes, I am sure many people are cringing right now because I was terribly rude, and he was "only trying to help." I respect that people want to help, but help should never be forced, and it should never put either party in danger.

If you were to look at me, you would never know that I have a hidden disability. My inner ear disease causes problems with balance and vertigo; thereby making walking or standing a huge chore, not just something I do without thinking. If someone wants to guide me, there are very specific ways in which they can do that. Safer, more comfortable ways. Grabbing my arm also means that my dog can't do her jobs properly.

I don't understand why people seem to think that the "normal laws" of physical contact don't apply to people with disabilities. If I walked up to a "normal" person, who asked me for directions, and I then grabbed that person by the arm or by their shirt and started yanking them in the general direction of their destination without even a word of by your leave or instruction, I would probably land in handcuffs at the most, or at the least get punched on the nose. However if this happened to a person with a disability, then it becomes generally accepted-- even smiled upon-- because the person doing the dragging is so kind and wonderful to help!

Many of my newly blind clients feel guilty or "wrong" about not accepting help, or if they do accept help, then they don't have the "right" to ask the person to do it in a way that isn't dangerous or frightening. It is still your body, even though you have a disability. If you don't like what someone is doing with your body, tell them to stop. If someone continues to help in ways which are unwanted, then you have the right to make it known that you don't like it. People with disabilities are not baggage, tugged and towed from here to there.
People often ask me the following question:
"What is the best way to help a person with a disability?"
Here is my answer.
First, ask if the person needs help. If they say no, don't take it personally, but just accept that the person has it covered and their way of doing something may look more difficult or differently than the way you do the same task, but that they are doing it and would like to do it themselves. If you ask and the person does want help, then either wait for the person to tell you how, exactly, you can help them, or ask the question yourself.

Do not grab or try to "move" someone as if they were a piece of furniture. If you need someone to move, ask, and then use words like "left" and "right" to indicate the direction. Do not ever move someone's cane/walker/wheelchair/crutches without asking. If you need the object moved, ask the person what they would like to do-- e.g. move it themselves, or get help. Just communicate, and listen!

And yes, before someone says it, the guy I yelled at today will probably not be in a hurry to help another person with a disability. But I think that might not be a huge loss!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Misadventures in the Red Stick

On Thursday I needed to travel to Baton Rouge for a meeting. This requires four buses and then a ride to the meeting place once I arrived in BR. The first bus picked me up at my house around 9 am. I was dropped off at the public library where I waited to take the bus to Baton Rouge.

I read email and texted. A Deaf friend of mine saw me waiting and came over to chat. Apparently the supervisor for the bus had been trying to talk to me and didn't know I was deaf so my friend's friend who was hearing came over and through a series of he said/she said/he said kind of translations, the supervisor told me that the bus was coming at 10:50. I would have gotten out my gizmo for face-to-face communications but I didn't know someone was trying to talk to me.

I got on the bus and amused myself for the two-hour long ride. Eventually I ended up at the station in Baton Rouge and walked around until I could find someone to show me to the rest room.

When I got out, my ride was there to take me to the building where the meeting was. We arrived and I met my interpreters. The meeting was three hours long, and after about two hours my arms were hurting and I needed a little break. I was a bit embarrassed to ask for one but I did anyway. Everyone got up to take a break and I asked my interpreters to show me where the bathroom was.

I should probably back up and say that interpreting for deafblind people is different than for sighted deaf. With deafblind interpreting, there is a lot more describing of the environment that goes on in addition to just straight interpreting. For example, before a meeting starts, an interpreter for a deafblind person describes the room, how it is laid out, who is doing what, any identifying characteristics of people. There were a couple wheelchair users at this particular meeting so my interpreters told me about that. This way I'd have a better idea that those people would be taking up space differently than a person who doesn't use a wheelchair.

So I had my SSP guide me to the restroom. We reach the door, and I step inside and turn around to ask my interpreter to explain to me how the restroom was laid out; e.g. where was the toilet, soap dispenser, paper towels and sink. Obviously, a bathroom is not the kind of place you want to explore tactually! Ewww! Only when I turned around to ask, my interpreter wasn't there. I stepped back out of the bathroom, and asked someone to explain the bathroom lay-out to me, but the person wasn't my interpreter. However, she did kindly fetch my interpreter who explained where everything was. I joked about getting lost and never coming out again.

Eventually!!! PAH!!! The meeting was over, back to the bus station, only this time the transfer to the bus didn't go smoothly. The bus driver demanded "an identification card for the dog." However under federal law, a business owner or employee may not demand such identification as a condition of access. The person may ask if I am a person with a disability, if my dog is a service dog, and what tasks my dog does to mitigate my disability/s. This driver did not ask those questions, however. He kept insisting on identification. I told him that I'd call the police and press charges. Denial of access to a person with a disability accompanied by an assistance dog is a class-C misdemeanor in the state of Louisiana which is punishable by a fine and/or jail time. The bus driver yelled, and told me that it was his bus and he didn't have to obey the law because his only rules were that of the bus company. I asked if he'd care to place a wager on that. He yelled some more and told me that people would be afraid of my dog (who was being very threatening and fear-inducing by standing next to me calmly doing counterbalance work while I held her handle) The driver then called his supervisor. To his surprise, the supervisor made him let me on the bus.

The driver then told me that if anyone was afraid of my dog that he would park the bus and refuse to move and that I would make everyone late and that he would announce to the bus at large that we were not moving because I refused to remove my dog from the bus and that the dog was causing fear amongst the other passengers.

Too bad for him, nobody was afraid of the dog and she lay under my seat while I read email and blogs for the ride home. Once again I was dropped off at my public library and waited for the last bus of the day to take me home. It was over an hour late, and it was ten p.m. when I finally walked through the front door. I was gone again the next day by seven-thirty am.

I'm glad I don't have meetings like this often!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

This and That

Everyone in my office seems to have the winter crud, so it's no surprise that I got it. It has hung on for over a week and I am wishing it would just go away. In other news, I'm changing up the equipment I use for Laveau. She managed to break her guide handle for the harness, so Mister Pawpower is spending the day today making me a new one since I have to attend a board meeting in Baton Rouge tomorrow and need my harness. He is also going to add a light mobility handle on her back strap. As my inner ear disease progresses, I am finding myself in need of more and more Mobility tasks from Laveau. Due to my lack of proprioception, I have a hard time telling where I am in space. Having a handle to hold when I'm standing for long periods helps me. I have also taught her to counter balance for those times when I think I'm standing straight but am really canted far to one side or another about to do a face plant. We will put that handle on my harness sometime this weekend. I am super excited.

Tomorrow I'll be gone for twelve hours as I am traveling to Baton Rouge. This takes two bus rides and a cab ride each way, and then a three-hour meeting which means three hours of solid tactile interpreting. My arms hurt just thinking about it.
Baylee is filling out and continues to have boundless energy. We have a nice man walking her several times a week. Well actually it's more like jogging; but it really helps make her energy levels more manageable.

Bristol and Mill'E are doing well. Today when we were about to leave, Mill'E-Max grabbed one of the straps on Baylee's "in training" backpack and took off with Baylee running behind her. That dog just wants to be in charge, I guess.

I hope everyone in blogland has been well!