The blind leading the blind

I was staring out the second floor windows of Prasad East ,waiting for my lunch, when I saw a visually impaired man trying to cross NE 12th and Couch.  Using his walking cane, he stepped out into oncoming traffic and a car swerved to miss him.  He then stepped back, grabbed his head, made fists with his hands and started to shake is arms.  His timing and sense of direction were misguiding him and he once again stepped out into oncoming traffic.  It took me about 20 seconds to realize he was in trouble.  It took me another 10 seconds to realize he needed MY help!

Two stories up, I yelled, “no, no” but what good was that as I was behind a wall of glass.  Now I was in a panic!  I grabbed my phone and wallet and threw it behind the cash register yelling, “I need to go help someone!”.  I ran downstairs and darted across traffic, knowing my eyes could get me safely across.  Even though my intention was to help, I prevented myself from reaching out to touch him as I didn’t want to assume he would be okay with that.  Instead I used my alarmed voice asking, “can I help you?”  He responded, “I’m not sure if I should even try to cross the street, it’s too busy and I think it’s best I just sleep the night here.”  What?!  Sleep the night here, at NE 12th and Couch!?  He was in such a state of panic that perhaps retreating and camping on the sidewalk seemed like the more sensible thing to do than cross the street.  His backpack was falling off one shoulder and I wanted so desperately to pull it back up, securing it on his shoulder, but again, I resisted this urge.  I then asked where he was going and he told me he was trying to catch the bus line 20.  Thank goodness because the bus stop was just on the other side of the street.

After a bit more fumbling and uncertainty, the walk sign signaled and I verbally guided him to the cross walk and across this street.  I wasn’t sure if I should give him my arm to lead him as I’ve seen others do leading vision impaired people.  Again, he was a complete stranger and I didn’t want to impose or offend.

We got to the bus stop and there was an elderly gentleman sitting inside.  I asked if bus line 20 came here.  He said, “yes” just as I looked up to read bus line 20 on the sign.  This elderly gentleman had missing teeth, wore a pocket protector and was overdressed for the 80 degree weather we were heaving.  Nonetheless, I trusted him immensely and asked if he would help this man board bus line 20.  He said, “yes” again and I asked the visually impaired man if he wanted sit to wait and he said “no, thank you.”  And just like that, I left the two men, walked myself south a block then west a block, through the double doors, back up the stair well and to my seat where my food was waiting.

I sat down and looked out at the same scene I left: a visually impaired man standing with his white walking cane and an elderly gentleman sitting at the bus stop.  Not even a minute passed, and I began eating and resuming my daydreaming.  Then in another minute, bus line 20 came and I looked down and saw the elderly gentleman walking with his cane, guiding the visually impaired man to the bus.  Instantly, I was overcome with emotion and began to sob.  I was overcome with this evidence that humanity is good.  I was moved by this elderly gentleman guiding this visually impaired man, both relying on canes.  I was overcome with curiosity of why this elderly gentleman was able to put his hand on the visually impaired man’s back, when I was too worry to touch him.  I was overwhelmed with how fast it all happened.  Perhaps 4 minutes in total from witnessing, to helping, back to witnessing.  As the men rode off on bus line 20, I sat sobbing unable to eat my lunch, unsure what all just happen, and yet, definitely impacted.

Looking back now hours later, I see that it was a classic case of the blind leading the blind.  I didn’t know what I was doing.  I’d never helped a visually impaired person before.  Here’s what I’ve learned since, 3 A’s: Approach, Ask, Assist

Approach: if you suspect someone may need a hand, walk up, greet them and identify yourself.

Ask: “Would you like some help?” The person will accept your offer or tell you if they don’t require assistance.

Assist: listen to the reply and assist as required. Not all people who are blind or vision impaired will want assistance – don’t be offended if your assistance is not required.

Here also shows you how to offer your arm to guide a person who is visually impaired

I instinctively got the 3 A’s right: Approach, Ask, Assist. and now I know it is every bit appropriate for a sight-seeing person offer their arm to a visually impaired person.  Like the age-old phase goes, when in doubt, ASK!  By all means, listen to your heart and instincts AND go the extra mile to check in with the other person.  Be okay with hearing, “no.”   It doesn’t mean your heart or instincts were wrong.  I can pretty much guarantee that the elderly gentleman didn’t not ask for permission to put his hand on the back of the visually impaired.  Perhaps this is one of the luxuries of being an elderly, they don’t get caught up in the minutia of life, they can look past all the formalities and purely live from their heart.