There have been a bunch of articles about street harassment popping up in the last couple days. A lot of people I know are tweeting about the boundaries of flirtation – and I’d like to bring up another form of street harassment – and online harassment – which I and other visually impaired people receive.
T0 begin with, canes, wheelchairs and other adaptive devices are not an open invitation to discuss. Really. I know you’re SUPER curious – and there are ways to be polite about it – but generally, walking down the street or randomly on the subway is not one of those times.
So. I’m walking along the street, minding my own business, scanning the street with my cane for obstacles, when suddenly, from outside of my peripheral vision – I hear a question!
“Hey! Lady! Are you really blind?”
They do not hand out canes like candy. I decide, since I have a person with me, to respond.
“Yes. I’m really blind.”
“But when you turned the corner, you didn’t do it like a blind person does, you did it like you could see!”
“Only 10% of blind people are completely blind. Most have some vision. And by the way, it’s super impolite to ask people about their disability when you don’t know them.”
He makes unpleasant noises about the fact that I am apparently being rude to him and scurries away. My friend and I bitch about him when we enter the store.
These interactions are very common in my life. They are the norm. People will ask me this question on the subway, they will do it when I am sitting by myself and reading on my nook (the greatest thing to happen to me since I got my cane, by the way). I get asked how I could possibly be so hot when I’m disabled – that I dress so well and it’s surprising!
There are a lot of reasons why these interactions are startling, for one because it just seems like common sense not to ask people how much they can’t see out in the middle of a crowded metropolitan street. What are they going to do, mug me if I’m REALLY blind?
They don’t hand white canes out like candy. It’s not like I borrowed my cane from somebody in an attempt to make a Helen Keller Halloween costume. I use my cane every single day, to traverse the city by myself. Most of the population doesn’t notice it, and I have to beat them with it to get them out of my way, a smaller population challenges my right to have the cane, and the last portion of the population politely opens doors and steps out of my way when I need them to.
But there’s actually a category even more insidious than the questions. This would be the extra helpful people. These are the men who will grab my arm and haul me across the street because they think I can’t see, and they can help me better than I can help myself. If I don’t jaywalk, it irritates them. I once had a man tell me to “come along” and then make it sound like he was calling over a puppy.
These people scare me, because they don’t see the boundary of asking for help. They don’t think that they should ask if I need help – because they know better than I do.
This is also street harassment. Nobody catcalls me, nobody compliments my boobs. But they do insert themselves uncomfortably into my space, my thoughts, and make the assumption that I need them to make my life easier.