Street Harassment 102: When You’re Blind and a Woman

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!”

Inward groan.

“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.

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6 Comments

Filed under Disability Issues, Feminism, War On Women

6 responses to “Street Harassment 102: When You’re Blind and a Woman

  1. I enjoyed reading this. It’s well-written and helpful in reminding people of boundaries. It’s also informative for those of us raising children, as we have to teach them as well as ourselves about interactions with people with disabilities. It seems common sense, but we seem to be heading in a different direction in our society.

  2. Thanks for this! I was injured in April 2011 leaving me barely able to walk. I have to wear multiple braces, and if a friend can give me a ride or I can actually afford a taxi, I walk with a cane. If not, I’m in a wheelchair. People just DON’T LET UP. I don’t mind if it’s a kid, no biggie. But a lot of adults are really really rude about it. My friends are even more bothered about it than I am, especially the way people stare at me. One of my friends, a professional caregiver (though not my caregiver), is particularly bothered by that. I honestly barely notice that anymore, well, not until she pointed it out. And, it’s not just people who assume we need help. It’s people also like ones we encountered a few weeks ago, when I went to the doctor. I was getting out of the car, my leg covered in braces, barely balancing on my cane (some days are still a struggle), and there were two people sitting RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE OF THE DISABLED RAMP smoking, staring at me, and one of them yells at me “what’s wrong with you?” I answered that I had busted my leg (the easiest answer to give), and while my friend attempted to help me up the ramp as I wasn’t moving well that day, the people WOULD NOT MOVE so I couldn’t get up the ramp. I didn’t need their help. I just needed them to get the hell out of the way because that ramp was there for a REASON.

    That said, besides the questions and the stares, mostly, I’ve been lucky, people ASK me if I want help mostly, they don’t just assume. I’m grateful for that. I know it won’t be that way all of the time though.

    • Thanks for the comment!

      The “What’s Wrong With You” line is one of those things that I’ve almost forgotten about, because I tend to just let it go in one ear and out the other. But it’s insidious, because sometimes it gets stuck in your head, and then you think “Oh. There’s something wrong with me?” Societal training. It’s gross.

      Feel free to drop me a line if ever you want to chat or if you have a question – or if you just want to vent about the staring. (The staring is the worst for me. I actually CAN see you staring at me, I just can’t see VERY WELL).

  3. lkeke35

    I’m very grateful I found your blog. I’m not disabled but I am the primary caregiver for someone who is and,quite frankly, I never noticed any of this before. Probably because i believe in strictly observing other people’s personal boundaries, it is unfathomable to me that other people wouldn’t.

    How do you deal with this without becoming a massive rage-a-holic, is my first question. And my second question is how do you handle it at all? What has been your responses to such behaviour, because I find it baffling that people would grab a disabled person in an attempt to be helpful, (but questioning them and hollering at them in the street, that’s just despicable.)

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