Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.Mark Twain
A year back, I visited a local charity for the blind and visually impaired. I was given the contact by my low vision counsellor and I paid the visit more for information than help. It was my first independent journey following a stroke, and I had to get a bus to Cambridge and then change. I was a bit anxious about getting off the second bus at the right stop, so outward bound I took a taxi for the second leg of the journey, planning to catch the bus for the return trip.
During my visit I met several lovely people. The last of them was totally blind.
In our conversation I happened to mention that I needed to return by bus. He asked, “Shall I show you to the stop?”
That’s what he did. It was the blind leading the partially sighted. It seemed quite natural and I was grateful.
He travels to work by bus each day, and he has to make a change. I marveled at this and all the way home I thought of how much he must have to remember.
Two days back I climbed on a train. On a Friday, and just before 5 pm, it was packed like a sardine tin.
Just at the last moment, as we heard the announcer say “Please board the train, because it is about to leave”, a buggy drew alongside, carrying a blind woman and her guide dog. The driver of the buggy helped the human and canine traveler aboard, dumped the woman’s rucksack on a pile of other luggage, and hopped off. Job done.
How did she feel? Distraught is the answer.
She didn’t know where her rucksack was or where she and the dog where to sit. The system got her on to the train but didn’t see her safely seated, even though (as it turned out) she had reserved seats.
Like so many systems designed to assist disabled people this one had the best will in the world but tripped over because its designers didn’t or couldn’t imagine themselves in the disabled person’s place. They never thought that if you have no sight, then the whole buggy experience – and being helped into a train that is a black hole to you – holding on to the dog’s lead – and worried about tickets – and your luggage – where is my rucksack – is like a dark nightmare where you must listen to every clue, think intensely at every second, and call sighted people to assist. And – suppose they have put you on the wrong train? It takes so much courage to be a blind traveler, and you have to rely on yourself but also be dependent on others.
The person that got on just behind was great. He saw it all, including where the rucksack had been left, realized the situation, gave reassurance about the rucksack, read the ticket reservations, found the seating, and came back for the rucksack.
So a member of the public did what the service provider should obviously have realized was essential. When that man came back for that rucksack he got a kind of accolade from other passengers. He deserved one. The train company didn’t.
How do totally blind people cope with travel on public transport? By learning the route and memorizing the sequence of stops. Perhaps they have a helper to go with them at first, until they are familiar with the journey and feel confident on their own.
What if the rug is suddenly tugged from under you, by the bus being re-routed and no-one passing on the information?
This story describes what it was like for one woman.
Recently Katie Collins wrote an article beginning “The London Underground can be a hostile environment at the best of times”. (I agree!) The author describes her experiences riding the underground wearing special glasses which imitate severe tunnel vision. For insight into the obstacles visually impaired travelers face this is a must-read.