Learning how to ask for help is a big part of life, and even moreso if you have a disability. We’re taught from a young age, hopefully, that it is a necessary thing, and we learn as we get older that it is, often, a survival skill.
But guys sometimes it’s really, really hard.
I don’t mean it’s hard in the sense that I am so beautiful and independent that I think I don’t need it. Or even that I have difficulty accepting that I need people’s help, though this is sometimes the case. What I mean is that there are a number of factors, like shyness, introversion, embarrassment, fear, that make asking for help difficult on almost a physical level. Now, I think this is one of the your milage may very moments, because maybe this isn’t a problem for some people, who are comfortable and extroverted. And that’s fabulous for them. But consider this a PSA from your shy/introverted/nervous blind people, okay?
I have a very vivid memory from my childhood that helps illustrate this. When I was younger, I was given orientation and mobility training. It’s training most blind people receive at some point, to teach them how to get around, how to use a cane, how to cross the street without dying (it’s a skill you generally need to be taught if you don’t have the functioning eyeballs). Part of my training, as I got older, was to select a location in an unfamiliar place, and learn how to get myself there. This involved some internet research (it was the early 2000s, for some reason I feel like google just wasn’t there yet), calling places, and learning how to approach strangers on the street, if all else failed, to ask for directions. I. hated. it! I think about walking up to those people, or, if no one was around, pretending my teacher was a stranger, and even 15 years later, I feel my stomach curling in on itself. As someone who is both shy of strangers, and an introvert, they might as well have been asking me to start singing and dancing. And it wasn’t because anything bad ever happened to me. People were always happy to help. But it was a painful process for me. I wasn’t embarrassed that I needed help, I just didn’t want to have to engage with strangers.
That was something of an extreme case. As a teenager, I hated talking to strangers so much that I used to offer to pay for my friends’ fast food if they’d be willing to order for us. I *really* hated talking to people I didn’t know. But even now, as I’ve gotten older and arguably more confident, there are still times where I don’t want to ask. I don’t know if you understand the feeling of being a woman in her 30s, asking someone to take you to the restroom? It’s not great. Yes, everybody goes, and yes, you’ve had to ask where it is in your own life. But I’m pretty sure you’ve never had to ask anyone to take you there, or needed to ask a stranger where the tampon dispenser is (the non-standard layout of public restrooms is a passionate rant of mine, for another time)
All that to say, sometimes it’s hard to ask, and for reasons you might not think of. Sometimes, it’s embarrassing. Sometimes, I’m having a bad day like everyone else, and I don’t want to talk to my good friends, much less a stranger, because I’m an introvert and I just don’t want to. Sometimes, I’m not in a good location, and I don’t feel safe seeking out a stranger. There are any number of reasons. And there is not necessarily anything you can do about this. So this post is not really a call to action. Sure, if someone looks lost, it’s okay to offer help, with an emphasis on *offer*. If they say they don’t want it, respect that; there are a number of reasons, like those listed above, and many others, that they just might not be able to cope with accepting your assistance in that moment. But on the flipside of that, try to take cues. If someone is looking closed off, or if they are doing everything possible to avoid metaphorical eye contact, just leave them to it, and wait. There is a difference between feeling unable to ask for help, and actually not wanting to. And if you hear about the latter, please don’t judge. I guess if there’s a call to action here, it’s that. If someone just didn’t have it in them to engage with a stranger, trust that they had a good reason, and let them do it.
We’re supposed to be well-trained in geting what we want and need. But sometimes things get in the way of that, and having someone who understands that can be really, really great. I know this post seems a little our of the norm for a teaching blog, but this has been something that’s been on my mind lately, especially after a conversation on how little we take things like introversion, shyness, etc, into account when talking about disability. Sometimes, the blindness is not the thing getting most in the way of doing stuff.
This, and many other things, are topics I will be covering in my… podcast. Yes, you heard that right. The introvert was on a podcast. I sat down with another grad student from our department and talked about blindness in teaching and academia, and about including folks with disabilities in the diversity conversation. I think it actually turned out pretty great. I’m not sure if I’ll post the actual thing here, as I still don’t know how much of my personal information I want on this blog. But I will post the main points, or a transcript, or something of that nature for sure.
Anyway, thank you for sitting through that strange and rambling post. I’m trying to be a better blogger here, which means sometimes writing long meandering things about topics that might only interest me. But as always, I appreciate you hanging around. Stay tuned for next time, when I will entirely flip sides on my personality, and talk about how a busy semester has caused me to go on the war path of accessibility, and how that’s something we should be pushing more. What can I say; I’m a walking, talking contradiction. Until then, thank you for reading. And please, if you see formatting errors here… just this once let them go. WordPress introduced a new post editor, and I hate it. But I’m learning how to work it out, and the next post will be prettier. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a dissertation chapter to go weep over.