As the former chair and ACB of Minnesota representative on the Minnesota State Council for the Blind (SRC-B), I kept meetings to the business at hand and tried to be as organizationally balanced as possible during council meetings. At the June 2009 meeting, the new chair, NFB member Judy Sanders, took a different approach. Judy shared a vignette, which she believed would be edifying to council members and the audience.
Judy was attending a rehabilitation meeting, and during the break, a woman approached her and asked if Judy would like the woman to get coffee for her. Judy said "no thank you" and got the coffee herself. Then the same woman asked if Judy would like an elbow to get back into the meeting. Judy told us she wanted to say that she had two elbows of her own, but she restrained herself and politely declined. The woman commented that Judy was the first blind person ever to refuse her help. Judy asked where she worked, and the woman replied the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind. The woman had been a supervisor there for six months and learned the most from her blind employees. Judy told the woman to look for another blind woman from Minnesota at the conference later in the week. Then Judy warned the other blind woman (also a Federationist) not to accept this woman's help.
Of course the implied lesson was that we all should be model blind people by not accepting assistance when we can do things ourselves. Also by implication, accepting help for things we are capable of doing ourselves is not being a model blind person. As we've undoubtedly heard many times from similar NFB philosophers, accepting that help is subjecting ourselves to second-class citizenship and buying into old stereotypes about the blind.
I may not accept the guiding assistance, but it has nothing to do with feeling demeaned. I use a guide dog, and the "follow" command is handy for a situation in which a group of people is headed to the same room. In a crowd, sighted guide with three across (sighted guide, blind person and dog) can feel awkward.
In my own home, I use a liquid level indicator when pouring hot liquid. A liquid indicator has a couple of prongs attached to a battery. The prongs go into the cup. When liquid touches the prongs, the indicator beeps to tell me I have a full cup. With cold liquid, I use my finger. Some claim that one can use the temperature of the outside of the cup to know when to stop pouring. This hasn't been a successful method for me, because I find it takes a little extra time for the cup to heat to alert me my cup is full. I don't generally take a liquid indicator to meetings, but it is one solution to the pouring problem. Without a liquid level indicator and not wanting to chance the outside-the-cup method, the remaining alternative is to use a finger.
I sat through the rest of the meeting until the next break and decided to get my own cup of coffee from the machine in the cafeteria. The machine did its own pouring, so I only had to get the coffee back to my place in the meeting room. The cup was full, and as my dog and I were making our way very slowly to avoid spilling, a group of people came toward us quickly! A sighted lady saw what was happening and offered to take my cup to my seat. She jokingly said she might spill it too, but I knew she might be more adept at quickly sidestepping multiple people along the way. Because I don't enjoy the possibility of having coffee for which I paid spilled, I accepted.
When I arrived back in the meeting room, I somehow brought up the coffee vignette and said that I didn't enjoy burning my fingers. One Federationist's advice was not to use my braille-reading finger. So Federationists do acknowledge the possibility of burning oneself, but in the name of independence, they're willing to take that chance.
Another ACB member and I talked to a couple people about this vignette, and the responses we received were similar. Apparently, we blind people and those with other disabilities aren't the only targets for kind offers of help. Believe it or not, both disabled and non-disabled people help each other too! Perhaps we don't need to see the offer of help as a sign we are being pitied or treated as second-class citizens. It is a possibility. But more likely, people may want to be nice and/or socialize with us.
To conclude, there are those who would rather endure the possibility of burning themselves in order to avoid the possibility of someone thinking they are not independent. I'd rather save my valuable fingers and find other ways to gain people's respect.
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