Just because I’m blind, doesn’t mean you can grab me without asking

A smiling woman standing at a 'Wait' sign by the road

When I first started working at Sense, I didn’t use a long white cane. Although I was born visually impaired, I always thought white canes were only for individuals with total sight loss. However, the more I learnt about the people Sense supports, the more I realised I could also benefit from using a mobility aid.

Becoming a cane user is the best decision I’ve ever made! It has given me back so much confidence, I feel safer and I’m so much more independent. There is only one downside, people keep grabbing me!

Being grabbed can be frightening, disorientating and even dangerous

A smiling woman walking on the pavement with the aid of a white cane

Every day I am pushed onto trains, pulled across roads and grabbed on stairs. People say they are just trying to help, but being touched without warning is disorientating, frightening and sometimes even dangerous.

I started sharing my experiences on social media and found out that I wasn’t alone. Wheelchair users told me how their chairs get pushed without permission, guide dog owners have leads pulled out of their hands, and people who use crutches are unbalanced daily by over enthusiastic helpers. In the responses I received on social media, the same message kept being repeated, please ask first if you want to help.

Offers of help are so important to me, as they enable me to remain independent, and provide reassurance when I’m finding something stressful or difficult. When someone asks me if I need some assistance, it means I can make a choice and let the person know how to best assist me. For example, as a visually impaired person, I like to take someone’s arm to be guided, rather than being pulled. So it’s really important to listen to disabled people so that you can provide support in the best possible way.
I’ve had so many kind generous offers of help that have really made a difference to my day! However, the grabs, pushes and pulls have started to affect my confidence and made me feel anxious about getting on the tube.

I started the ‘Just Ask Don’t Grab’ campaign on social media

A man interviewing a woman with a microphone on a park bench

So I started using a hashtag #JustAskDontGrab to try to raise awareness of the best way to offer help to disabled people.

More and more stories were shared through the hashtag and it started to go viral. Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson engaged with the hashtag, and shared an incident of being pushed on a painful sensitive area of her back by a stranger, and she offered her support for the cause.

As a result I was contacted by Metro News who wanted me to write a blog about my experiences and the campaign. This was followed by an interview on BBC Radio Wales alongside Tanni, and recently an interview and report on Sky News accompanied by another online article.

It’s been a bit of a rollercoaster, it all started with a few tweets! I’m really pleased I’ve been able to get national coverage and the campaign is still getting lots of media attention.

I would love the campaign to go global because I think it could make a real difference.

As recent research from Sense has shown, one in four disabled people feel lonely every day. Being grabbed or pushed makes you feel more isolated, because even if they had good intentions, the person has denied you the opportunity to express your needs or make a choice. Whereas somebody who offers help and enables you to achieve something makes you feel more connected to your community and more confident to go out independently!

So, if you see a disabled person and you think they might need some assistance, remember just ask, don’t grab, and you could make a really meaningful connection.

Public attitudes to disability and inaccessible transport are both factors that contribute to one in four disabled people feeling lonely. Find out more about Sense’s campaign on loneliness 

Check out Amy’s blog, Cane Adventures, where she shares her experiences.

One thought on “Just because I’m blind, doesn’t mean you can grab me without asking”

  1. My biggest problem as a newly blinded woman in Milwaukee Wisconsin! I understand sorrow is a natural feeling, but when I first lost my vision, it was much harder for everyone else to adjust to it than it was for me. The hardest part is people treating me differently. Strangers have even asked me what’s “wrong” with me. I just say, let’s talk about what’s right with me!

    People who don’t even know me will often start a conversation without introducing themselves. They tend to get hung up on all the wrong, personal and inappropriate questions such as, “Have you been blind since birth? What caused your vision loss? Are you completely blind? Will you ever see again? How do you use that ‘big stick’? How do you get around? Can’t glasses fix it? Isn’t there an injection for that?” And my favorite, “Gee, you don’t look blind to me.” Really? This is insulting and frustrating. I usually respond, “Well, you don’t look sighted to me!”

    I love my white cane. Although I still bang into things, I can’t imagine traveling without it. It is how I now perceive the world. My self-consciousness about it is gone in exchange for my increasing level of mobility. I’ve been asked, “Don’t you wish you could see again?” This is a difficult question and hits me on many levels. People, of course, expect me to immediately exclaim “Yes!” It’s been almost a year at this point, and I can’t do anything more about it apart from what I’m already doing.

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