On Monday in mobility class, I travelled into town and then had to find a particular shop I’d never been before. I knew only what direction to walk but nothing else. “Then you should ask for directions,” the insturctor says. “I’m not there.” That’s what he always says when he means he’s keeping an eye on me but won’t help me. So I went up to a stranger and asked for directions to the shop, in the meantime feeling like: well, I was told to do so, but why on Earth do I need to ask for directions to get to that shop? All the Amercians at rehab centres tell of needing to find their way without sighted help, and here I’m being told that I should ask for directions. Of course, sighted folks ask for directions when they’re in an unfamiliar area, too. The instructor, who is sighted, displayed this when I had to find another shop by asking four different people for directions, while he knew the way. It was at once funny and confusing. Of course I know that this is normal, but it feels as though it’s solely cause I’m blind that I’ll have to ask for directions. This feeling was further reinforced by the instructor’s remark that my cane is my excuse, meaning that I wouldn’t have to explain why I needed directions. Now he didn’t, either, but still. It feels sort of strange. Still, I’m noticing that I do ask for help when transferring buses, cause at the station they keep changing where buses will stop. This was something I felt reluctant to at first, too, but that was less, cause I couldn’t think of a way to find out non-visually where bus three stops at a given moment, while I think there should be ways of recognizing shops. I sort of feel that needing directions is in a way dependence. Not that not going out at all is good, but I’ve so been told that needing sighted assistance is bad. Or is this my stupid misintrepretation?
On Tuesday, Hennie asked me what I’d been doing in mobility class, and that got us into the third discussion in a row on the same topic: my ideas about asking for help, needing to learn new skills, etc. I explained y feelings about asking for assistance for stuff sighted folks don’t ask assistance for, like the bus stuff, and about the feeling that after living in this town for nearly ten years, I should know the way around town. She asked me if I had a problem with alternative techniques. “Of course not,” I said, and I noticed that same coincidence again: that the same people who say that blind people are normal and of whom I claim to have gotten the idea that blind people shouldn’t ask for assistance (ie. my NFB acquaintances), are the ones who invented the word “alternative techniques”. I still find it hard to put this together. The discussion went similarly to last week’s, about first having to learn stuff before you know it, only then it was about my feelings about rehab and now about asking for directions. I explained my views to Hennie and if I hadn’t noticed it alreayd, now I see their illogicality. She asked me for a better “rule” to replace my usual one with, and I didn’t really know. Maybe it’s best to just decide that I can’t change my rule cause I feel too ambivalent about it, but that I won’t care about it anyway. You know, I’m still scared that my acquaintances would judge me if they knew I asked for directions in town and asked the bus driver to tell me where bus three stops. This has never been discussed – using a sighted guide is dependent, folks say, and you should use a cane and be independent, but no-one has ever told me where on this continuum fits asking for sighted assistance. Oh well, maybe they wouldn’t care if you didn’t explicitly seek out a sighted person. I mean, I once read an article in which a woman writes about wanting to know how a buffet line is set up and asking someone firstly if he’s a sighted person, before asking about the buffet line. She was confronted on asking “Are you a sighted person?”. Doesn’t it matter if you just ask anyone and know that 99% of the population are sighted? Will sighted observers not notice that you’re asking for directions cause you’re blind, then? But well, they’ll notice that you’re using a cane because you’re blind, too, and that’s what these folks applaud. It’s all very confusing.
Then there’s the simple practical issue, which has nothing to do with philosophical objections or anxieties: how to catch someone’s attention. I made a few failed attempts on Monday and sometimes my “kept from” feeling was holding me back – that’s some type of anxiety, I guess, too, but it’s not related to my feelings or thoughts about the concept of asking for assistance. That’s what’s troubling me when I’ve deicded I don’t care about my rules, such as yesterday when asking where bus three stops, but it’s fairly easy when you go up to the bus ten driver – that’s why I always do that, both to avoid the difficulty of catching someone’s attention and to ease the “first step”, to counter my “kept from” feelings. It works fairly well, but I’ve not gotten used to it when folks are walking by. I hope I can settle this, and if that’s done I should just decide my rules and philosophy can go to hell. Call this centre “traditional”, you stupid inside fighter (cause I’ve long realized that it’s *me* holding these ideas, not anyone else). I want you to persevere, but in the way that people have repeatedly told me I am perseverant or strong: they call me these things both cause of “conventional” accomplishments like my high education, and cause of this current stepping back and going for rehab. I sometimes still need to explain what I’m doing at the centre, but I’ve been counting it last week and the times I tell people I have to explain this stuff far outweigh the times I actually have to explain it. I want to see that one can be independent and strong while still asking for help. That’s a remark made by a folk at the summer programme last year. Traditional attitudes? Do I care? Don’t know.