Monday, May 8, 2017

Tales of kindness and contempt

By Louise Kinross

How do you think you’d be treated if you were out and about in the city and blind?

Recently I read media stories about two blind men and their commutes by subway and train in major cities.

And they couldn't be more different.

Amit Patel (photo below), a former doctor who lives in London, describes travelers who hit his guide dog Kika with umbrellas or bags, barge into Amit and complain that the pair is holding them up. He says station employees ignore him when he needs help. His dog Kika now wears a Go-Pro camera to track the public’s reactions. “Losing my sight is very lonely,” he says in this Daily Mail piece. “If I’m traveling by public transport I’m sometimes like a scared little boy sat in the corner.”

Blair Wong (photo above) is an optician who travels into Boston each day with his white cane. “I bring out the best in Bostonians,” he says in this Kind World story
I have met so many different people simply because I have a cane. It’s probably hundreds, but to me it feels like thousands.”

The story includes photos of some of 
regulars who walk with Blair or sit with him to chat on the train. A few have even become good friends.

I wondered why people would have such different reactions to a disability. We know people make snap judgments about others that are often based on false information. How might people's assumptions be different when they see Amit as opposed to Blair?

The only thing I could come up with is that carrying a cane conveys a clear message that someone is blind. Perhaps people who see Amit don’t immediately understand that his service dog acts as his eyes. Maybe he doesn’t appear 
blind”  to them.

Or perhaps, when they see a service dog, they imagine that the owner doesn’t want an offer of help? There are a number of disabled advocates on social media who write about how it annoys them when people constantly offer help.

This doesn't, of course, explain the rude comments and “tutting” Amit hears around him, or the people who hit his dog with bags and umbrellas when she’s doing her job sitting beside him on the escalator. Kika has even been kicked.

Is it possible that Boston is a more humane place than London? What do our readers think?

The top photo of Blair Wong is reprinted from Kind World. The bottom photo of Amit Patel is reprinted from the Daily Mail. Amit's wife Seema posts Go-Pro video of her husband's adventures on Twitter @Kika_GuideDog.


An interesting question: are there differences in tolerating/accepting/celebrating disabilities from country to country, city to city?

I know when we were in Ireland 9 years ago with Aaron (who has Down syndrome) it was a VERY friendly place for him - folks spoke to him directly and with great respect. But I don't know if that was random, or about what energy we were extending out...or if it was the country's culture. We DID encounter lots of folks with Down syndrome specifically - that could have been random too, but it also could have had to do with their prenatal termination rate (termination due to 'fetal anomalies' is illegal there). France, England, Wales and Spain have high termination rates. reference:

I'm making some big assumptions here, but it is an interesting discussion. ALSO I know I'm just talking about Down syndrome, but I wonder if 'tolerance' for disabilities of all kinds is higher in countries who HAVE more people with disabilities who are visible in schools/the community?

Interesting conversation. We lived in London for 9 years and I would say that having a disability there especially on public transit can be pretty awful. I'm sure it's the result of chronic overcrowding and the stress of daily commuting. Once, coming out of the underground at night, a fellow (who looked pretty drunk) dropped his cell phone. It shattered into pieces on the floor. My husband instinctively bent down to help pick up the pieces and the fellow shoved him aside. I think the fellow thought my husband was trying to steal his phone. My husband explained he was only trying to help and the guy exclaimed, "This is London, mate!" Now, in our family, when anyone offers unwanted help or when we observe people behaving badly in public, we say, "This is London, mate!"