You saw an elderly person trying to cross the street. Your immediate reaction is to offer help. You get close, you notice the cane she’s carrying, and you assume that she’s blind and needs to be assisted. Without having to think about it, you grab her arm or hands… Well, you might get hit with that cane, and it wouldn’t be a surprise.
This is why it’s called unsolicited help. Unsolicited help is a term used to describe any type of help or assistance that is not asked for but given voluntarily. Offering assistance to someone who’s in need is an act of kindness. But doing it without being asked or not having the other party's consent may not always be the best idea. It is mainly because giving out unwanted help might come off as rude or unthoughtful, and it can put a negative spin on things. So, to start, consider the other person’s needs and overall state and asking before helping would be a better way to tackle the situation.
Like unsolicited advice, unsolicited help can cause friction between people and put you in a place in which you never thought you would be. If your first reaction is to help them with whatever they do when you see a blind or visually impaired person, we’d suggest you read on:
Communication is vital while offering help. When approaching someone who looks like someone who could use some help, ask for consent in advance and make sure that the person is willing to receive your help. Assuming people require aid without them telling you is a tad bit rude and inconsiderate. Therefore, as a sighted person, do not forget to check in with the blind person about where they’re headed instead of assuming to know it.
After offering help and getting yes as an answer, you shouldn’t dive straight in with your methods and your way of assisting. Asking about directions or the guidance you can offer is always a safer way to go than grabbing, holding their arms, hands, or pushing a person in the direction you think they want to go. Make sure both parties understand each other before proceeding. Make sure you understand how they prefer to be assisted and go on from there.
Refrain from using vague descriptions. Telling a blind person to go “over there” or “right here” can cause misunderstandings and even put the person and you in danger. Be specific, go into detail, and always try to guide them relative to the direction they’re facing for better clarity.
While offering help can be really useful, sometimes it’s simply not needed. Coming to terms with the fact that the person is fine on their own is perfectly okay and note that insisting on offering help might come across as condescending. So, you thought they might need help, you asked, and they said they don’t need it. Just say alright and move on with your day.
While offering help to perfect strangers is a form of modern chivalry. Just bear in mind that asking is even a bigger act of kindness, as it shows that you take the other person’s preferences into account and not just assume they cannot do whatever they are doing on their own. But, caring for other people is good. The world is a tough place, and we need each other to get by. So, looking out for each other is one of the things that we, human beings, are good at. The only thing is we need to get better at communicating. Here’s hoping!
We’d love to have a conversation. If you are a part of the blind and visually impaired community, you’d like to be part of our mission, or share your ideas and collaborate with us, get in touch with us.
We are based in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
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