[nabs-l] Custodializm and sighted=blind interactions

Jamie Principato blackbyrdfly at gmail.com
Sat Jun 20 00:57:04 UTC 2009

This is very interesting. I have to say, I've never really had a situation
like this. I guess I haven't really traveled with other blind people enough.
When ever I'm at the Jernigan Institute, everyone around me either seems to
know where they're going or already have a friend or room mate's arm. I had
a blind friend when I was in elementary school, and when we would go
somewhere she would always more than willingly take my arm, but her
blindness skills were greatly lacking and she had absolutely no desire to
improve any of them (her parents never believed she could be independent,
and it seems as a result neither did she). But I did start to feel like a
custodian, especially as we approached those fiercely independent young teen
years. It actually began to have some strain on our friendship. Now I'm
living with my boyfriend who is totally blind, and it's very different. Now
we do walk sighted-guide from time to time, but it doesn't feel like
custodializing at all. We're intimately involved with one another and have
been in a very close relationship for a few years now. People would expect
to see us more or less attached at the hip when we walk together. But when
we walk like this, even when I'm guiding him, we do both still actively use
our canes, if that matters. I just feel like I'm walking with him, not
necessarily "looking after" him in any way. I think it's also important to
note, however, that my boyfriend is *very* independent. He follows me with
ease and often even takes lead. He's confident with his cane travel skills
and at times I would venture to say his overall O&M is better than mine
regardless of how much sight either of us has.
I think it's the responsibility of the blind person first and foremost to
know what they are capable of. If you know you aren't confident enough with
your cane to take more than baby steps (or move at all in some cases), and
you therefore wont be able to simply follow your friend, then it is your
responsibility to either ask to take their arm or simply say "Go get what
you need. I'll wait here. No worries." If you don't want to be guided and
you don't want to wait, consider that all the more motivation to improve on
mobility. Ultimately, if you have a preference, or a specific thing that
will work for you, and you know what it is, it's your job to ask for it. It
isn't your sighted companion's responsability to try and guess at what it
might be and put themselves out in the process. The sighted person can
certainly ask "What can we do to make this work better for both of us?", but
that communication has to be there.

On Fri, Jun 19, 2009 at 8:07 PM, Jim Reed <jim275_2 at yahoo.com> wrote:

> Hey all,
> In an earlier post, I told a breif story about going into a grocery store
> with a blind guy, and I expressed my perceptions of that situation. Well, I
> wrote the man who was the subject of that post, and I asked him some
> questions. I don't think I posed the same questions to you all as I just
> posed to him, so I have copied and pasted the relevant sections of my
> letter, and I would like to hear your opinions and answers to the questions
> I posed.
> Thanks,
> Jim
> Here is the letter
> _______________________________________________________________-
> "...
> Yesterday, when we went into the
> grocery store, I offered you an elbow which you refused. No problem.
> Since you refused my elbow, I assumed you knew the store and/or could
> keep up with me, so, without giving you much of a second thought, I
> took off looking for one soda cooler or another. However, several times
> I looked back, and you were standing in almost the same place I left
> you, or you were very slowly walking towards my general direction. I
> tried walking slower, but within two steps I was already way in front
> of you. Then, I would stop (or walk) and purposefully tap my cane to
> give you a noise to follow, but the tapping did not really seem to make
> a difference (aat least not in terms of your speed).
> In general, I felt kind of uncomfortable being in the store with you. I
> felt uncomfortable walking so slowly next to a grown man who seems in
> good health, and I felt even more uncomfortable with my "wait and tap"
> method. My discomfort stems from not having had to deal with these
> situations (interacting with other blind people) before, and not really
> knowing how, or what to do, or knowing what is appropriate and/or
> expected.
> My instinct is to treat you (or any other blind person)
> as I would treat any of my sighted friends. That means, in the grocery
> store for example, that I go from Point A to Point B,  get my stuff,
> and get out as quickly as possible;  and I expect that my companion
> will keep up without me slowing down. However, if I would have used
> that approach with you yesterday, I probably would have been in the
> store, found and bought our sodas, and been out the store, and you may
> have still been standing somewhere near where I left you. If that had
> been the case, I would have felt like a real jerk for having ditched my
> blind companion because he could not keep up.  On the other hand, the
> other approach, the custodial approach, is equally uncomfortable to me,
> and that is the approach I felt like I was using with you (walking real
> slow and needlessly tapping my cane).
> I
> know there has to be a happy medium between my "sink or swim" (keep up
> or get left behind) approach, and my custodial (walk real slow and tap)
> approach. For as much as blind people don't want to be custodialized, I
> don't want to be a custodian. But at the same time, if blind people
> want to be considered and treated as equals, then I shouldn't feel like
> I have to wait for them, or accommodate them.
> Are
> all accommodations custodialism and a threat to blind independence?
> Where and how is that line drawn? To what extent is it the
> responsibility of the blind person to tell hs/her companion what they
> need and want? What is the sighted person to do if the blind person
> provides no such guidance? Is it the responsibility of the sighted to, and
> how should a sighted persons determine and respond to  the needs and wants
> of a blind companion?
> In
> a situation such as ours in the grocery store, the options (as I see
> them) were for me to slow down, you to speed up, or for you to take my
> elbow. Why should I slow down? Why should you speed up or take an
> elbow? How are our differing needs and/or wants reconsiled without you
> feeling custodialized, and without me feeling like a custodian?
> Thanks, and I look forward to hearing your thoughts,
> Jim"
> "From compromise and things half done,
> Keep me with stern and stubborn pride,
> And when at last the fight is won,
> ... Keep me still unsatisfied." --Louis Untermeyer
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