I don’t want “assistance”, I want inclusion. – By Aditi Shah
Our guest columnist this week is Aditi Shah, a visually impaired programmer who will soon be joining Microsoft as an engineer in its security response centre team. In her column, Aditi makes a passionate case for treating people with visual disabilities as individuals and not as someone who needs support or is helpless. They each have their own strengths and weaknesses, just like everyone else.
I have been home on a break for over a couple months. Since this has been a long break for the first time in my life, it has also been a period of maximum socialising. Out of my recent social experiences, I have the following facts/ points to be understood for people who end up around me more frequently:
- My blindness does not affect my ability to stand, my legs are perfectly fit. So, please don’t offer me a seat when everyone else is standing or don’t hold my hand continuously when we are not walking, because I won’t “fall down” or “disappear”.
- Before you jump into helping me forcefully, just think in your head if the task you are offering your help for really requires “sight”. If it is not clear to you, just close your eyes and try figuring it out yourself. For instance, I don’t need to be able to “see” to wear my clothes, to do my hair, or to even walk around familiar places like homes that I visit frequently.
- Use my name while addressing me in a group, because obviously I won’t know if you are looking at me.
- I do not have supernatural abilities to guess people’s identities from their voices. This is especially true for people I rarely meet. Please announce “who you are” instead of playing the “guess who I am” with me.
My blindness does not make me incapable of having a conversation. So, please don’t leave me isolated in a corner just because I am different than you. My blindness is just one aspect of my personality and I do happen to have other good ones required for holding meaningful conversations. Unfortunately because of what I explained in point 4 above, I am not able to identify who is sitting around me and strike a conversation by myself, so if you announce your name when around me, I would love to talk to you.
- I cannot see, so I do not need to turn on the lights when I step into a room. Don’t waste your energy offering to do that for me if I am the only one who is going to be using that space.
- I can “speak”, hence, I can ask for help when I need. You don’t need to try your luck at helping me every time I am around.
I hope this helps people who don’t know how to “help” me or how to “deal” with me. I don’t want “assistance”, I want “inclusion”.
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