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.