To North-South Road? – calls the driver the usual question on the 25X bus from home to work. You see, one upside of taking the same bus the same time on daily bases, and the advantage of being 155 cm tall, blind, with a beret and a funny accent, is that one stands out somewhat from the crowds on a cloudy Monday morning. Bus drivers get to know you, and therefore can assist you more if needed on a journey. Although in collectivistic cultures being salient is not desired, as the finger that sticks out the most is first chopped off; it’s Brighton, buried deep in the west’s individualistic culture, so it’s all good, nothing to worry about.
Have a seat
Today’s bus trip, and my little tour around the UK as well as some of Europe’s country inspired… “Would you like to sit down?”. Yet an other those frequent questions a blind man gets on a transport vehicle. Nah, only if… most people simple drag you to the seat, without even asking. “Nope, thank you but I prefer standing”. …So back to my train of thoughts, my journey and this post.
Independence – what is it?
In general, I came to recognise that there are two groups of people with special needs. Those who would do everything to carry out daily tasks independently, regardless how long it takes, using all technology available, but strictly on their own. And there are those who are still classify in my mind as independent, but make use of people around them, integrate their needs in social interaction. As a simple example, picking up a pile of mails from the post box, one could step in the flat, open all five letters up, scan the content with the choice of your tool, perform OCR, all of which can vary in degrees of automation and only to again chuck all the adverts in the bin. Or if you live with your family, flatmate, or bump into your neighbour, one could simple ask is this all junk? within seconds you get: “Yes, all the things you don’t care about… SPAM!” Voila, with option number two, you were on one hand more time efficient, and you also brought in the social interaction with the mail being the daily ice-breaker after coming home. Sure, there are confidential letters, and sometimes you don’t have an eye at hand, but that’s not the point. I’m considering, what exactly counts as independent way of doing things, and to what extent it’s worth persevering.
Appreciate the options
I believe travel serves as a good example. In recent times, I noticed that in the UK we don’t only like to complain about the weather but public transport too. On the contrary, I think it’s great. Take my perspective. Ignoring the fact how unreliable and infrequent rail and road services are in Hungary; last summer attending a business meeting wasn’t as easy as I imagined it would be. Getting from town A to city B on railway, then getting the underground was practically impossible due to lack of the concept of ‘assisted travel’ and being alien to the city. And let’s be honest, despite the best navigational aids, you have to be very brave to walk around fast approaching vehicles and high voltage carriers when you visit the place only once or twice a year, leaving you pretty unfamiliar with the layout of the venue in question.
Now to contrast this, in England I have no fear in getting anywhere let it be any mode of transport, simply because if not ‘assisted travel’ than certainly other passengers will help find the right way. In September, nearly always on my own, I travelled to Birmingham, Stoke-on-trent, Margate,, Watford, London, took a flight from Gatwick, and returned to Luton, where I’ve never been ALL ON MY OWN. Yet, I never got lost, always felt safe on finding train platforms, commuting on the London tube, because of the assistance staff members can provide. Even though, there is the social interaction element (almost inevitable in my mind); I, and most people would call this independent travel. It’s nice and easy, the assistance only forgets about you only every now and than. It’s OK, statistics needs to live off something too. It’s a good way to practise decision making, and finding excuses to chase young ladies around asking for their guidance and phone number just in case, you still happen to get disoriented. But then why do we think, being independent in work or at home means, you need to cope only and only on your own, making the most of assistive technology?
Getting lost in the UK
Well, that’s my TWIST on travelling and all the side tracks. To conclude, let me just say, the trip to Stoke-on-trent was not planned. This time I had company. Sighted company. Arriving to London Euston well in time, grabbing coffee, and looking up when the next train to Birmingham is. 10:03, platform 4. Perfect. We make our way, double check at the gates, we get a finger pointing in the right direction, and we sit in the carriage. Though completely relaxed, I wondered why the train started to pull out 3 minutes before the scheduled departure time. “not very nice on those who were hopeful in catching the train last minute…” thought I. “Welcome on the service to Manchester…” – announces the conductor. Never in my blinded life I sat on the wrong train, but this time. That’s relying on your own, or someone else’s sight for you ;).