The Tactile Traveler Explores Tips for Blind People in Protests, Riots and Demonstrations
Because of the world wide reaction to the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota on Memorial day, this entire program is guide on what to do if you are at the wrong place at the wrong time and find yourself in the middle of a demonstration or riot that you don’t want to be in. It also provides suggestions if you are in a demonstration by choice. You can find a link to the show's full transcript by clicking the headline.
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The Tactile Traveler Script Show #
From KDNK Community access Radio in Carbondale, Colorado, in the United States this is program #8 of the TACTILE TRAVELER- EMPOWERING BLIND AND LOW VISION PEOPLE TO EXPLORE THE WORLD AND HELPING OUR SIGHTED FRIENDS SEE THE WORLD IN A NEW WAY.
I’m Nick Isenberg.
When blind people go places, we don’t experience them like our sighted friends. We don’t see beautiful mountains, or romantic sunsets. The goal of this program is to identify and even create experiences that are more meaningful, or just more fun for us and for our sighted traveling companions. Frequently as people lose their eyesight, they become more and more isolated.
The Tactile Traveler hopes literally not only to empower people to travel around the world, but around the block to new adventures in their lives.
Blind ranges from people who are visually impaired and glasses and contact lenses no longer help them to live a normal life, to people like me, who are totally blind. And to sighted parents who have a blind child to blind parents who have sighted children. And, people of all ages, interests and physical abilities.
This is a special program of the TACTILE TRAVELER.
Because of the world wide reaction to the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota on Memorial day, this entire program will be a guide on what to do if you are at the wrong place at the wrong time and find yourself in the middle of a demonstration or riot that you don’t want to be in, and suggestions if you are in a demonstration by choice.
Riots and Demonstrations Script
Before I went blind, I was crossing a street in Paris with a sighted traveling companion, when this huge mob of people came down the street from nowhere. There were so many people walking so close together and so fast, it was very, very hard to get out of the street to the sidewalk. The government of France had just announced that they were increasing the minimum work week for a full-time job from 35 hours a week to 38 hours per week. It even took us a while to find someone who spoke English who could tell us what was going on.
Retired Alabama civil rights attorney Jack Drake had a friend who wasn’t so lucky.
Byte 1 Jack Drake mono.wav: Well, I have a friend who taught at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa and he was in Paris doing some research and he was walking down the street, turned a corner, and unbeknownst to him there was a large demonstration of students going on that street and the student were being chased by the French police and he was run over and knocked down onto the sidewalk and he suffered permanent nerve damage in his neck and never regained the full motion of his neck as a result. And I think that just goes to show that that could happen to any of us whether we’re sighted or not when we leave a building and step onto the sidewalk we really don't know quite what to expect, particularly from directions that sighted people can even see what's coming at them and for people who are not sighted of course they wouldn't see it from any direction but it could happen to any of us, is my point. And It’s something that we all need to be mindful about.
Nick: Blind white cane travel instructor Quinn Haberl [pronounced Hobble] had a similar experience, but with a happier ending.
byte 2 Quinn-demonstrations mono.wav: When Trump was inaugurated there were some protests here in Minneapolis and one of them happened to be right near Blind Incorporated the training center which is kind of in South Minneapolis and I had happened to be going to get my at the time girlfriend something from Starbucks which I think is only like a block away ya know, so usually that’s just pretty easy trek and I started walking towards the Starbucks and I noticed that there wasn't much traffic, like on Nicollet Avenue and Nicklett Avenue is usually a pretty really busy street here in Minneapolis and while I was walking I started to hear sirens and stuff kind of in the distance, which isn’t too abnormal but then I started hearing like crowds of people and like I said at this time I was on the sidewalk so I was like “okay I’ll just keep monitoring situation as I walk” and they continued to come closer as I was going and eventually they kinda stopped, their destination was kind of right in the middle of Nicollet and Franklin which was the same spot I was going. So as I was crossing the street the crowd was also coming. For the most part what I found was people were very respectful. They didn't really, ya know, it was a very peaceful demonstration so there wasn't any pushing or shoving. People pretty much at that point were just pretty much standing in the middle of the intersection. The idea was to block the road. But people just let me walk by and a couple people offered to help if I needed any help or if I needed any assistance. Ya know they were really very understanding.
Nick: Liz Wisecarver was also almost caught up in a demonstration and counter demonstration.
Byte 3 Liz Wisecarver-competing demonstrators.wav and counter demonstration: The incident that I was part of with the protest was while I was a student at the Louisiana Center we were at Mardi Gras and I was in a group of um, I think there were four of us students and then we had an instructor with us and we were walking around downtown getting tours of Bourbon Street we came to an intersection and up ahead of us there was a protest that was just kind of rapidly starting. There was some kind of group there that seemed like they were being very hateful and telling people that they were sinners and that they were going to go to hell and so they had a group and there was a counter protest that was kind of beginning around it and someone else was on another megaphone going, “blah, blah, blah, blah, blah,” to kind of counterout what the group that was being hateful was saying. And then more people were starting to come in from left and right and more people were joining with the counter protestors. And I was actually really interested in it just because ya know, it was kind of fascinating to see it kind of happening but since we were in a group we weren’t going to be able to really stay and participate so all we did to leave from it was basically just turn back around and went back from the direction we came because it seemed to be mostly coming from the front of us and left and right of us.
Nick: And you didn’t go to hell?
Byte 4 Liz Wisecarver-didn't go to hell.wav: (laughing) Well, I haven’t yet, so.... None of us have yet as far as I know. (chuckles)
Edward Bell is a professor and director of the Professional Development and Research Institute on Blindness at Louisiana State Technical University which works very closely with the Louisiana School for the Blind, where Liz Wisecarver went to school. He says they work very hard to expose students to any kind of crowds they may find themselves in.
Byte 5 Ed Bell-Mardi Gras .wav: Staff and students, and everybody is either blind or blindfolded and they participate in Mardi Gras in New Orleans. So they stay at a hotel, right on the French Quarter, and they go out and participate in the parades, and they go shopping, and sight-seeing and travelling all around downtown New Orleans. All the rumors you’ve ever heard about Mardi Gras are true, so you’re dealing with drunk people, you’re dealing with people who are holding bibles and wanting to cure your blindness, you’re dealing with everything in between. You’re dealing with very busy, crowded areas where people are trying to get up close to the floats and parades, and you’re dealing with just different situations like that. So really the best way to prepare any blind person to deal with the adversities that life is going to put at them is to first equip them with that structured discovery training which really gives them that problem solving and that real world experience in a very constructive manner put them into environments where they have to deal with large crowds. We take our students and go to large conventions and conferences where there's maybe two thousand and three thousand people all going to the same ballroom at the same time, and large sporting events, movie theaters, whatever you can conceive of, you want people to do that.
Nick: Dr. Bel has some tips on what to do if you’d like to get out of a crowd.
Byte 6 Ed Bell -tips.wav: Well first thing is stay calm. Generally if there is a big crush of people moving like that, you’d probably want to move in the same direction as everybody. I mean the worst thing is try and go up against the stream, if you've got five thousand people coming down a narrow corridor, you don’t want to try and go against the traffic if you can help it, but when you turn around and you’re kind of in the crush, in the middle you can slowly begin to work your way toward one side or the other, and through echolocation which is being able to hear sounds off walls and stuff, you can get a sense of “Am I right in the middle of the road or am I closer to the right side or the left side or the hallway, let’s say you’re in a big building, and when you can hear that if you’re closer to one side or the other, you just keep moving with the flow of the traffic but kind of sorta sidestep a little more, a little more, kind of work your way back out of the crowd, using your cane of course to find your path in front of you so you’re not tripping over other people or not tripping people, and work your way over to the wall and get out of the flow of traffic, and then you’re going to decide what you’re going to do from there.
Nick: Professor Bell says don’t say “help” if you need assistance getting out of a difficult situation.
bYTE 7 Ed Bell-don't say help.wav: Be very specific because if you say “help” a lot of people don’t know what that means. So what they’re going to do is grab you and drag you over to the first police officer they find. Well, maybe the police officer is the last person you want to talk to right? Depending on what the crowd is for and stuff. So you have to be the one to say, “Hello, excuse me. Can I ask you for some assistance please. Can you please direct me into which way is the way out of here? Or, could I hold onto your arm as a sighted guide, which is when you’re holding onto somebody. That’s why it’s important for the blind person to hold onto the sighted person’s arm rather than them holding onto you. If they’re holding onto you then they’re just pushing you in front of them and you have no control over anything. If you’re behind them and holding their arm then you can easily follow their movements and then at any point if they’re taking you somewhere you don’t want to go, you just let go. So it’s about keeping yourself safe, being in control of your own thoughts and actions, not letting yourself be controlled by other people.
Nick: Maurice Peret was a travel instructor for almost 20 years and helped develop standards for certifying travel instructors. He says usually you can find out if demonstrations are likely.
byte 8 MAURICE pERET 2 BE SPONTANEOUS-BUT PLAN.wav: Certainly anything can happen and things can be very spontaneous and you never know, but the more preparation you do in advance to where you’re going you don't have to know every single detail about where you’re travelling, there is fun in just exploring, but the more informed you can be about ya know, are there demonstrations expected today? What is the news on the radio? What’s been happening the last few days? What can we expect in the neighborhood where we plan to travel? Is it a commercial neighborhood? Are there museums there? So just being prepared for the type of travelling one is going to do.
You’re listening to the tactile traveler on KDNK, EMPOWERING BLIND AND LOW VISION PEOPLE TO EXPLORE THE WORLD AND HELPING OUR SIGHTED FRIENDS SEE THE WORLD IN A NEW WAY.
I’m Nick Isenberg.
On today’s special program we’re learning what to do if you accidentally find yourself in the middle of a demonstration or riot you don’t want to be in.
Now we return to Maurice Peret with tips on what to do if you choose to be in a demonstration.
Byte 9 MAURICE PERET 2 BEING IN DEMONSTRATIONS BY CHOICE.wav: So I’ve probably been to more demonstrations than most people that you’ll know because I have been a long time political activist. So I look for the demonstrations, I don’t try to avoid them by and large, although I don’t choose to participate in breaking things or breaking the law. But, a good demonstration, and most of them that you’ll encounter are very well organized. There’s a clear set of people who ya know are leading the march and leading the chants, either in a vehicle or on foot, they’ll have bullhorns so that’s a good sound clue. If you’re travelling with a group or if you can find a group when you’re there and kind of stick with them, those who are chanting what you think is valuable to chant, or ya know have conversations, and ya know it’s a very purposeful environment where people by and large want to talk to you about what’s going on. So it’s a perfect opportunity to open up and strike up a conversation with people, then that might be what you want to do to kind of tag along, so you don’t get somehow separated from the crowd you intend to be with.
Tactile Traveler South Korean based reporter Jason Strother covered a protest by blind people in Soul.
Byte 10 nat sounds Blind protest in South Korea.wav: (Sounds of a protest. Male protestor speaking Korean over a speaker at a South Korean demonstration. Ringing bell)
Byte 11 Jason explains blind protest.wav: Nick, that was a protest I attended back in 2008. There were dozens of blind and visually imparied people demonstrating in front of the Constitutional Court here in Seoul because they were worried their constitutional right to work in the massage industry was going to be taken away from them. There have been repeated attempts over the years of sighted people trying to get jobs as masseurs, but for over a hundred years South Korea’s blind have had this exclusive right to work in the industry and bit by bit they have been losing their jobs to the sighted who have found loopholes in but the blind still legally have the right to be the only people working as massage therapists.
Byte 12 Jason explains Korean blind opportunities .wav: It’s reflective of the lack of educational and employment opportunities that Korea’s blind have faced. And it’s not only in Korea. China and Japan have similar provisions too for the visually impaired and for decades if a blind person was educated in a blind school they were only taught massage. And I’m glad to say that now the blind do have more opportunities and the government in the past several years has passed new regulations for let’s say quota systems so many visually impaired people are not working in the public sector as well as there are other training programs now to give them other opportunities than working in the massage business.
Byte 13 Jason people jumped from bridge .wav: Sighted Koreans have found some loopholes over the years to get into the massage business. For instance, a massage parlor needs to only have one blind staff member in order to get the business permit, so groups of sighted masseurs will hire a blind person to be their de facto visually impaired person so they can open up the business, but the shop will employ mainly sighted masseurs but unfortunately back in the mid 2000’s when the constitutional provision that protected the right for the blind to work in the massage industry was being challenged, some masseurs who were afraid of losing their livelihoods, went onto a bridge here in Seoul across the Haann River, and this bridge, it’s kind of known as the suicide bridge and these masseurs threw themselves off the side of the bridge into the river.
Byte 14 Jason current situation.wav: So, ya know, the blind have lost some of their ability to work in the massage business, but also they can’t earn the same livelihood as they used to, now I think the blind people thing that there are other better opportunities for them to do something other than massage.
Nick: Jason says all of the people were pulled out of the river alive.
Here in the United States and around the world, blind people are joining the Black Lives Matter movement. Some for their first demonstration.
Fort Worth, Texas Star Telegram reporter Elizabeth Campbel is helping us with this story. She spoke to first time demonstrator Jenine Stanley.
Byte 15 Jenine Stanley .wav: Well I live in Minerva Park Ohio which is a small incorporated village which is surrounded by the city of Columbus which of course is our capital city and I decided to go to the protest because I really felt strongly that I wanted to hear what people were saying and I wanted to be a part of supporting what they were saying.
Elizabeth Campbell: “Were you concerned about your safety at the protest?”
Byte 15-A Jenine Stanley -tips.wav: I think knowing your location and knowing where the protest or the activity is going to be and when you get there looking at, I don’t want to say escape routes, but looking at safe places to go. Um, being aware of your environment. This is going to be the hard part with COVID-19 but being with people who can assist you if you need to grab a hold of someone if everyone is running in different directions, ya know, don’t worry about doing that. That was one of the things that came out of the active shooter training is if you have to grab somebody or if somebody had to grab onto you to get away, don’t even think twice.
Nick: Graeme Turner joined demonstrations in Melbourne, Australia.
Byte 16 graeme turner-in demonstration.wav: Yes, I was in a Black Lives Matter demonstration partly in support of the action in America with George Floyd but also to raise awareness of indigenous injustice here in Australia against aborignel people in custody.
Nick: Graeme says he planned ahead, in case things changed.
Byte 17 Graeme Turner-if it got ugly.wav: If it did get ugly, well, I could resort to someone who I know is immediately with me to get me out of that environment. Otherwise if I was there on my own it would fully be a lot more challenging. I would have to try and attract the attention of someone around the crowd which of course could be challenging because they might be focused on speakers, responding and chanting slogans, to attract him to my particular individual needs. So, it could pose a little bit of a challenge there to make them aware of my need.
Nick: Finally, Graeme says be aware of other people who might need assistance.
Byte 18 Graeme Turner be aware of others.wav: Just be aware that in protests, demonstrations, it’s very easy to be fired up about the cause, but just to bear in mind too that there are people, particularly in protests around social justice, that could be drawn in from all sorts of marginalized and diverse groups, not just vision impaired but people with physical impairments or other kinds of issues, all the people who might have mobility issues. Just to be aware and inclusive and sensitive to those around you who might have particular or additional needs, especially in a case where people have to move fast.
I’d like to thank Jason and Elizabeth for helping with this story.
You’re listening to the tactile traveler on KDNK, EMPOWERING BLIND AND LOW VISION PEOPLE TO EXPLORE THE WORLD AND HELPING OUR SIGHTED FRIENDS SEE THE WORLD IN A NEW WAY.
I’m Nick Isenberg.
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This has been THE TACTILE TRAVELER- EMPOWERING BLIND AND LOW VISION PEOPLE TO EXPLORE THE WORLD AND HELPING OUR SIGHTED FRIENDS SEE THE WORLD IN A NEW WAY. I’m Nick Isenburg.
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