Accepting or Refusing Assistance: Is There a Right Way to Do It?

8 Jul

by Sandra Murillo

It was Monday morning, and I had just gotten out of class. While I was waiting at a bus stop to catch the bus back to my dorm, another student approached me. “Excuse me, do you need help crossing the street?”  she asked politely.  There was also a stop sign and a crosswalk nearby. The young lady knew I was blind because of the white cane I was holding in my right hand.

“No thanks, I’m actually waiting for the bus,” I replied with a smile.

“The bus just left,” she said.

“Right, but that wasn’t the bus I wanted; I asked the driver what bus it was and my bus should be coming in five minutes or so,” I answered.

“Ok, would you like me to wait and tell you when your bus gets here?  she asked.

“Oh, no thanks, I can figure it out by asking the bus driver,” I said.

“Well, have a nice day,” she said. I could tell she was taken aback.

I – and most blind people – have had many situations like this when we are out and about.  Although it is evident we are independent and do not need assistance, sighted people may feel the urge to try and help.  The question is: how should we react to unwanted assistance?

Sometimes that help is needed and greatly appreciated, but most of the time I do not need that assistance. It is often hard for me to decide how to react when people ask me if I need help. I want to be polite toward these people, but I also want to be assertive and communicate to them that I can do things independently if assistance is not needed.

I have to decide how to react on the spot. In other words, my reaction often depends on the specific situation I encounter.  There have been times when I am about to cross a busy street intersection and someone asks me if I need help to cross. I consider myself an average cane traveler, but I do not mind assistance when crossing busy intersections.  During these instances I accept and thank the person.

There are times – like the one I described earlier – when I do not need the help.  When this happens I always refuse it politely.  People react differently when I refuse their help.  Most people do not mind when I say “no thanks.”  Others, however, seem to get offended when I do not accept their assistance.

There is no right way for blind people – or anyone with a disability – to react when others get offended if we do not accept their assistance.

However, I think we should always be polite but assertive at the same time. We should not be rude or condescending towards sighted people. Blind people want to be treated equally, but we will only accomplish this by educating others in a polite manner. Although we cannot control the reaction of others, we can control how well we educate people about blindness.

Sandra is totally blind.  Currently, she is a junior at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She will be majoring in journalism and hopes to work as a reporter for a magazine or newspaper.  Sandra has a blog at


3 Responses to “Accepting or Refusing Assistance: Is There a Right Way to Do It?”

  1. Jeff Flodin July 9, 2011 at 7:32 AM #

    Thank you, sandra, for a thoughtful and well-written contribution to Vision Through Words. From my point of view, you responded withthe best combination: politely and assertively. By providing a brief explanation of how you accomplish what the helper is offering, you educate people. I’m always amused when a prospective helper says, “Gee, I’ve always wondered how blind people do that.” What I find difficult is how to ask for help, especially if I don’t know someone else is around. Do I just stand there looking helpless until someone comes uup to me? I recently read the book, “Business and Social Etiquette with Disabled People: A Guide to Getting Along with Persons Who Have Impaairments of Mobility, Vision, Hearing and Speech.” Despite its overlong and odd-sounding title, it deals sensitively with the needs of all parties involved. Plus, I learned a lot about what helps make people who have disabilities other than mine feel more at ease.

    • Jeff Flodin July 9, 2011 at 7:40 AM #

      An addendum to my just-posted comment. I continue to have a heck of a time with Word Press when I attempt to write, edit and post a comment or a reply. Therefore, my aplogies for the spelling and grammar gaffes. Plus, I wish to report that the book I alluded to, “Business and Social Etiquette with Disable People” is available as an NLS download. Hopefully, this reply will somehow, and through little help from Word Press, find its way to be posted.y


  1. Check Out My Latest Essay Published on Vision Through Words « Sandra The Future Journalist - July 9, 2011

    […] essay is called Accepting or Refusing Assistance: Is There a Right Way to Do it? I share my views about accepting or refusing assistance as a person with a visual impairment. Now […]

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