Helping Hands

by Diane S. Ferrell

From the perspective of one who has worked in the field of special education, and having a visual disability myself, I have been involved in some interesting discussions with others who are employed in the same general field of work. Their interests in entering the "helping professions" vary from being altruistic to custodial. Someone who chooses to work with individuals with disabilities has a particular responsibility to promote the welfare of these individuals rather than hinder it. As is illustrated in the following episode which was told to me, this mandate is, at times, overlooked.

Mr. West, in a somewhat harried manner, entered his office at the university and, while smoothing his ruffled brown hair and somewhat disheveled clothing, began to survey his roster of disabled students to be served that day. As coordinator of students with disabilities, it was his job to ensure that the university met the academic needs of its disabled student population. He was especially preoccupied on this day with his wife Kathy's lamentations about not being able to become pregnant.

Their conversations now were always pretty much the same. "I want to have a child," she would wail, repeatedly, whenever they were alone. He felt as if he was a robot, having to perform sexually, on cue. He heaved a deep sigh. "I don't know how much more of this I can take," he grimaced. "She doesn't want to adopt, either."

His first appointment of the day was with Cindy Black, a totally blind sophomore who was scheduled to take the entrance test required for the teacher education program. Cindy, a petite brunette in blouse and slacks, arrived for her appointment on time, wearing an excited look of great expectation. She was accompanied by a tall, blond young woman, who smiled, cordially. 

"Hello, Cindy. You're right on time," said Mr. West, shaking her hand. 

"What a small hand," thought Cindy, "and so soft, too …" Coming from an agrarian background, Cindy was accustomed to a man's hands being large, muscular and a little rough. 

"I'd like you to meet my friend Anne," she said, "who will fill in the answer sheet for me, after I’m finished with the exam."

The coordinator led the two young women down a corridor to a small carpeted room containing two conference tables and assorted chairs. "This is where many of our students come to take their tests. It's soundproof, so you won't be bothered by any exterior noise." 

Cindy asked Anne to return to the room in a couple of hours when she should be about finished with the test. Anne said that she had brought along a good book and also planned to visit the student bookstore in the interim. 

Cindy then put her braille-writing equipment on one of the tables, thanked Mr. West and proceeded to read the test which had been left on the table for her. 

About an hour later, Mr. West came to check on Cindy's progress. "How is it going?" he asked her. He looked at Cindy, who was intensely concentrating on her immediate task. "You've been working quite a while, with no break. You look like you could use a good back massage …" 

"When I finish with this test, that's just what I might do … have a nice back massage," answered Cindy while returning to her task.

Mr. West approached Cindy. "I give my wife shoulder massages all the time, to help her relax." He grabbed her shoulders, and his firm hands began to move in an undulating motion. He was no longer touching Cindy, but Kathy, as she was beginning to relax and talk about having a child of her own. 

Cindy uttered a startled, "Thank you, now I'll have to finish my work!" But the large snakelike fingers continued moving down her shoulders, across her breasts, and relentlessly downward. Cindy started screaming and strangely felt as though she were beginning to leave her body … Now she was frighteningly suspended above this horrifying situation which she was observing. "Why is that woman screaming?" she wondered. "I have to try and help her."

Cindy was again back in her own body and in control. "Stop! That's enough! Stop!" she yelled, pulling herself free of the gigantic tentacles. 

Nothing was said as she heard his footsteps walk to the door. The door opened, closed, and there was silence. Then, ever so slowly, a profound sense of calmness began to encircle her body like a cloak; she felt safe again.

Then she began to question herself. "Did this really happen, or was it a terrible dream? No, it really happened, and now it's over. I will tell someone what happened. This must never happen to anyone else."

Dazed, she sat down at the table and finished the exam. Anne returned, as planned, and filled in the answer sheet for her friend.

As they were walking back to the coordinator's office to deliver the testing materials, Anne commented, "I've never seen you so calm." Cindy sighed. "I guess it's kind of like the calm after a storm."

As Cindy placed her test papers on the coordinator's desk, she felt the pat of his small soft hand on hers. "Just let me know whenever I can be of help, or when you need a helping hand."