Personal Safety In The World Part 2

Safety While at School & Around Campus

            Whether you attend a public school or live on a college campus, we can give you tips and tricks that will work for both. You may be a parent, teacher, or someone who knows a blind/visually impaired student who can use this information to help them navigate school life. Here are just a few general tips:

  1. Take the Tour.  For most college campuses, there are guided tours offered to those who are considering attending. When thinking of where you want to attend college, consider how the campus layout might affect you. Will it be easy for you to navigate it independently? This is a key factor to consider when you are thinking of attending college. Another thing to look at is how safe the campus is, and what type of violence has been reported. Talking with local police departments and other resources can help you with this determination. Do not solely rely on the college’s representative to be forthcoming with the true facts regarding safety, though they may also have some information. If you can, ask some of the current students about violence on campus. Ask if the school has adequate security and clearly written safety plans for every potential situation.

            Once you have decided where you want to go, you can get Orientation and Mobility Training through a certified O&M Specialist to help you build your confidence when it comes to traveling independently on campus. Also, be sure to ask about safety plan walk-throughs or drills. If these are not enough, ask for specialized training. This is an excellent opportunity for you to advocate for any special considerations or request you might have.

  • Buddy System.  This is something most of us in the U.S. learn at an incredibly young age and it is an extremely huge tip when we are out and about, especially on a college campus. Safety is in numbers! Potential aggressors are less likely to make their move when their target is either in a highly congested area or if they are traveling in a group. Multiple people make it harder to control the outcome. Therefore, if you can find a friend traveling to the same designation, that is awesome! And if not, most campuses offer companion services depending on where you live or what campus you attend and other types of services. A lot of college campuses have public safety teams that will walk students to their car or back to their dorm if it’s nighttime. It is typically a free service through either the security or student life departments.

            Don’t forget here at SEED we take a comprehensive approach to safety. This means not only physically but mentally as well. You can use the buddy system for mental health and safety as well. By “buddy system,” we are referring to finding a person you feel comfortable talking to and not your mom or dad/guardian. Find someone on the school property you can talk to. This can include, but is not limited to, an IEP case manager, teacher, counselor, accessibility office worker, a security officer, or even a fellow classmate. These people will have the resources and knowledge to know what to do if you find yourself feeling unsafe or insecure on school property or campus. Plus, for many, leaving home even for a short distance to a local campus, let alone a big campus across the country, can be scary. Advocating for yourself including expressing your feelings regarding your safety is important for both physical and mental health.

  • Learn your local resources.  Does your university havegroups you can get involved with that might focus on safety and security on campus that you can join? Also, do you know of a well-lit area where you can wait for your rides? Getting to know emergency procedures and phone numbers is never a bad idea no matter where you are. You might find local organizations within the community that might be able to help you find out about more resources. And hey, though we highly encourage you to take one of our SEED in-person classes with a trained instructor that knows how to teach our unique self-defense course specifically designed for people with disabilities, for one reason or another you might join a class on your campus and that is all right as well. Knowledge is power so get powerful and learn some new things!

Active Shooter Situations

            Another unfortunate but real-life scenario on school campuses is active shooters. Again, not pleasant to think about, but a reality in these days and times. The general rule of thumb in these situations is to run, hide, or fight. Of course, exceptional circumstances must be taken when you’re a person with a disability. Your SEED instructor can go into more in-depth on this topic during an advanced workshop or class, but we would be remised in our responsibilities if we did not address it in this SEED 101 course.   

            A person with a disability may or may not know to run, and we must understand where we are running to and why. You want to be sure to know where the exits are at all times. In fact, try to know where the exits are in any location you visit. Additionally, it is always good to find someone who you can latch onto for sighted guide purposes as you flee from the situation if you are a person with a visual disability. And if you are a person with a physical disability, having someone there to help clear obstacles for an accessible path out of the area is optimal. See, back to that whole buddy system!

            What if you can’t run or are not sure where to run to? Fair enough! Your option is then to hide. Find an area where you can put something between yourself and the shooter that can stop or slow a bullet. This could be anything however the denser the better. Put as much distance and as many obstacles between you and the shooter as possible. And get as small as you can. If you can lock yourself in a room, even better, but make sure to position yourself in a corner of the room that is not in direct line of the door. And remember, no matter what, stay as quiet as possible. Hopefully, you will have a cell phone or a way to call for help. Stay hidden until members of law enforcement identifies themselves and arrive to escort you to safety. You can always verify with the officer(s) they are who they say they are by asking to physically touch their badge.

            The very last option to you and the one you should only engage in if there are no other options is to fight. Our SEED Advanced Instructors and other well-trained professionals can teach you specific techniques for disarming someone with a gun. However, like we have said before, self-defense is not 100% and therefore you run the risk of someone getting hurt or worse. What else can you do in such a horrific situation? There is no good tip or technique if fighting the shooter is your last option. Again, strength is in numbers so keep that in mind as well.

Social Group Interactions

            So, we just got through talking about strength in numbers, so this topic might seem a little off. However, group interactions can be a struggle for anyone no matter if they have a disability or not. And we know the blind community specifically has serious concerns in this area so let us talk about them. Whether you are at a house with a group, going out to dinner with friends, or meeting a new group for the first time, we got you covered. 

Depending on where you are, it might be a new area for you. Have someone tell you the different areas you should know about and/or answer any questions about said area. Learn the exits, bathrooms, or any other areas you may feel are important for your independent navigation. In some cases, if you are going out drinking with friends, you might want to take a trip there first, so you know the area with a clear mind. You do not want to rely on someone who has impaired judgement.

What is the Company You Keep?

            Who is around you? We don’t mean physically. We are talking about what kind of people are around you. Who are you spending time with? Are they people you have known for a while and can trust? Are they people you just met, and you are not sure who they are yet? All these things are worth considering when it comes to your safety and security.

            Did you know that it has been said that you are the average of the five individuals you communicate with the most? That is right and if you think about, it is easy to see why. Those that we interact with on a regular basis typically have the most influence on us and therefore influence our decisions and behaviors. Now, why is this valuable information for you when it comes to safety? Simply put, it is because as much as some of us may not want to admit it, this is a true statement!

            If the five you hang around are making good life choices, chances are you are going to do the same. If the five individuals you are spending time with tend to make unsafe choices, you will often do the same thing. Some of us may have friends or family we have known for many years that tend to make choices that are unsafe, but we still hang around them. In these cases, you are making the choice willingly, knowing what type of person they are. We do this out of love, out of the sense of obligation, and unfortunately more times than not we spend time with these people to fit in, to be socially accepted. Again, as much as we would like to think we don’t fall into these stereotypes, we in fact do if we take a serious and honest look at ourselves!

            In situations when you are just getting to know someone, you may not be aware of their past choices. Fair enough! We here at STRIVE4YOU cannot encourage you enough to be social, network, and make friends. This is extremely healthy for mental and spiritual health. Over time you will get to know people and learn their go-to habits or choices, but please pay attention to their words and actions. These can have serious physical and mental consequences to your safety and security. We certainly understand that not only our own, but also other’s decisions can improve and that is what we strive for every day. However, humans are creatures of habit, and we often repeat history.

            Let us look at some examples of how others we spend time with can affect our mental safety. Imagine you have a friend who tends to talk negatively about everything and always needs you to be their support person. In this situation, there are two people making choices. One is the person being negative. It is their choice to talk that way. Second is the person making the choice to always support them in their time of need. If you are the one being supportive, how does that affect you? Do you tend to be negative yourself after interacting with this individual? Do you feel mentally or emotionally drained after interacting with them? Does this sorcerer of negativity return the favor by being supportive of you? Negativity always leads to some level of depression, which can lead to bad decisions, which contributes to poor mental health. It is not good, people! We will discuss more in-depth about mental health, its signs and effects on us and others, as well as resources in our Mental Safety module and workshops. But for now, we want you to understand how those we are around can catastrophically affect our mental safety!

            Okay, let’s look at some examples of how who we hang around with can directly or indirectly lead to physical safety concerns. If the people you are spending time with are into drugs and criminal behavior, even if you don’t engage in those behaviors, then they can jeopardize your physical safety. Let’s say you are walking around downtown with this friend and suddenly, a group of mean individuals approach you all angry at your friend because a drug deal went wrong or any number of other reasons. Your friend’s personal decision has now put you in danger inadvertently. You are now in a position where your life may very well be at risk.

            You might be one of those individuals who likes the night life. If you are, do you have a clear idea that things can become unsafe depending on the night and its activities? Do your friends have your back? Are they looking out for your safety?  In all these situations you more than likely know what choice you are making. But do you fully understand or have you even thought about the potential repercussions to your safety? The point of this whole section is just to make sure that you are aware of who and what is around you. No matter what your choices are in life, just make sure that the choice is one you’re making. You may make the choice to go and hang around the party crowd, just be fully aware that that choice can put you in potentially unsafe situations.

            The average of the five individuals you communicate the most do not determine the choices you will ultimately make but they do influence the choices we make in life. What type of products to buy? Places you may go? Places you may not go? All we can encourage you to do is to make the best choices that are best for you, your physical, mental, and emotional safety!

Go with Your Instincts

            We encourage you to develop your instincts about who you feel safe with and who you do not. We must first understand who we feel comfortable with and why as we also work to slowly expand our friend circle through networking, socializing, and just generally living life. It can be exceedingly difficult, especially for those of us with a disability, to balance truthful healthy relationships while maintaining our safety and personal boundaries. Sometimes our own personal identification is in direct conflict with social presumptions. That is why when something does not feel right, you must trust your instincts. If it does not feel right, turn to flight!

Throughout life we have developed instincts or honed our primal ones with which we were born. However, because of pressure from social norms and the fear of being rude, we sometimes ignore our instincts.  Most of the time, they are right, at least in principle. So many wrong things usually add up to the truth. What you should also pay attention to is the fact that even if you get the wrong instinct from misreading a situation, in practical terms you must honor that instinct at the time and should not feel animosity for trusting it. If we question or second guess our instincts, it might be too late. Our pride or indecisiveness could turn out to be fatal. Remember, it is better to be judged by twelve, than carried by six! This is a very widely-used concept among self-defense professionals and an extremely strong statement we must all remember when it comes to our safety.

What is Your Safe Word?

            Let us consider an idea for which we can thank the movie Meet the Parents: using a safe word. Remember when the main character’s wife used the word to get him to stop talking about certain topics? It is like that. You can have a safe word that you share with your friends so that they can know when you are not comfortable in a situation. Okay, okay, stop giggling! Yes, individuals can use safe words during consensual extra-curricular activities. However, that is not exactly what we are going for here! Establishing safe words between friends and family is a way to signal something is not right or you feel uncomfortable.

Imagine that you and your friends went out to the club or bar where you met up with some interesting new people. What if one of those people sat next to you and started making unwanted advances or the conversation made you feel uncomfortable. If you have established and communicated with your close friend one single word that when spoken means, Get me out of here fast!, you can use that in this situation. Imagine you are going on a date — dare we say blind date? A date with a stranger is already potentially unnerving and most certainly has its own safety concerns. A tactic that families are widely using these days is to have a check-in phone call/text from family or friends. You might not want to say something aloud in front of them that might seem rude or make the situation more uncomfortable or volatile. Yet again another fantastic opportunity for a safe word.

            So, what is a safe word and how should you choose one? A safe word is a single word or phrase, no more than a sentence long, that means I feel uncomfortable or I am in danger. When thinking of a safe word make your word something that you do not use normally during regular conversation or at least in your regular vocabulary. You would want a word that you might use in general conversation with someone. On the other hand, you want a word that sounds natural enough that it will not cause alarm or make the situation worse. Some safe words that our instructors have chosen are “pineapple,” “Beatle Juice,” or “diet.”

            We will go more into this concept in further modules or workshops but having a safe word can be especially useful to sound the bells that all is not right

Abductions to a Secondary Locations

            Warning, another unpleasant portion to the conversation! Many times our instructors are asked about a topic that can be very scary. That is: If I am told to get in a car/van or taken to a second location, do I comply or fight? This is an exceedingly difficult situation to be in and the truth is either answer has its own consequences and risks.

            Every year, 600,000 people go missing in the US. Though most are not kidnapped or abducted, there is a third of those that are never found, and police have no idea what has happened to them. What is known is that many people that are abducted are either sexually assaulted or killed shortly after they are abducted. A horrifying statistic!

            Your rate of successfully surviving abduction increases tremendously if you fight back. How do you realize if you’re being abducted? If you are being taken to a secondary location, the likelihood is that this new location has been preselected by the abductor. This means that they have premeditated intent. And that is never good! We strongly suggest that if you find yourself being taken to a second location and you perceive danger, fight like hell!

Any safety professional or member of law enforcement will always tell you to fight or to bring attention to your situation rather than being taken to a secondary location. However, there is another factor we must take into consideration, which are those annoying incidences. Remember, within the SEED curriculum we categorize interactions as Consensual, Incident, or a Violation.

As we have talked about, Incidents are when someone is trying to help us and do not understand that they are infringing on our space and making us feel uncomfortable. This is most common type of encounter we as people with disabilities have and are it can be difficult to tell the person’s intent. This is especially true if the person uses soft, kind words to disguise their ill intent. For example, if someone with a visual impairment is asking for assistance and is being led to what they think is their desired destination, only to discover that they have been led to a secluded place to be assaulted. This fits within the same conversation as above with making sure you are paying attention when in a ride share, as you could be being taken to a secluded spot in the middle of nowhere. So, there is a chance you could be tricked or have no idea what you are being led into. It happens! That’s why maintaining situational awareness is so important. This is the worst case scenario of course. However, it is certainly a possibility. And more importantly, it certainly is something we in fact know is a fear many of our students have expressed!

            We also recognize that you may not feel comfortable, or you feel the situation might be better if you comply with your abductor’s demands. And yes, there is a chance that if you comply, things will go better, but that is certainly a smaller exception to the rule. If you are abducted in a public place, the well-used strategy is to try and make eye contact or silent signals as to the fact that you are indeed in distress. Not so easy for those that are blind or visually impaired. If you are not able to do this, you should look for opportunities to send SOS messages to inform someone that you’re in danger and being abducted. If you can relay any info regarding previous locations and any info of where you might be going that will help as well. Focus on the landscape, road terrain, sounds, smells or anything that can help someone locate you. And activate any trackable GPS apps or devices to help in these efforts.

            Repeatedly, the unfortunate, undeniable truth is that once abducted, your chances of being sexually assaulted or killed increases. You are more than likely going to get hurt or worse if you stand your ground and fight, but the hopes are that someone sees your struggle and intervenes on your behalf to assist. This will instantly change the dynamics of the situation. Just like we tell are children to kick, scream, bite, and fight. This brings attention to the situation as well, giving you a better chance of getting away. Crappy odds with an unimaginable alternative!

Weapons & Personal Safety

            Oh yes! It is about time we got to this exciting topic of personal safety, right? Well to be honest, we left this conversation close to last in this module for a reason. Typically, when someone thinks about safety education, personal safety, and defending oneself, two things come to mind straight away: self-defense and weapons. People think about pepper spray, tasers, guns, knives, and other devices. Throughout the Safety & Security field, different instructors have mixed philosophies regarding the use of weapons. In fact, certain martial arts styles are designed around both using and not using weapons.

            So where do SEED instructors fall regarding their philosophy? Well, we are not much different than the rest! Within the SEED program, we have instructors that believe in weapons and will teach a student how to effectively use them. And then we have instructors that believe strongly that weapons add an extra level of danger and therefore they will not teach the use of them. We here at SEED respect both perspectives!

The SEED Official Policy About Weapons

            We do NOT recommend using weapons, the only exception being with continuous training from a trained and preferably certified instructor.

            Weapons are useful tools that can easily deter or resolve a negative situation quickly. The best result occurs if the person using the weapon is skilled at doing so. These skills are best developed through extensive practice and training, at least one a month, with a well-qualified instructor.

            We recognize that at a certain point in an individual’s training they may want to explore weapon usage. We will only teach a limited amount on this topic, but this training will ONLY be offered in advanced classes after you have a good grasp of the fundamentals!

            Typically, when someone thinks about safety education, personal safety, and defending oneself, two things come to mind straight away: physical self-defense and weapons. Some people think about pepper spray, tasers, guns, knives, and other devices. Throughout the safety and security field different instructors have mixed philosophies regarding the use of weapons. In fact, certain martial arts styles and systems are designed around empty hand techniques, weapons or use of both.

            Amongst SEED program members we have different philosophies on the topic of weapons usage and teaching students to use them. We must realize that using weapons can be dangerous to the user as well as the alleged attacker.

            Firearms use, even if you have prior training, can be dangerous regardless before or after your disability. Continuous weapon training is a must particularly for firearm use after a disability diagnosis.  You will have to re-learn skills you had prior to your condition. We would like to believe we can do the same things we could before but that’s not always the reality.

            A positive mindset is key in both the decision to carry and use a weapon.  Things to keep in mind when considering carrying or using a weapon, include:

1.      What is your current mindset when it comes to weapons? If you grew up in a household where weapons were present or they were talked about, and you were shown how to use them properly, you more than likely have a good understanding about how weapons work. If you are someone who grew up in a household where there were no weapons and they were not talked about, you are more than likely not comfortable with them around you.

2.      What is your comfort level with weapons? If you are not comfortable with weapons but really want to learn then take your time. Baby step it. If you are not comfortable at all, that is all right as well. It is not a requirement for your self-defense training.

3.      Could you use the weapon you have trained with to defend yourself?  We use the word train because we cannot recommend weapons training enough for people. The reality is someone may have trained to use a weapon but when the moment comes do you think you could pull the trigger or stab someone with a knife? Have you trained enough with it to maintain control of the weapon? All questions to ask yourself in this area.

            If you got to the second part of the above and were saying, No way! Again, that is fine. Not everyone is comfortable using weapons. In fact, we have trained with people that have simply said they do not want to hurt anyone. This response may change if the outcome is more than they expected or their life is being threatened, but we get the feeling. For most, it is a personal decision. One consideration is that if you bring a weapon to a fight, you better be prepared to have it used against you! Part of training with a weapon includes maintaining control of that weapon. But what happens if you cannot? Your own device for safety turned on you. Are you prepared for that?

            Any time a weapon is introduced into a confrontation, the reality is that the chance that someone is going to get seriously hurt skyrockets. If you are already against using weapons or if you have decided using weapons is not for you, we still recommend self-defense training at the minimum.

            If you’re still one of those individuals who says that weapons are fine, and you understand the circumstances and responsibilities that come along with them then who are we to stop you! It is our 2nd Amendment Rights after all! However, we cannot recommend enough how training and practice is essential if this is your avenue. There are other types of weapons, instruments or devices that can be used for personal safety and self-defense. 

Pepper Spray and Tasers

            Please do not be the person who carries pepper spray but has never used it once. You will more than likely spray yourself in the face when a situation calls for you to use it. Keep this in mind when using pepper spray or a taser. Whatever situation has arisen that makes you feel this is necessary is more than likely a very stressful and chaotic environment to say the least. You must have the concentration and a calm mind to ensure that you aim the device the correct way to avoid getting yourself. Is there enough distance (6-10 ft) between you and the aggressor to not adversely affect you? If the wind blows your way or if you’re too close you might get some of the pepper spray in your own eyes. And take our word for it — that hurts!

            Sometimes you will hear the terms Mace and pepper spray used interchangeably. Mace is a brand name. There are different types of pepper spray or OC (Oleoresin capsicum) aerosol on the market these days. Pepper spray is commonly made from oils from chili peppers.

            Your commonly used sprays create a mist or fog and work instantly upon contact. If there is a wind blowing it will most likely blow back on you, the user. These types of sprays are best used outdoors.

            Then, we have the OC stream. The OC stream is similar to pepper spray but best used when sprayed directly in the face of the attacker. It is not known to produce clouds and is less likely to blow back on the user. OC stream is best when used outdoors or large indoor areas.

            Lastly, we have gel OC. You can use it indoors. It does create a cloud or a mist and expels droplets on the attacker. Gel OC takes a moment to activate.


Tasers & Stun Guns


            TASERs and Stun guns are devices that admit non-lethal, low-voltage charges to a person’s body. They give off an electroshock that may incapacitate an individual. But there is a difference between the two.  TASER (Tom A. Swift Electric Rifle) is the trademarked non-lethal device mainly used by law enforcement officers. TASERS shoot out small projectile barbs that attach to skin or clothing. Usually there is a thin wire attached to the probes connecting it to the battery of the handheld component.

            A stun gun requires the user to be close to an attacker and works best when attacking soft tissue such as testicles, throat, or the muscles on the arms and legs. The element of surprise is the best strategy when using this device.

Bladed Weapons


            The common tool worldwide for everyday and personal defense would have to be a knife or some bladed device. I say device because not all bladed instruments are meant for a violent resolve. There are various types of bladed instruments and many have different sizes from 3-10 inches. Legal length for carrying depends on the state and local laws.

            Your standard, solid blade with a handle is a fixed blade knife. Push knife/dagger is an arrowhead shaped double-edge fixed blade tool with a T-shaped handle. It allows you to place your fingers between your fingers. A folding knife is your standard pocketknife that folds into itself.

            Automatic knives or switchblades will extend a blade vertically assisted by a switch or spring. As with any weapon or device, you need a realistic strategy for when and how to use it. Continuous training with any sought-after weapon or device is paramount.

            We also recognize that individuals who served in our United States military and former law enforcement officers have significant training in weapons. There are many that have had hand-to-hand combat or close-quarter-combat training. We have heard repeatedly from veterans that they do not need our training because of their backgrounds. Fair enough!  But you still need to be aware of local laws regarding weapons use. Secondly, we are not going to stop you doing what helps you feel safe and secure.

However, we do strongly advise that if you have had a diagnosis of a disability since your service, you should seek additional training to develop new skills. Consider whether you are mentally healthy to be carrying a weapon. This goes for absolutely everyone! You may need to seek medical help if needed for PTSD, triggers, and depression. We care deeply for you and that is why all STRIVE4You’s programs take a holistic approach to everything we do!

Using Our Tools for Weapons

      We get asked a lot, and we mean a lot, about using tools such as white canes for the visually impaired and other medical devices for other disabilities as a weapon. Let’s look first at those with visual disabilities using their white canes as a weapon. Here at STRIVE we join in with our fellow professionals in the O& M field in saying NO! We mean a hard NO! Think about this, if you break your mobility device trying to defend off an attacker, how do you expect to get yourself to safety afterwards?

     Regarding other medical devices such as a cane, walker, or wheelchair. These too are tools that if damaged in an encounter with an attacker could leave us unable to remove ourselves from the situation. Another factor to look at here is what if we are wrong, or quick to judge, not taking time to Recognize, Analyze, and then Respond and we end up harming someone trying to help. No matter the disability, if we all start using our tools to start hitting people, do you think that we will be able to continue using them in strict security places like the airport or carrying them on an airplane? Plus, we already feel targeted or judged by negative stereotypes just for using these essential devices. We would not be helping our cause any better. We need to protect and preserve these devices so that we can safely remove ourselves from the area once we have defended ourselves during a violent situation.

Now, understand that we totally get the sentiment in the thought to use a handy tool as a weapon. If attacked, certainly you want to use every available resource to fight and scrape yourself out of a horrific situation, especially those that you feel are life threatening. It is only natural! However, in self-defense we must think somewhat rationally and always try to prepare for the next stage in the process of self-defense, which is getting to a safe place where we can feel safer and get help. All we want you to think of is how you are going to get to that safe place given your disability.

            We get it better than anyone how scary or at least unnerving it can be to leave the security and comfort of your home to go out into a world that is full of negative stereotypes and sometimes downright unexplained evil. What we must do is realize that staying at home all the time is unhealthy physically, mentally, and spiritually. What you must keep in your mind is that there is an entire world out there waiting for you to explore and experience. Not everyone thankfully wants to intentionally hurt you and you should never let someone’s ignorance about people with disabilities deter you from living your life to its fullest.

Be initiative-taking in your safety, learn and arm yourself with knowledge, gain confidence to face those uncomfortable situations, and take charge of your life! If you stay at home, you will miss a whole lot. However, if you stand firm in your resolve to face your fears, step out of your comfort zone, and show the world what you’re made of, you can be a part of a growing movement of people fighting and educating the world, simply by living a vibrant life. Everyone deserves to be treated with respect and have equality!