Personal Safety with Michael Pereira

Michael Pereira (centre) with students from the Living Safe Program practicing moves

To maintain your independence, if you live with low vision, it’s important to prepare yourself to handle whatever may come your way. Michael Pereira, our Community Activity Centre Coordinator, knows that confidence and planning can go a long way to avoiding potentially dangerous situations.

For over 10 years, Michael has run the Living Safe Program (formerly, Safe Without Sight) and has taught protective behaviours for people living with vision impairment.

Michael has extensive knowledge about personal safety and is himself, a lifelong practitioner of martial arts ranging from karate to Brazilian jujutsu. Before coming to work at VisAbility 14 years ago, Michael volunteered with the Sri Lankan Military and assisted servicemen injured by shrapnel wounds return to their physical capacity.

For people living with low or no vision, it can seem daunting to know what to do when you are approached on the street or in a venue, by a threatening individual. Michael has heard this often over the course of his career.

“Over the last 10 years, roughly 60% of Living Safe program participants have said they’ve been in threatening situations”.

However, Michael insists that many feel much more confident after attending the Living Safe Program and remembering three basic steps to ensuring their personal safety.

  1. “Plan ahead and be organized”. It’s important that you know the route you will be travelling. Michael says, “It’s much better to appear purposeful and that you look like you know where you are going, than to look like a lost lamb in the woods.” Planning can be as simply as your choice of practical bags or footwear.
  2. “Use your senses and be aware”. Michael encourages people to use a variety of their senses. For example, if you are vision impaired, you can rely on your hearing or sense of smell (to detect alcohol on the breath of your attacker), or use your ‘sixth sense’. “We are often taught to ignore this sixth sense (or bad feeling), but I teach people to not. If it means walking the long way around, or taking an extra two minutes out of your day, do it.”
  3. “Get some background knowledge”. Attending the Living Safe Program can teach you the introductory skills to know how to defend yourself. It can give you tools to feel confident and not so vulnerable. “Not that I encourage you to pick fights” Michael laughs, “but you should have strategies at the ready.”

While tactile, ground martial arts can equip you with skills to defend yourself if the situation arises, Michael genuinely believes that situation avoidance is key.

“To me, self-defence is a plan. Chinese philosopher Sun Tzu once said, ‘the supreme art of war is to subdue your enemy without fighting’ and I can’t stress this enough. I teach people to avoid conflict, to have strategies. The physical side is the last resort. It might sting a bit to hand over $2, but what’s that over your safety”.

Michael encourages people of all ages and abilities to have a go at self-defence and take steps to equip themselves with a variety of personal safety knowledge. “My courses are for everyone. I can show you at least 3 different ways to defend yourself with a white cane. If you are older person, you could even use a walker frame to defend yourself.”

This extract has been taken from Michael’s interview with VisAbility Radio (link opens in new window) Host Kenneth Phua on the Just Why It Matters podcast.

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