“I never know when to [offer to] help disabled people”

Gem Smiling holding a cup of tea

Put ya seatbelts on, because it’s the biggy. The one I always get asked in my talks and workshops *promo alert – I do this kind of thing in real life too if you’d like a session, here is more info*. I hear things like “I never want to be rude” or “I ask everyone if they want help, disabled or not!”. So I thought I’d give a few pointers, because on one hand I know people will be thinking, help is nice isn’t it? It’s being kind, don’t be so moody! Well, sometimes that’s not always the case, and here’s why… 

Being disabled doesn’t automatically mean you need help 

The narrative around disability is still so complex. We are seen a lot of the time as dependent on others and not really able to do much in life or extraordinary and BREAKING BARRIERS EVERYWHERE, But here’s the thing, if you pass a disabled person just getting on with their day, they have probably planned their day to a tea and how they’re going to do what they need to. So don’t assume we don’t know what we’re doing and need help, because we have to have a plan A, B, C, D and Z. 

Always offer the assistance before assuming to step in 

A lot of people think it’s just a “nice” thing to do to help someone in their day and feel good. But here’s the thing, sometimes it can overstep the mark and be completely the opposite. Once I was on a train, I was relaxed, assistance went well and all was good with the world. I sat back and started to take my cardigan off. Out of nowhere a man passed me and started taking my cardigan and putting it back on my shoulder (!?). I was so shocked all I could do was say “I’m ok thank you”. But after, I was thinking, why did I say thank you!? Having your personal space invaded is never ok, no matter what your intentions are. And I was trying to take it off!

Dr Amy Kavanagh (BlondeHistorian on Twitter) created a powerful hashtag named #JustAskDontGrab when sharing her experiences of travelling as a visually impaired woman. Seriously, if you’re on twitter, go follow her – you won’t believe some of the things people do on a daily basis. This hashtag also shares the serious side to unwanted touching covered by “good intentions”. Bronwyn Berg decided to take matters into her own hands and decided to put spikes on her chair handles as she was so fed up of people moving her wheelchair without asking. All these real life stories show that we really do have to think before we act. It’s not just a matter of doing “a good thing”. 

Know someone who doesn’t mind? Still check 

A lot of people will say “ooh come ‘ere I’ll do that, I do this for my Grandma who’s in a wheelchair too!”. Disability is such a huge umbrella of needs and preferences that it’s important to always check. 

What looks like “struggling” to you may be normal to us

Here’s the biggy. Disabled people may not do everything in quick swift movements. We may take our time. In fact if I’m reaching something it’s almost like I’m in slow motion. I can feel eyes behind me watch like I’m about to score a winning goal. Suddenly out of no where someone RUNS in and grabs it for me and “saves the day” I smile and say thank you, when really I’m thinking, I nearly had that! Sometimes, it’s about independence and doing it yourself, rather than the speed you do it in. So, no matter how much ya toes are curling and you feel uncomfortable. Let me grab mi own bag of crisps and score my own goal.  

Don’t watch from a distance 

Following on from that, being visibly disabled means, we are watched – a lot. People want to watch us until we finish the task to “make sure we are ok”. But imagine, everyone in the room doing that at once. It can be intimidating and sometimes I find myself giving in and asking for help because the watching can be overwhelming. 

Sometimes, help is greatly appreciated 

After all of this I can hear you say, “when can we help then!?”. The point is, common sense is key. Sometimes someone assisting can be so appreciated if you’re in a bit of a sticky situation. For example, sometimes I drop my grabber that picks things up, but what if I drop that? Yep totally stuck…

So I’ll end with this. If you’re not quite sure if someone needs help, of course ask, but why are you offering? Is it because they’ve dropped something, you’re being polite and opening a door or are you doing it just for the sake of it? My favourite kind of person I pass when I’m out and about is the person who says “let me know if you need any help” and carries on with their day. I know where to go if I need them – but I’m probably going to try and score that goal myself first. 

Gem x

If you enjoyed this, you may also like…

Empowering Disabled People To Be More Independent

Do’s and Don’ts when talking About Disability

To Lean or Not to Lean?

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