Monday, December 10, 2018

How and When Should I Step In To Help a Disabled Person?

One of the things that has always intrigued me about abled people* is their absolute, unwavering awkwardness when encountering PWD. I mean, I code as abled particularly in social situations, and like the literal second a random person I'd been talking to learns I'm disabled it just. Gets. Awkward. It's not like I intentionally hide the fact either. I literally wear it on my sleeve occasionally with one of fashionable tops I've acquired to support disabled artists.

Perhaps you're wondering what this has to do with the title of this post. I say this not to shame but to share this reality. If this is you-- hey, you're not alone!

I feel the need to preface this post as such because: no matter whether, when, or how you step in to assist a person with a disability, the interaction should be about what they need and not how you feel about it. I understand that there is some warm-fuzzies you get from helping people at all. But as we've talked about before, the abled narrative can make these types of interactions with disabled people much more feelings-based than others. You might say or do the wrong thing along the way. That can be annoying but don't let that keep you from helping. Remember, also, that everyone needs help at one time or another; and since disabled people are human beings just like abled people are, we sometimes need help. That's it.  As you follow through the considerations below, prioritizing the actions and not the feelings around the action can help you get out of your head with the whole thing.

When it comes to helping people with disabilities you see appear to be struggling, three competing narratives are at play:
1. This Person is Working to Overcome their Disability and I Mustn't Interrupt Their Journey!
2. I am Uncomfortable Watching this Person Live their Life and Need to Intercede!
3. If I Help This Person, What If They Find it Offensive?

One glaring problem in these competing narratives is there is only one of three that actually involves helping someone, and it's putting your feelings first and placing judgment on a another human being.

If you've been following these posts I hope you see that #1 is a lie. No random disabled person you encounter ever had an epiphany because you watched them from afar for 20 minutes and then maybe clapped**. Sorry to disappoint.

As for PWD finding help offensive: first, it depends, so read on. Second, if it is, you are probably the 20th person to similarly offend them and are probably the least of their concerns. We want to get on with our lives just like you.

The title of this post is a question I get a lot. If you'll indulge me, I'm going to go into two types of interactions I've had recently, that actually happened within seconds of each other. Guess which one I was more put-off by, as a disabled person: