One of the questions I often get asked is how can someone offer a person with a disability help without having them get angry. It reminds me of a joke that I used to do in my comedy routine that there is good help and then there is overkill. As an example, I once went out with a friend of mine who happens to have cerebal palsy. We went out for coffee and my friend bought a cookie. He asked me to open the cookie package for him, which I did and I placed the package in front of him. That would be good help. Had I started breaking the cookie in little pieces and started feeding it to him going here comes the choo choo train…that would be overkill.
Now I think that if you see someone with a disability struggling with something, it is ok to offer help. (I would go as far as to suggest that common courtesy would dictate that if you see anyone struggling with something, whether they have a disability or not, it would be a courteous gesture to offer help…but I digress. ) That being said, if the person with a disability says that’s ok they got that, accept it and don’t persist, as insisting on helping can frustrate the person with a disability, who may want to do it themselves and be independent, or have worked out a way to do things that work for them.
Assuming that the person with a disability has accepted help, the next point would be to ask them how you can help, as the person with a disability likely knows what they need and the best way to do things. The one that always cracks me up is when I go to bars that are not accessible. Since I am fortunate in that I am able to get out of my wheelchair, I often will leave the wheelchair outside and walk in. Inevitably, there is the bouncer who wants to try and be helpful and insist on bringing the wheelchair in. The conversation usually goes:
Bouncer: Do you want us to bring the wheelchair in?
Me: No it is ok.
Bouncer: You sure…we can lift it.
Me: No well it is really heavy.
Bouncer: It’s ok…I am strong.
Me: It weighs like 250 lbs.
Bouncer: Don’t worry I can lift it. Holy (@&#%(&( that is heavy.
Moral of story…if someone says the wheelchair is heavy…listen. 🙂
The final piece of advice is actually for the person with a disability, because the question that was asked was how to offer help without having the person get angry. I think as someone with a disability, we need to also be open to accepting help. Sometimes, we may get snappy or angry because people are asking something that we feel is obvious. As an example, a woman I know once got upset because there was a chair blocking her way and someone asked if they should move it for her. She felt not only that it was obvious that she needed them to move it, it should have been moved already. I would suggest that as people with disabilities, we need to meet people part way and recognize that they are not sure how to help. If we are courteous in saying no thank you to help, or guiding them how they can best help, it makes them more open to talking and interacting with people with disabilities. If we get angry, it further adds to the stigma and fear that people have not to say the wrong thing, so they don’t bother talking to us at all, further isolating us.