One of the most difficult aspects of interacting with people with disabilities is when, exactly, to help them. I know this isn’t an easy task. If you ignore them, sometimes we get annoyed beyond measure, “oh no! Don’t fuckin’ help! That would make too much sense!”. Or, we see it as an extreme form of patronaizing, which tends to us becoming hostile towards those who are trying to help. In the end, it doesn’t seem like there’s a clear answer on how able-bodied people are suppose to offer help, or if they should at all.
Let’s get the obvious out of the way. Able-bodied people, from no fault of their own, have an annoying habit of assuming that the disabled are completely helpless in everything they do. This leads to numerous situations where an able-bodied person would offer help to a disabled person when help clearly is not needed. The most common example I can think of is helping a blind person cross the street. Look, if a blind person is holding his/her cane or with his/her service dog and is at a crosswalk, then you must assume that that disabled person is fully confident in crossing a street despite the minor setback of not being able to see. That person would not be out trying to cross a street unless they were fully trained in doing so.
At the same time, there are instences where help would be desired, but this is often hard to spot. Often times, disabled people would refuse help even if they need it, which only results in further annoyance. There’s two ways to handle the question of “should I help or leave them alone?”. And both parties, the disabled and able-bodied person can play a role in them.
First, if you are disabled and actually need help, just ask someone. More times than not, an able-bodied person would be more than willing to help, unless they’re a complete asshole, which you will encounter form time-to-time. As for the able-bodied person helping the disabled, don’t go crazy with the help and say something stupid like “you’re very brave,” or any of that nonsense. Just play it cool and help when asked. It’s really that simple.
As for the able-bodied population, I would handle the situation like this. Would you help that person if he/she wasn’t disabled? Or, simply because that person is disabled do you feel the need to automatically go out of your way where in a “normal” situation you wouldn’t. I realize this will require a moment of active thinking on the part of the able-bodied person. However, since society is hardly equipt to accommodate those with disabilities to begin with, able-bodied people won’t have ot encerter us that often.
Finally, if you happen to help a disabled person and he becomes hostile wity you, try and see things through their perspective. No, I’m not advocating that disabled people should constantly be billigerant towards able-bodied people helping them. However, it’s more important to understand why that disabled person might be hostile to begin with instead of lazily tossing that person aside as just being an asshole.
I earned my M.A in English Lit from Gardner-Webb University in 2019. My writing mainly focuses on disability positivity. I enjoy sci-fi, fantasy and classic rock. Oh, and I’m also a part time phone sex operator. So, that’s a thing.