Each handicap is like a hurdle in a steeplechase, and when you ride up to it, if you throw your heart over, the horse will go along, too. ~~Lawrence Bixby

Monday, September 28, 2015

“Do you need help?” vs “Let me help you.”

I had an experience last week that left me frustrated and a little angry. I was downtown unloading my scooter from the car (it has a power lift which makes it relatively easy); it got a bit hung up on the tailgate, but nothing I couldn’t manage. Suddenly a woman burst on the scene and declared her intention to help me. I didn’t need help, I just needed to readjust the scooter position a little, but she was insistent, even though I told her a couple of times that I didn’t need help. She proceeded to grab the scooter and pull on it, nearly yanking the basket off the front. I was so shocked that I don’t remember what I said, but it was something loud and firm like, “I’ve got this!” – she finally got the message and walked off in a huff. I don’t remember if I thanked her for her awkward attempt; I think I was a little too appalled.

I know her intentions were good, but why couldn’t she hear that I had it under control? Was it so hard for her to believe that someone with a disability could manage on her own? Or was she just determined to show that she was a good Samaritan?

Here’s how it leaves me feeling when something like this happens:
  •   unheard
  •   unseen
  •   frustrated
  •   disrespected
  •   that people think I'm incompetent

Perhaps it’s an overreaction, but there are so many things I’m now unable to do that when I am tackling something I can handle on my own, I want to be trusted to do it.

At the very least, I want to be asked and listened to.

I am frequently amazed at the number of times people help – opening doors, getting something off a shelf in the store – and I am exceedingly grateful. But the difference between “Do you need help?” and “Let me help you” is huge. The latter is, I believe, about them and shows no regard for the person they’re attempting to help. The former is respectful and indicates an awareness that the disabled person may be perfectly capable of doing the task on their own. Semantics? Perhaps, but important distinctions.

My encounter with the pushy woman last week could have been a teachable moment for her, but frankly when I’m trying to get somewhere, I have other things on my mind besides educating others on what’s appropriate behavior. Hopefully, she’ll think about it and do it differently next time. 


Soto said...

Thank you for sharing this, Terri. I needed to hear it and promise to do better in the future. I think you are right that she probably only meant to show she cared. At the same time, it was more about her than you. I hope your directness was a wake up call to her like this post has been for me.

Nancy said...

It can be dangerous, too, as when I was asked to assist a wheelchair user in a gravel parking lot years ago. I knew not how to navigate downhill and we both nearly bit the rock, but came through safely. Maybe safety is a specific theme somebody else will hear and stay the heck out of your way.

Tiffin said...

In all likelihood the woman only wanted to help but when folks barge ahead like that, saying "Let me help you", they aren't only giving an order rather than asking if you need help, they are seeing the disability and not the person. It's a delicacy of perception, isn't it? Respect is key.

P.S. the google sign in thing asked me to prove that I'm not a robot by selecting all images with pies. The photos are very small for someone with bad eyesight. I had to guess!