Friday, December 31, 2010

The "rules" according to Beth

The most common question I get when doing any training on disability awareness is how/when/where it's appropriate to ask someone if they would like help. I actually don't think I've done a training where this hasn't been asked. Friends ask me too. So, apparently everyone is unsure. And people with disabilities, or at least me, are not good about asking for help because then we're afraid we'd be perceived as weak (see a previous post on this).

The hard part is that there is no "right" answer because everyone is different. But here's what I think.

Anyone can always ask me if I would like help, just like anyone can ask anyone else if they would like help for whatever reason. My mom and I have frequently discussed HOW to ask. I think if a person says, "Would you like any help?" then that's fine. And after that is when things get tricky.

If the person says "no," then generally they want to continue and not be asked, "are you sure?" and other follow-up questions. For me, that's because, if I'm putting my wheelchair together and say "no thank you," then additional questions are throwing off my routine and creating frustration.

I think I understand why people ask follow-up "are you sure?" questions. My mom was born and raised in Minnesota. If you go to her house for dinner and she asks you if you would like seconds, "no" just doesn't do it. The thing to do is for her to ask "are you sure?" and then if you say "no" she may give you alternatives, or tell you what's for dessert! So follow-ups to "no" are common for many things, but it doesn't work, generally, in the world of people assembling wheelchairs and doing other adaptive things.

Then if someone does say "yes" to helping, it gets tricky again. People want to help (my mom will bring you all the food you want!). But the person who wants help generally knows what that help is. So, they want help, but if possible, let them direct you. My wheelchair has to go in my car so that I can get it out again. If people grab things without asking, well, first I could be leaning on the part, lose my balance, and hit the ground. But if a person lets me tell them what to do, things will go better. It does sound selfish, but disability is tricky - well-intentioned help can go wrong and no one wants that.

Today I went to Target. A woman was next to me in the store and said "you should try one of those power cart things." She somewhat laughed, but it was that "I'm really uncomfortable and don't know what to say" laugh. That has nothing to do with helping, but fast forward to when I was leaving. The parking lot was snowy - slip and slide. As I was getting my trunk open, 2 guys asked me if they could help. I've decided that's ok in snow and ice - I give up being stubborn and my shoulder thanks me because in the snow, I'd be using it more to help with balance. I said, "sure." And it was perfect. They just stood there, and I said "Could you..." and it was somewhat of a team effort. It was awesome.

I said everyone is different. A friend of mine wants people to wait a bit to see if she is struggling before asking her if she needs help. Another friend says only offer to help if you feel comfortable asking. I say the follow-up "are you sure?" questions are really hard. So I can give my opinion, but like everything else, we are all different.

Today, I wasn't even up yet, so I wasn't struggling, but I knew I would. I used to hesitate accepting help more before I yanked my shoulder, so I have learned, and there are still times I should accept help when I don't.

I struggle with ending this post because so much could be said about the woman in the store and other things that aren't quite related. So I will end it here, with the example of what happened today, where 2 people asked nicely if I needed help and it all worked. And then we all wished each other a happy new year. Ask all you want (once per "activity"). You don't know when someone will say no or yes, but respect it. If someone snaps "NO!" there may be a reason. But please keep asking. I wish I were the one who could ask. But since I'm not, thank you to all the people who ask, anytime you ask, whether I say yes or no. And thanks to those who help.

And with all that said, as the 2 guys said, happy new year. Let's all help each other however we can.


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