Although disabled people are visible in every area of society, most people are uncertain of how to treat them. Afraid of acting inappropriately or looking foolish, they choose to ignore them, even if they are in obvious need of assistance. As I thought about this, a number of personal experiences came to mind. I'd like to share these with you, along with some simple guidelines of what to do, and what not to do.
People with disabilities, generally like to do as much as possible for themselves. If someone comes along and takes over something they are capable of doing, this can be insulting and steals a measure of their independence. I think of a lady I know, who is in a wheelchair. She was struggling to take her cardigan off and my husband leaned over to help her. She chased him away, saying she could do it herself. If a person is capable of doing something, even if it is more slowly or imperfectly than we are accustomed to, we shouldn't interfere.
When Appropriate, Ask before Assisting
In a similar vein, if you don't know the person and they seem to be having difficulty, ask before helping. This should be standard practice unless the person is in danger or there is an obvious problem. Over Christmas, I was walking through a mall with my husband, when we saw a mother battling with her teenage son. He had obvious mental and physical disabilities and had fallen over. Not realizing his mother was struggling to pull him up, he was pushing against her and trying to get himself up. My husband took it all in with a single glance and walked straight over and picked him off the floor, making sure his feet were on the ground, and his balance stable. It was a simple gesture but one his mother appreciated.
Make a Choice to Include the Disabled
I was on a bus last year, and saw a blind man waiting at the edge of a busy street. He had a white cane and a sign round his neck. As the bus stopped at traffic lights, I leaned across to see what it said. It listed his destination and also informed that he was deaf as well as blind. It requested that he be helped across the road and pointed in the right direction. I was amazed to see he had a clear space around him. No one wanted to do a simple thing like holding his arm and escorting him across a busy street.
Don't Take Offense
If we make a choice to interact with disabled people, we are bound to make mistakes and may get a tongue lashing as a result. Don't be offended. The best thing to do is offer a sincere apology, ask how we could have done better, and move on. Use it as a growing experience and extend grace to the one who insulted you.
Don't Let Mistakes Put You Off
I read a book a while ago, about a man who had an accident that left him a paraplegic. While his friends were getting used to him being in a wheelchair, one of them inadvertently tipped him out of it. The man was not upset, and in fact, had the ability to get himself back into the chair. His friend, however, was mortified and made a huge thing of it, avoiding him for weeks afterward. A sad and unnecessary response to a simple mistake.
Focus on Friendship not Disability
This is important as disabled people need love and acceptance just like anyone else. Assistance given on a regular basis should be an outflow of relationship and concern for them as a person. No one wants help from someone who pities them or considers them unequal. Find a point of common interest and develop a friendship from there.
Areas where Disabled People may need Assistance
In years gone by, disabled people were often excluded from daily life. Nowadays, the emphasis is more on integration and inclusion. Having said that, there are still many areas where the disabled may need assistance as facilities are not disabled-friendly. Look out for places like buildings without wheelchair access, stairways, ATM machines, roads and public transport.
Helping disabled people is simple but challenging, stretching but rewarding. As you go about your daily routines this week, look for opportunities to help others - not just the disabled, but anyone who has a need.
The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine you did for me." (Matthew 25:40 NIV)