One day I was attending a class on the Psalms, and I was running late. So I screeched into the parking lot, slammed on my brakes, turned off the engine, jumped out, and started running toward the door to the building where my class was about to begin.
But . . . .approaching the same door at the same time, was a man using a walker who was moving very slowly. I thought, “Oh no, I am going to be late!” I pasted on a smile, and rushed ahead of him, saying, “Oh I will get the door for you.” He smiled pleasantly and said, “No young lady (I thought that was nice and generous), I will get the door for you!” That stopped me in my tracks, and I felt five inches tall because I had assumed that this man with a disability needed my help.
Not only did he not need my help, but he did not want it.
As this excellent reference book on Disability Etiquette from The United Spinal Organization reminds us, “Just because someone has a disability, don’t assume she needs help. Adults with disabilities want to be treated as independent people.” Stepping in to help if it hasn’t been requested diminishes someone’s dignity, so always be sure to ask before offering help to someone.
Here is a helpful cartoon from the Disability Etiquette book that helps me remember this important point:
That is something I will remember the next time I see someone with an assistive device: They are probably doing just fine without me.