Thursday, July 31, 2008

Why are some disabled people so mean?

In the regular email announcement I get from
an interesting topic for discussion and perspective taking was the lead, featured article.

In her blog post,
Discusses the subject, “Why are some disabled people so mean?”

Don’t get the wrong idea. This was not a topic Vicki chose at random. This was something she found on
Yahoo Answers
While browsing through questions. Actually, I think Vicki was surprised that there Was a question posted that actually had the title
Why are some disabled people so mean?

The original question on Yahoo Answers read:

today I saw this older disable woman having a really hard time opening a door so I went over and opened the door for her. She gave me a dirty look and didn't even thank me. Once inside the store she started holding her purse like I was going to steal it.

This isn't the only disabled people who's been mean towards me. So I made a promise to myself today not to help another disabled person.

I’m not trying to steal Vicki’s idea here. I think there is room for much discussion on this subject. That’s why I’m writing this.

There are mean people in any segment of the population, no matter which segments one might compare. You can break it down by gender, race, culture, or whatever, and there will be mean people in any given segment. Sure, there are mean disabled people, but there are a lot of nice ones as well. Perhaps the nice ones don’t leave as strong of a lasting impression.

I’m sorry that this poster had a bad experience with that one woman, but perhaps he needs to see how he came across. I’m not a hater of people helping me out, but I’m not necessarily helpless just because I’m blind either. I also believe that people want to help, but don’t always know how to offer their assistance. Some fumble the ball and force their unsolicited help on the disabled person.

To give a prime example from real life, On more than one occasion, I’ve been at a street crossing, waiting for a light to change so I could cross safely and had somebody actually take my arm to lead me across. They didn’t ever ask, but just grabbed my arm and said, “Here, let me help you,” and tried to pull me along like a human tow truck. Perhaps these people didn’t notice my ability to get to that corner on my own, through other intersections safely and independenly with my guide dog. I tried to be polite in those situations when I pulled my arm back and said, “No thank you, I’m fine.”

And, polite society seems to indicate that as somebody who sometimes needs assistance I should be nice and cordial in all situations where somebody offers help, whether I asked for it or not. I can’t promise that. It gets old when it happens more than once every now and again.

However, I can promise that I am grown up and mature enough that I don’t leave that encounter thinking, “Why are some non-disabled people mean?” Come to think about it, if I posted a question to Yahoo answers with that very thought, I don’t think anyone would take it as more than some pitiful rambling from a poor, whining blind guy.

All is not lost, though. At a recent speaking engagement, the manager of a hotel and conference center asked me what is the best way to help somebody who has a noticeable disability. He wanted to hear my perspective so that he could share it with his staff. My reply was for the staff member to introduce him or herself and ask if there is anything that they might be able to provide assistance with. This leaves it up to the person with the disability to indicate the type of help that might be most useful. Just because there is a visible disability, there may be a greater need than what is obvious. By asking how they can be of assistance, well-meaning people leave the invitation offer up to the person with disability, empowering them to be able to decide what is best for them.

I a Mr. Positive nearly every day and present an upbeat approach to almost every situation I face. Once in a while, though, I do encounter somebody who strikes me wrong. If I offend somebody, I expect them to let me know. Likewise, if somebody offends me, I’ll let them know that they did. And, I promise I can do it nicely most of the time. However, every once in a while, my reaction might sting a bit. So, don’t hate me and I promise that I won’t hate you either.


Susabelle said...

Excellent post. I had to relearn some bad habits when I started working with the disabled. It seems "right" to just grab and go with a visually impaired person, when in fact, that is totally unnerving to the person you're trying to help!

I always ask, and I never grab. Many of my students are thankful to take my elbow while I navigate them through my rather obstacle-prone lab and out to where they need to be, but if they don't want my help, that is fine too.

I don't think anyone intends to be "mean" when they are helping. They just don't know any better.

Ron Graham said...

I don’t think most people ever trying to assist somebody with a disability aims to come across as mean. They’re almost always well-intentioned, but not always able to deliver their help in a manner that comes across as appropriate.

Likewise, I don’t believe most PWDs intend to come across as angry or mean when they respond to what they deem an inappropriate intrusion to their independence.

What is taking place on the most basic level during these interactions is a very short-term relationship. Likewise, it all comes down to the simplest rule of relationships -- communication is the key to success.