Howdy folks! Brought on by a recent incident, which I will tell you about in another entry, the question was once again asked, both directly of me and in a general forum:
WHAT DO I DO WHEN I SEE A PERSON STRUGGLING WITH THEIR HANDICAP?
Maybe you just saw a blind person attempting to cross the street and having a hard time. Maybe it’s a person in a wheelchair having a rough time pulling something off a store shelf. Maybe you just witnessed me try to get up in to a tiny-ass unstable boat and fail miserably in front of Anne Wheaton in Loreto, Mexico. Whatever the incident, there is someone with some obvious difficulty in life trying to do A Thing and you’re not sure how to proceed. Well, as a public service announcement, I’m here to help.
There are three easy steps*.
1) OFFER YOUR HELP.
Seriously, you’d think this was obvious, but the Bystander Effect is a real thing and you’d be appalled at how often no one says or does anything. Don’t be a grandiose dick about it, just approach the person and offer a specific way you can be of help, or ask if there is something you can do. “Hey, can I grab something off the shelf for you?” “Do you want a hand across the street?” “The boat crew clearly have no fucking idea how to get you off the ground, how can I help get you up?” DO NOT – UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES – ENTER PERSONAL SPACE TO HELP WITHOUT ASKING. Hooooly HELL you would think this is common sense, but I wonder how many blind people have someone just fucking grab their arm and start pulling them across the street. Just ..don’t do this. Don’t start trying to haul me to my feet when I’ve had a fall. I need to muster strength for the attempt, for one, and it’s just incredibly invasive to have a stranger start grabbing at you when you’re already at a very vulnerable moment. Politely announce your presence and ask if you can help. And then…
2) ACCEPT NO FOR AN ANSWER / ASSIST WITHOUT MAKING A BIG FUCKING DEAL ABOUT IT
Sometimes the answer will be “No, thanks.” Accept this and move on. This person’s difficulty is not your Heroic Moment; they are not here to provide you with your Good Deed For the Day. They’re just trying to get some shopping done/cross the street/get on the goddamned boat/live their life like a normal person, and are under no obligation whatsoever to accept your help, even if everyone in the world can see it would be so much easier if they’d just get over it and accept the help. Graciously allow them to decline and move on with your day.
Alternately, if they accept your help, Do the Thing. And give zero fucks about it. Don’t make a big show about helping; just grab the whatever for them, help them across the street like it ain’t no thang, whatever. They will say thanks. Tell them it’s no big deal and believe that it is not. I, for one, would be so much more willing to accept simple assistance from strangers if people were extra chill about it, but usually they act like a big damn hero about the whole thing and I’ve suddenly become someone’s Inspiration Porn and I can already HEAR them telling their spouse when they get home about how they helped a woman in a walker pick up her dropped purse. Just pick up the fucking purse and hand it over and go on with your life. You’re not curing cancer, here, you’re just holding a door for someone who can’t walk.
Whichever option was chosen, the next step is the same….
3) PRETEND THE WHOLE THING NEVER HAPPENED
Most important. THE MOST. If it was a routine thing that you might have done for anyone, like opening a door or helping someone get something from a shelf, then it’s already no big deal and a part of life. Move on. If it’s something like a fall recovery or an unexpectedly needed assist (hello, hands suddenly not working so I can’t swipe my own fucking debit card!), then it’s almost certain that the person in need of help is embarrassed by the unwanted attention already. It’s humiliating to fall on your ass even if there isn’t a disability involved. Whether or not there was a celebrity watching. It’s ALWAYS my most fervent desire that the whole thing would be forgotten immediately. This also ties into the whole “I’m not your good deed” ideal, but primarily? I’m embarrassed to have been caught publicly in a weak moment, whether it can be forgiven due to disease or not. Act natural. Make sure they’re okay, and then forget the whole thing. Please. Don’t make some weak-ass joke, or reassure me that it’s okay and natural, just..pretend it never fucking happened in the first place. Whatever’s whatever, man, no big thing, not even worth mentioning. EVER. AGAIN.
OFFER, ACCEPT/ASSIST, IGNORE.
The only miiiiiiiinor correction to this may be to ignore that I said no thanks and it turns out I DO need some help. Then you may add RESIST, as in RESIST the temptation to say “I told you so” when I accept that I do need assistance after all. I’m still learning my own limitations, and they change every day. be patient with me in this, and I will be patient with you as you learn The Steps. We’ll help each other out, okay?
*Your mileage may vary. Some disabled people are total assholes about this sort of thing. This is just what I think is most useful, for most people.