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Helping people with disabilities – attitudes – by Rev Jason Forbes

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Jason Forbes - casual - DisServ - up

We’re looking at the question when we help someone with a disability, how do we know when our help is appreciated? There are several factors that need to be taken into consideration – some to do with the person with the disability, and some to do with the helper. In the first half of this series, we focussed on the person with a disability. We saw how a person’s outlook can changed with age; the way different spaces have different values for a person; and how the right procedure can mean the difference between possibility and impossibility.

In the second half of the series, we’re focussing on the helper and the factors in relation to the helper that may influence whether or not the help offered is appreciated. So far we’ve looked at competencies and relationships, and how these factors can influence whether or not help is appreciated.

This time, we looking at attitude. I expect when any of us receives help, we want to be treated with respect and dignity. We want the ability to have our concerns heard and responded to adequately. We certainly don’t like having our concerns dismissed by someone professing to know better – even if they’re right! It’s the same for people with disabilities.

Sometimes, help may be refused because of a poor attitude, or a paternalistic attitude. An attitude where at its core says, “I, the ‘normal’ person, will decide what’s best for you ‘poor, unfortunate disabled’ person.” Such attitudes disempower the person being helped, and potentially strip away the person’s dignity and individuality. Ultimately, they are insulted.

Not so long ago, I attended a disability event, which was a waste of time, but anyway. I soon left, and was walking back through the car park with my awkward gait when a group of women in a car asked me where I was going, and then told me to “go back” as though they knew best. I stood there asking, “Why?” I then noticed a great amount of nicotine emanating from the car. I wondered how they would have felt if I adopted a paternalistic attitude and told them to stop smoking? Hmmm! While it was good that these women were concerned about someone walking off, their attitude left me feeling stripped of my dignity and individuality.

But it doesn’t need to be this way. I once needed to get a toe treated, a situation where an ‘I know best’ attitude may have been expected. At the end of the procedure, the podiatrist put a band-aid around my toe. Realising it wasn’t going to stay there with the way I walk, I suggested he wrap some tape around my toe. The podiatrist listened to my concern, understood what I was saying, and did as I suggested. Even though he was in a much better position to understand my needs, he gave me enough dignity and respect to listen.

It may be that you do know better. However, in every circumstance, a person needs to be treated with the same dignity and respect as anyone else, even if their decisions are not the best ones.

To recap, we’ve looked out how a person’s outlook on life can change with age, the sensitivity required with personal space, and how procedures can all be factors in relation to the person with the disability. In relation to the person offering help, their competencies, relationship with the person needing help, and their attitude are all factors in whether help will be accepted. Because there are an infinite number of combinations between all these factors, a simple answer as to whether or not to help cannot be given, apart from this simple answer: Helping a person with a disability is no different to helping someone without a disability. These are all factors for anyone to consider.

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