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01 May 2009 @ 01:15 pm
Blogging Against Disablism Day 2009  
Check this out: Blogging Against Disablism Day 2009

I love these kinds of grassroots initiatives, so much so that I am:

(a) posting twice in one day, which I think is a first
(b) taking a slight liberty with the MSF blog and going to post something of a bit more personal nature, but firmly on topic and that I hope you'll appreciate.

Kasey's Guide to Offering a Disabled Person Assistance Without Being Irritating

Part 1: Why I Feel Qualified to Shoot My Mouth Off in the MSF Blog
This is my personal experience. As I believe I've mentioned before, I do not have MS, but an autoimmune condition with many similar symptoms. I am not currently disabled, but at one point, I was.

From age 26 to age 28, I had a flare-up of my condition which caused me to have difficulty walking due to pain, fatigue and spasticity. I used a cane daily, and at one point could not walk more than 50 feet without stopping to rest. Through proper treatment, physical therapy, and pure chance (because really, for those of us with autoimmune illness, chance is a big factor), I recovered. My condition has been under control for the better part of nine years. I still have days a few times a year when my legs won't cooperate and I have to break out the ol' stick, but for the most part, I'm no longer technically 'disabled.'

But I've been there.

Part 2: What Drove Me Crazy
At the time of my flare-up, I'd been working at the MSF for six years. We had volunteers with many different levels of ability, using many different assistive devices. I thought that the staff, myself included, understood about disablism and was sensitive to it. I was wrong.

Because, you see, the volunteers weren't doing my job. For the work they did, the staff had a grasp on what kind of assistance they were likely to require and left it to the volunteers to ask for assistance if it was needed, or sensitively inquired if they thought it might be. With me, the circumstances were all new to them.

It began with people presumptuously jumping in. "Here, let me do that for you." Or "I've got it. Let me."

After I'd repeatedly assured them I'd ask for help if I needed it, then came the blunt questions, in that dubious tone. "Are you sure you should be doing that?" "Are you capable of handling that right now?"

Finally, it escalated to writing me off. "Well, we'll get someone else to handle that, considering your condition."

That was the point at which I put my foot down (figuratively, since it really wasn't cooperating physically at the time). I understood that this was coming from a place of concern and caring, and had therefore been patient with it. But I needed everyone to know - and needed to remind myself - that though I was disabled I was still a strong, capable person. I had limitations, yes, but I was coping with them and had the good sense to ask for help when I needed it.

Part 3: Three Rules for Not Irritating the Disabled When Offering Help
1. Don't be presumptuous. Just because you can't understand how a person with a disability manages to do something doesn't mean they can't. They adapt, they learn, they modify the task. Don't ever write them off.

2. Don't question the person's judgement. Assume that they know their own abilities and limitations, and give them credit for being smart enough not to take on something they can't handle, or sensible enough to ask for a hand if they need it.

3. Feel free to offer help when it seems needed, but do so in a sensitive way. Just ask, "Hey, do you need a hand with that?" It shouldn't be a big deal. People help one another all the time. So for the love of all that's holy, keep that sympathetic oh-you-poor-thing tone out of your voice! If you saw your neighbor juggling two bags of groceries while trying to open a door, would you have that pitying tone while you offered a helping hand? Why is my juggling a cane and a bag any different?

Part 4: Conclusion
I'm glad that what I went through could help my friends here at MSF learn to increase their awareness of disablism. However, they were already more aware than most. Awareness is not exactly the problem, as I see it. It's more about perception.

There's an experience that most people who use a mobility device have probably had at least once. Have you ever been in a store or a restaraunt and had a mother scold a child not to stare or make remarks about your cane or chair? Wouldn't you rather have heard that mother say, "Yes, that person has a disability and they use that so that they can still go all the places you and I go"?

Instead of the assumption that a mobility device is a limitation, shouldn't it be viewed as the thing that gives the disabled their independence?

I don't mean to narrow the problem down to just people using a mobility device, of course. My point is that there's an inherently negative view of the adaptations that people make to accomodate their disabilities. Whatever type of accomodation a person makes - whether it's a device, or needing to take a nap because of fatigue, or requiring help from a caregiver - rather than seeing them as "other" or "broken" because of it, it should be seen as the thing that helps them be as fully-functional as they can be.

Needing help isn't a weakness, it's a way of overcoming one.
Haddayr Copley-Woodshaddayr on May 1st, 2009 09:28 pm (UTC)
Needing help isn't a weakness, it's a way of overcoming one.

Thank you. I needed to hear that, today.
msf_staffmsf_staff on May 1st, 2009 09:38 pm (UTC)
Then I'm glad I could be there at the right moment. :-)

Thanks for commenting. I love a little feedback.
Haddayr Copley-Woodshaddayr on May 1st, 2009 09:46 pm (UTC)
Actually, the entire post is wonderful and I'm linking to it on my LJ.
msf_staffmsf_staff on May 2nd, 2009 03:04 am (UTC)
That's... wow! Thanks so much!
I'm nobody! Who are you?capriuni on May 2nd, 2009 12:27 am (UTC)
(I'm here via haddyr's link)

Seconded. That line would be great on one of them there motivational posters, you know (if you're the motivational poster type).
msf_staffmsf_staff on May 2nd, 2009 03:05 am (UTC)
LOL. I guess it does sort of have that ring! Thanks.
Mary Dellmarydell on May 1st, 2009 09:55 pm (UTC)
Excellent post!
msf_staffmsf_staff on May 2nd, 2009 03:06 am (UTC)
Thanks! I'm glad you liked it.
Sasha_feathersasha_feather on May 1st, 2009 11:27 pm (UTC)
This is wonderful! (here via haddayr's rec) Thanks for writing it.
msf_staffmsf_staff on May 2nd, 2009 03:07 am (UTC)
You're welcome! And thank you for the kind comment.
ext_185482 on May 3rd, 2009 01:54 pm (UTC)
Hello! I love the part about not irritating disabled people while asking them if they need help! Able-bodied people don't always realize that 2 people who use the same mobility device or APPEAR to have the same disability/limitations can actually have WILDLY different abilities--you HAVE to ask! And it's so important to accept what the disabled person says, EVEN if it looks like they're struggling. They have their own way of doing things for themselves. And it's rude to insist that they NEED YOUR help. Thanks again for the great advice and example about the shopping bags! :)
msf_staffmsf_staff on May 4th, 2009 03:17 pm (UTC)
Thank you so much for the feedback. It's great to know that others related to this.

That's such a good point you raise about people with the same device not having the same level of disability. I know many people who use scooters because of fatigue and can walk just fine, and others who use them because of mobility issues. That's a pretty drastic difference, and it really demonstrates why people shouldn't make assumptions.
badgerbagbadgerbag on May 5th, 2009 02:39 am (UTC)
great post, thanks!

And undercoverpunk, I so agree. People mostly don't accept it when I say no thanks. They try to help anyway, and then they get annoyed or upset because I'm not graciously letting them help me.
msf_staffmsf_staff on May 5th, 2009 01:54 pm (UTC)
Thanks for the feedback!