When using mobility devices, or when it becomes apparent that there are serious vision issues going on with me, I notice that I'm treated differently than the average person - all of a sudden, I'm thought to be incompetent and in perpetual need of assistance.
With that in mind, I'm going to say something that will perplex and even piss some of you off, but frankly, I don't care: if you are always trying to help some disabled person, or have that feeling or urge that you cannot control, to "help the disabled", you're pretty damned ableist in my book!
Why? Because you assume, mistakenly, that folks with disabilities always need help with something. If someone in a wheelchair is waiting at the bus stop minding her own business - oh no, that poor thing must need my help! If a blind man is crossing the street, again, minding his own business - oh no, he must need my help! From the woman on her cane grocery shopping to the deaf man eating at his favorite restaurant, you marvel that we can do anything for and by ourselves, and since you don't believe people like us should be out alone, you always feel compelled to help, often without our consent.
Back off okay? Get your hands off of me and back the hell off! I can't count how many times I've been touched without my consent by some do-gooder wanting to help when I neither asked for or needed it. I don't care that I was doing something slow or in a clumsy fashion. I didn't ask for your help, so get out of my face!
Even those who ask if I need help can't believe that I don't, so they ask am I sure. How disrespectful! As if, due to my disability, I don't know if I need help or not. Look, I said NO. Back off!
If I need help, I am the first to ask for it. I'll come to you and ask. If I'm clearly struggling and you ask if I need help, I will graciously accept and thank you for it. For example, a few years ago, I was struggling to get to the bus stop to go to work. The sidewalks were covered with snow and I had to wheel in the street. Two men came to me and offered to help me to the bus stop, which was several blocks away. I not only warmly accepted their help, but wrote an op ed piece in our local newspaper thanking them!
Another reason why I'm so hostile about unwanted help is because when I need and ask for help, most often, no one can or will help. I'm sure many folk with disabilities have experienced this; I have many times. The worst and most painful example was this: on April 19, 2007, I worked late, attending a meeting on the revitalization of a neighborhood on the other side of the city from where I lived. As a disability advocate, I was asked by my work to go and make sure that people with disabilities and our access needs wouldn't be left out of the plans. While waiting for the bus after the meeting, I was mugged. Being the badass that I am, I bellowed and fought, and though I was pulled out of my wheelchair and got a few bumps, bruises and a broken cell phone, the guy didn't get what he wanted and ran away. I wheeled three or four blocks, stopping people and asking for help; I'd probably asked upwards of 20 people. NO one would help. In many cases I was ignored; people actually turned and walked away from me. Finally, I came to an inaccessible mom and pop grocery store and was able to convince the guy outside to go in and get me some help.
I have never forgotten that, indeed I re-live that incident every time someone tries to help me when I don't need it. Where were you then? You walked right past me! Now, on the clearest, dryest day of the year, you want to help me cross the street? Now that I'm three blocks from home, you want to help me because "people like you shouldn't be out and about". Get the hell outta here with your ableist ass!
So if you see disabled folks out minding their own business, doing their own thing, resist the urge to help and mind your own business, unless that person CLEARLY asks for or indicates that they need help! And, for goodness sake, if you offer help and the person says NO, or no, thank you, back off. Save your help for someone, disabled or not, who actually asks for it.