Enabling The Disabled

For the 2nd time this year, I participated in the REACH for college program run by the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. During the program, there were a number of recurring topics that came up in discussion. One in particular, the idea that disabled people need help, caught my attention when one of the mentees coined the phrase:

Disabled, does not mean unable.

Whether it’s the dwarf at the grocery store who prefers to jump rather than ask for a lift, or the solitary paraplegic who considers rolling himself down the stairs, handicapped people everywhere seem to have a resistance to help that surpasses all understanding. All understanding of the “able,” that is.

But it wasn’t until I spoke to one of the REACH parents, that I realised that not everyone knows why this exists.

The reason is simple: self-respect. No self-respecting person likes to feel pitied. Now what does pity have to do with help? A lot more than you might think. Because pity, is the price disabled people pay for help. As every request for assistance, is followed by pity and sympathy.

See naturally, human beings sympathise with those they consider less fortunate than themselves. But to the distress of the disabled, this comes off as pity; and those who deliberately try not to seem pitying, end up making clumsy attempts at being considerate. Overall making any request for assistance, a painful one. As a result, over time, disabled people learn to avoid asking for help and reject it even when offered.

To be fair however, most people’s hearts are in the right place, they genuinely want to help – and their reactions while unappreciated, are not entirely unwarranted. Because truth be told, disabled people do need help. The question is, how can you help?

Again, the answer is simple: help by enabling us to help ourselves. As the saying goes, give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, teach him how to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.

Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime

Disabled people may not always appreciate a helping hand, but that is not to say we do not appreciate help at all. The dwarf who cannot reach the top shelf would likely be much more grateful if you brought him a step-ladder, than if you tried to pick him up. The paraplegic on the other hand, may prefer directions to the nearest elevator.

While it is also possible to learn the art of tactfully offering your direct assistance, it can be difficult to get it right. Instead, I suggest this approach. Because this way, your help will be appreciated and you minimise the risk of creating an awkward situation.

Damola Mabogunje

Software Engineer by day, Blogger, Poet and Author, by night, I spend my days writing everything from the convex comma, to highly complex code.

3 thoughts on “Enabling The Disabled

  1. Dam-dam,

    I like the phrase,”Disabled, does not mean unable”. I have had the opportunity at various times to visit a “Home for the physically challenged” which is the contemporary way to address the physically challenged. At this Home which my church society supports financially the members of the home are mostly children between the ages of 7 to 18 though some are older but they are very few. The members are taught how to support themselves financially by teaching them a trade. We just finished providing a computer room for those who can use their fingers as we may find some may excel at computing and software skills.

    Once they have learned a skill they are supported to set-up shop and they then leave the Home, creating a space to take on another candidate.

    I agree with you, about the way many of us treat them and mostly it is because we have not spent time with them to learn HOW to behave around them.

    The attitude which they have is similar to the attitude of the Elderly, who will only take help on their own terms and insist on doing things at their own pace.

    It would be nice if more of us spend some time with the physically challenged and the elderly as it is very educational.

    1. Well said uncle!

      It was quite interesting for me to hear from the parent of a disabled child that she couldn’t understand why her child was hesitant to ask for help; and at the same time note that no other disabled person was surprised by it. It was a topic that we all agreed upon. Both the mentors like myself, and the kids in attendance. There wasn’t a single disabled dissenter in the room!

      But outside of us, and some of the doctors, it seemed like it was a mystery to the rest. “I’m trying to help, why would you refuse?” was the question. But like you said, if more people spent more time with the disabled, then they would understand better – and for those who don’t get that opportunity, hopefully this article would clue them in 😀

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