An interesting conversation picked up on Reddit this week when a user posted the following question to people with disabilities: “What is something that we (presumably people without disabilities) do that we think helps, but it really doesn’t?” In just a day, more than 9,000 comments rolled in, and people living with all types of health conditions — from physical disabilities to developmental delays to invisible illnesses — offered a lot of great insight.
If you’re unfamiliar with what it’s like to live with a health condition, you may not even realize when you’re not actually being that helpful. (That’s OK because that’s where we come in). According to Redditors, here are eight common mistakes people make when they’re trying to help:
1. Helping without asking.
“I love when people help me, but please always ask first, and if I say, ‘No thanks, I’ve got it,’ then go on with your day. Or better yet, strike up a conversation!”
“A friend of a friend of mine who [uses a wheelchair] told us how people constantly offer to push her to her destination, and often times go to start push (sic) her along. One person said, ‘I’m helping!’ as he started pushing her in her chair. She yelled back, ‘No, you’re kidnapping!!’ He stopped.”
2. Changing the way you talk.
“A wheelchair doesn’t make someone hard of hearing. Or stupid. Stop acting like it does.”
“I’m hearing impaired (or hard of hearing, as the Deaf community prefers to put it). Do. Not. Yell at top volume, reeeaaaaaallllllly painfully slow. Just like it isn’t going to help a Spanish person understand the English you are speaking, it’s going to make you look real stupid to me… and everyone else we are around. It might work for you with Grandma, but I’m not your granny. Face me so I can read your lips, speak sharp and speak clear and we cool.”
“Don’t bend down to my level to talk to me, I can hear you perfectly well, and it’s incredibly demeaning.”
“I have an autism spectrum disorder… Just talk to me like you would anyone else, and if I need something explained to me, I will ask. It’s that simple.”
3. Saying “But you don’t look [disabled, sick, etc.]”
“‘But you don’t look sick.’ ‘Well you don’t look like a doctor, but that’s just my opinion.'”
“The thing is, people without visible disabilities… often hear ‘But you don’t look sick’ as an excuse for the person saying it to not take the condition seriously or not give proper accommodations. In those cases it’s not a compliment, it’s an accusation. It happens way more often than you’d expect, and since it’s not just annoying but often an obstacle to actually getting the help needed to get on with your life, it gets old fast.”
4. Feeling sorry.
“I don’t want to be pitied for something I can’t do anything about. It makes me feel less human/inferior.”
“Pity is condescending, it ignores a person’s talents, relationships, accomplishments and joys and paints them as nothing more than a thing that suffers.”
5. Offering medical advice.
“My husband has chronic migraines. I can’t tell you the number of times someone suggests f**king Excedrin. ‘Oh really? I’ve lived with migraines for 20 years and I never thought to try over-the-counter Excedrin! Tell me more about how it helped you with a really bad headache once.'”
“Someone told me cashews could cure depression. I… may not have been the most tactful in my response.”
“Believe me, unless you are a researcher who specializes in my condition, you probably don’t know more about treatments than me.”
6. Calling a person “inspiring” or “brave.”
“I laugh when people call me an inspiration. If they only knew. No Hallmark movies to be made about me anytime soon. lol”
“This! I’m being praised for going to university and doing normal random everyday stuff. What am I supposed to do, sit on my ass all day and wait to die?”
“There’s nothing brave or strong about it. I exist. My strength and courage comes from what I do. Not what I am.”
7. Shrugging off an illness you can’t see.
“I have a chronic pain condition. Please don’t tell me it’s all in my head. Everything we experience, we experience through the brain. Of course it’s in my head.”
“Just because someone looks OK to you, doesn’t mean you should treat them like they’re faking it.”
8. Avoiding eye contact or keeping your questions to yourself.
“I have some form of Tourette’s syndrome. I love questions. Questions show concern and interest, and that is (for me at least) infinitely more preferable than awkward tension.”
“I only have one eye. Look, I already know I look different. I understand that your kid is curious. That’s a good thing. Let me answer their questions. They can learn something and find out that I’m still a nice guy even though I look different. Don’t make them feel afraid to talk to people who don’t look exactly like them.”
But remember, everyone is different.
“Many of the things that some people don’t want could likewise be things others might welcome. The point is, everyone is different and has different needs and feelings about their situation in life. My advice is engage in a conversation and ask if there is anything you can do. If the answer is yes, help. If the answer is no, fine. This applies to everyone — not just those people with a clear physical impairment.“