When People Assume I Need Help Because of My Disability
I finally had my first ever, self-voluntary, let-me-help-you-because-you-obviously-cannot, experience recently on my trip to California. Not only was it awkward, but it made me feel like people think being disabled automatically means you cannot do certain things for yourself. Wish I got that memo 10+ years ago.
I went to Los Angeles recently with my service dog and fiance to film a TV show. Los Angeles was honestly super accommodating in that I never worried if my crutch or service dog would have any issues. But it was almost too accommodating. Weird, I know. How can a place be too accommodating?
I got out of the car, put my service dog on a “wait” and grabbed my forearm crutch first to stabilize myself. I have EDS (Ehlers-Danlos syndrome), so my joints basically think they’re noodles and love to flop around. Having my forearm crutch to stabilize myself is important. After grabbing that, I decided to go for my book bag first. I’ve never had any problem grabbing a book bag and finessing it around my first noodle arm, then doing a modified macarena to put the other strap on. But for some reason, this random guy thought that me being disabled meant I wasn’t able to do so myself. So confidently, he grabbed my book bag and just threw it on me. This made everything really uncomfortable because in the middle of him putting the other strap on me, I literally told him I could do it myself. He ignored me. Weird situation not averted. Sigh.
I shrugged it off because honestly, he was just trying to be nice. Then we went for another car ride and then someone else did the same exact thing. This is getting so damn old. I’ve always been an upfront person, so I flat-out asked this person why they felt obliged to help when I didn’t ask. I kid you not, here is their…. interesting response. I never thought I would hear this, but alas, I was wrong.
“Well, I figured since you were using a forearm crutch you wouldn’t have been able to put on your backpack,” said the random person.
I don’t understand why people assume that being disabled and using tools like a crutch, cane, wheelchair, oxygen tank, you name it, automatically means you’re unable to do certain things. I guess I didn’t get the memo when I officially declared myself disabled years ago. I can absolutely still do many things even as a disabled person. If I cannot do something, guess what? My service dog can help me do it. There’s nothing more humiliating than being in your mid-20s and feeling like you’re being sent off to kindergarten again by your overly emotional parents.
Ask a disabled person if they need help. Ask if they need help with something they dropped. Ask if they need help with that door. Ask if they need help with putting an item on. Consent is important. Disabled individuals are already stripped away of so many freedoms. Many like myself still cherish the things we are able to do, even if it is something silly like putting on a backpack. Just. Ask. Don’t assume anything. Just because we are disabled does not mean we are unable to do things. Disability does not equal inability.
Getty image by Pavel1964.