When and how to offer assistance

I’m a wheelchair user, so I face a number of interesting situations.

Ann Bell Feinstein
Ann Bell Feinstein

One thing that seems to be a constant is people with good intentions. I don’t mind the occasional offer of help, but don’t be surprised if I turn it down. Yes, I said “turn it down.” I’ve worked hard to be as self sufficient as possible, and I take pride in “doing it myself.”

I’m not alone in this. With the upcoming holidays, I felt it necessary to give a list of do’s and don’ts when offering assistance to a wheelchair user.

  1. Don’t touch my chair without permission! I view my chair as part of my body. How would you feel if I came up behind you and shoved you in the back or grabbed your arm without asking?
  2. Don’t take things off my lap without asking. Yes, this has happened repeatedly. How would you like me to snatch something out of your hands?
  3. There is no need to bend over to talk to me. It’s my legs that don’t work; my ears are just fine.
  4. Remember I am in this chair 365 days a year. I know what works for me and what doesn’t, so I may have a different method of doing things, but they work for me.
  5. I do have tasks I avoid if at all possible. I hate pumping my own gas. I’ll always say yes to someone offering to do this.
  6. There is no need to point out my disability: I’m well aware of it. Anyone under 10 is excluded. I understand kids are curious. Honest questions are always welcome. I will always stop to explain my chair, especially to a child.
  7. I can open the door. I can even hold the door for you. Yes, that’s right. I have the ability to open most doors myself. If you snatch a door out of my hand, you may actually send me backwards. Sometimes I’m using the interior door handle to straighten my chair and get through the door. This means there is only one hand on my wheels.
  8. Special note to restaurant personnel: I’ll let you know if I need furniture moved. You guessing and trying to make a path wider just draws unwanted attention to me, please don’t.
  9. Don’t cut in front of me in line for the handicapped stall. I really do need the extra room. I also tend to take longer. Banging on the door isn’t going to speed me up; in fact, I may slow down.
  10. Speak to me, not the person with me. I noted above my ears are just fine. So is my brain. I can make my own decisions.
  11. In short I have a big mouth. If I want or need help, you will know. I’m not above grabbing the random stranger to reach an item on a high shelf for me.
  12. What works for me might not work for another wheelchair user. Just ask them if they require any assistance. We are all different.


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