It Is Always Safer to Ask Than to Assume

The are a few topics that I find quite often spark many debates within my community and lately, one of these very topics has been following me around: where is the line between asking an individual with special needs if they need help or assuming that they do? I cannot speak for my entire community, but I hope to share my own personal wishes and experiences with this; understanding that what works for me won’t necessarily work for others.

If you are unsure, ASK, don’t ASSUME!

I realize as I’ve gotten older, not necessarily wiser, my greatest weakness has nothing to do with my physical limitations, rather my inability to ask for help. I am stubborn- painfully stubborn. I’m sure if my loved ones were being honest, they would tell you that each of them has at least one story where they encountered the wall that is my strong will when I’ve set my mind to something, whether or not they agree with it. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I live in an able-bodied world. I work ten times as hard as my peers just for the opportunity to be looked upon as their equal. I fight to be seen as more than my limitations, and I learned fairly early on in my life that I have to be my own advocate. While most people are well intended, the reality is that they do not walk in my shoes; their empathy goes a long way, but that doesn’t eclipse my experiences.

If I’m being honest some of the decisions I make for myself are out of stubbornness, but most of them are made because I have already tried another way with little or no success. I am always open to a discussion, however my decisions too need to be respected and this is the driving force behind this post. So, where is my line? I’ve learned lately to take less unnecessary risks: no longer climbing on chairs to hang something up, stop picking up objects that I know are going to make a difficult night for my back, always having my cane with me whenever I walk anywhere outside of my residence. Each of these decisions came with time, maturity and maybe an injury or two. I learned that my unwillingness to accept my condition meant that I also didn’t accept the aids which allow me to have a better quality of life.

– I was unfocused for a brief moment and tripped, probably on an object that wasn’t there 
-My curtain has fallen down because I decided I was going to dance with it (translation: I got caught up in it and tripped)
-I stop to take a moment to breathe before walking or pushing up a particularly steep incline

If I had to pick three situations in which asking or assuming I need help comes up most, there you have it. The most frustrating of these is the last, which is an almost daily occurrence on campus and I understand. Believe me, I do. If you see me taking a second to breathe or struggling not to trip or roll back, I understand why you ask if I need help. I also thank-you for not looking past me, for seeing me. I have lived on campus for a little over two years now, so most of my peers know me. These individuals announce their presence as they approach me and ask if I’m doing okay. This is an adaptive phrase that they’ve become comfortable using in the place of “do you need help?” I smile and nod my head and they go about their day.

While that is usually what happens, in the last few weeks two individuals who were unfamiliar to me ask if i needed help and after declining, they pushed my wheelchair up the hill regardless, while the other placed his hand under my arm and guided my up the hill. Yeah, no…. I know what you were probably thinking: you were being kind. You believed you were doing the right thing. You didn’t want to see me struggle. I do not believe for one second either of these individuals had bad intentions. However, that doesn’t excuse what they did. I have autonomy I have the right to decide what happens with my body. I have my own mind and will. If I have decided that I do not need assistance, you don’t force it upon me for your conscience.

Would you hug a stranger?
Would you like someone unfamiliar to you suddenly coming up to you and putting their hands on you, your body?
Would you appreciate it if someone disregarded your wishes and decided they, who have never walked in your shoes, knew better than you did about your situation and circumstance?

The truthful answer to these questions is no, you wouldn’t and my answer to these is no different, simply because I am a person with a disabilities. I understand that it may not be easy to watch me make the decisions I do and it certainly cannot be easy watching me struggle. However, I will prevail. I will adapt and most importantly, I deserve the right to make the decisions I believe are best for me. That right, not privilege, is not diminished simply because I have special needs. So, while it may be difficult not to just jump in and help, please, don’t assume that I or anyone else needs your help.
I have a voice. If I need your help, trust that I’ll ask for it, but please never assume and certainly don’t disregard my wishes.