Many of you will be familiar with my #JustAskDontGrab campaign. I share my experiences of people who grab, push, pull and generally touch me without my consent under the promise of offering ‘help’. Check out my Just Ask Don’t Grab Campaign page for more information.
Today I wanted to share the best practice, the helping heroes, the people who really did do a good thing and made a difference. Here are my top tips on how to offer help and some of my best examples!
This blog contains gifs, they do have alt text, but some of them move rapidly.
1. Stop, observe and think
Does the person actually need your help, or do you just WANT to help them. It’s nice to help people, it’s a good thing, but are you actually imposing your ideas of what someone can or can’t do without asking them.
Please be aware, I’m not saying not to ever help anyone ever, but just think it through. Is the disabled person looking happy, confident and comfortable? Are they just carrying on their business? Or do they look worried, unsure or disorientated? Is there an obvious obstacle or issue?
Just take a few seconds to think through if the help is needed. Disabled people want to be independent and this should be respected. Just because someone is doing something slowly or differently to you doesn’t mean you need to jump in to sort it out.
Great example of this, I moved to start crossing a road but then an electric hybrid car pulled up. I hadn’t heard it, they are too darn quiet! A man stopped, came up to me and asked if I needed some help getting around the car. He had identified the issue, offered the help, and I took his arm. He got me across the road safely. Well done that man!
A bad example of someone imposing their own need to help me over my actual abilities or consent. A woman screamed STAIRS at me and ran down the stairs, grabbing me as I was halfway down the stairs. Dear reader, I was already on the stairs, I knew about the stairs. I was fine with the stairs. This woman actually put me at risk. By grabbing me on the stairs she could’ve unbalanced or injured me.
HOWEVER, this doesn’t mean you should be afraid of asking.
It probably won’t offend most people, unless they are grumpy. I don’t get offended. Sometimes it can be annoying, like when I’m already on the stairs and someone is screaming at me! Generally I like it when people ask, because it means I can access help when I needed it.
Remember just ask.
2. Introduce yourself
“Hi, I’m Amy, do you need any assistance?”
It’s nice to introduce yourself, it’s polite and friendly! Also it helps communicate that you’re talking to me, and that you want to interact with me. Sometimes people just say “excuse me”. Now I don’t know what you mean by that, because people who also barge right into me, knock my coffee out of my hand or trip me up with their wheelie suitcase also just say “excuse me”.
So please be clear and be polite, but try not to startle anyone, don’t shout! A great example of this was a woman who offered me help in King’s Cross. It was really busy, crowded and noisy. I know my route through King’s Cross, but I was getting tangled up in the rush hour commuters. She came up to me and said in a clear voice “hi, my name is Katie, would you like any help?” It was lovely, I could thank her personally for her help, and told her that I was ok and didn’t need any assistance at that time. Thank you Katie!
Don’t be like the policeman, who creeped right up to my ear and whispered “I’m a policeman, I can help you up the stairs”. Scared the living bejesus out of me.
Note: the introduction is the only time a light touch is permissible. If someone has not noticed your introduction, and you still think they might require assistance, LIGHTLY touching their shoulder and introducing yourself again is ok.
3. Respect the answer
Sometimes we don’t need or want help. Just because something looks difficult or even impossible to you, doesn’t mean we can’t do it ourselves, or want to try! Like with my white cane, I’ve been trained how to use it safely. Similarly guide dog owners spend months training with their dogs. We’ve probably had years of learning how to navigate the world and can do lots of stuff by ourselves. Also we want to be independent, wouldn’t you?
An answer of no, or no thank you, is not rude. We’re not saying you’re a bad person, or you did something wrong, unless you grabbed us! It’s just a rejection of your offer, because we don’t need any help.
The other day a surfer dude who I can only presume got lost on his way back to the 90s asked me “yo, do you need any help or whatever?” and I said “no thanks” and he said “cool”. Then we both went on with our days. It was fine, no one was upset, I wasn’t offended. This was compared with a woman who marched up to me at a pedestrian crossing and said “shall I help you across the road?” (note: not really a polite offer, more of a presumption), and I said “no thank you”. Before I could explain the tactile paving or the spinning cone she just shouted FINE and stormed off. Bit rude.
4. Ask how you can help
Once you’ve introduced yourself and made the offer of help, and it’s been accepted, ask how you can help. Lots of people get to this stage, get a bit enthusiastic and suddenly I’ve already been dragged into a poundland when actually I wanted to cross the road.
In my case, I want to take a persons arm, I don’t want them to grab me because that means I can’t feel where we are going, and I feel out of control. I will explain this to the helper, I like to hold an elbow or I can put a hand on a shoulder if people feel holding an arm is too intimate.
It’s best to ask how to help so that you don’t injure anyone or damage their mobility aids. Lots of wheelchairs are not designed to be pushed, lots of people have invisible disabilities like extremely painful joint conditions and so don’t want you to touch them in certain places.
Tanni Grey Thompson shared with me a story about one time when she fell out of her chair, and a man offered to help her back into it. She needed him to grab her by the back of her trousers, and help her lift herself back in, but he panicked. He didn’t ask, and accidentally reached his arms under her shoulders, around her front and put his hands on her erhum. He was mortified, but apologised and they worked it out together.
If you ask how to help, you’ll be doing the best possible thing for that person, and you won’t accidentally touch the bosom of a peer of the realm.
5. Do the helping
Now you’re probably going to have a lovely interaction. You’re going to solve a problem, make someone feel safer, sort something out or generally just be kind. You’ve done an awesome thing. You’ve made a difference.
People who help me enable me to be independent every day. It means I can feel more confident about going out on my own because nice people offer support. I’ve been scooped up by kind strangers when I’ve burst into tears after getting lost in railway stations. I’ve had people fetch me something from a different part of the shop because I’m confused about where to find it. People have picked me and my belongings up off the floor when I’ve fallen over, calmed me down and given me a hot drink.
I love the conversations I’ve had with people who help me. I’ve heard about their grandma who lost her sight or their little brother who uses a wheelchair sometimes. They’ve told me about their day, or job, or we’ve chatted about the weather. Being helped by someone who respects me, listens to me and wants to be supportive is just the best connection and experience.
People want to offer assistance to disabled people, but they tell me all the time that they worry about getting it wrong, they think that they’ll offend someone.
However, this worry builds up in to a panicked impulse, the panicked impulse to grab, push, pull or touch without asking. People get in such a flap about talking to disabled people they just treat them like objects to be moved.
It’s so simple! Just think, introduce yourself, offer the assistance, listen and help.
The most important thing to take away from this post is the phrase that I will repeat until the end of my days.
Just ask, don’t grab.
For daily examples of my grabby and helpful experiences follow my #CaneAdventures on Twitter