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For People with Disabilities

By Jackie Conley

Many people with disabilities often find themselves in tricky situations, needing help, or wanting less help from their peers.  However, sometimes it is not always easy to find the right way to ask someone for help, or to help you less.  Find out how to manage these situations by reading through common questions I have been asked (or have asked myself) from personal experience and knowledge from others.  Q = question, J = Jackie’s response

Q:  When someone asks me “what’s wrong?” How do I respond?

J:  The best way to handle situations like this is to be open and honest about your disability with others.  Once you have accepted your disability, it is easy to explain to others what it is you have.  By telling the curious person about your disability, you are spreading awareness.  Many people are uninformed about disabilities or have preconceived ideas about them, and for them to see a person with a disability in society is a beautiful thing because they can learn that not all people with disabilities hide behind closed doors, and that we too lead lives like everyone else.  Sometimes it can be frustrating when people question your disability before even asking your name, but I have found that once people understand my disability, they really get to know me and often times even forget about my disability once they have been around me for a long period of time.

Q:  If I need help, what’s the best way to ask for it?

J:  First and foremost, never be afraid to ask for help.  People with disabilities are not the only ones who require help from time to time.  If you are struggling to open a door, find a trash can, solve a math problem, or facing any other challenge, ask for help.  Now, this comment must come with a warning.  While there are plenty of nice people in the world, some are not so trustworthy.  If you are with a friend or around people you are familiar with, ask them first.  Otherwise, use your judge of character or locate the nearest authoritative figure (a policeman, teacher, etc.).  You must confide in people who are trustworthy.  Also, be kind when asking for help.  No one wants to help someone who is yelling or angry. 

Q:  If someone is helping me incorrectly, what do I do?

J:  People do not know your disability as well as you do, never assume that they do.  If someone is assisting you but not in the way that you prefer or are used to, tell them.  I have many friends with visual impairments who get upset when someone assists them incorrectly (there is a certain technique).  Stop what you are doing and explain to them how they can better assist you in a calm, rational voice.  Again, no one wants to help an angry person.  Also, once you tell the person the best way to help you, they will most likely never forget it!  And then you have befriended one more person who can correctly assist you.

Q:  I am a self-sufficient person.  Certain people help me too much.  What do I do?

J:  If someone is constantly helping you and not allowing you to do things on your own, you should sit him/her down and explain how important independence is to you.  For people with disabilities, independence is huge.  We must try to learn to be as independent as possible in order to live life to its fullest capacity (and this is in no way insinuating that people who live with assistance are lower than others).  Describe to the person helping you that independence is very important to you, and that while you appreciate her help, you really would like to complete certain tasks on your own to further your independence.

Q:  How do I handle unexpected obstacles (such as a car blocking an accessible entrance)?

J:  If you are on a college campus, as I currently am, and you cannot access a building from a handicap accessible walkway/area, call your local campus police.  You should always have their phone number handy in case of emergencies, and this would qualify as one.  Some of the goals of the Americans with Disabilities Act include enforcing laws against parking in handicap spaces and blocking accessible entrances.  In this case, you should allow campus police to do their job in enforcing these rules. 

If you do not live on a college campus, contact the local police or nearest authoritative figure.  It is important that you calmly explain your rights and request that the car (or object blocking your accessibility) be moved.  You can also request that signs be posted to let people know it is an accessible area that must not be blocked.

Q:  If I am in an uncomfortable situation, what do I do?

J:  If you have a social disability and ever feel uncomfortable, take a time out.  Step away from the situation and give yourself time to calm down.  Take a few breaths, think about a soothing, calming scenario, and return to the situation.  People without disabilities: If you ever witness someone getting frustrated or stressed out, they may have a type of social disability.  The best way to help a person with a social disability in this situation is to talk to them calmly, rationally, and let him know that everything is going to be ok.

Please e-mail Jackie Conley using the Contact Us page if you have any questions or suggestions that would be useful for this page.