The Complexities of Giving: People with Disabilities as Help Objects
The Complexities of Giving: People with Disabilities as Help Objects

Categories: Community Life

A photo of Rachel Cohen RottenbergBy Guest Blogger Rachel Cohen-Rottenberg, Blogger, Disability and Representation

For most of my life, I’ve favored standing rather than sitting and, despite the fact that I now use a cane, I still prefer being on my feet. This preference seems counter-intuitive to people who see disability as an all-or-nothing proposition, but standing, moving and walking are what my body craves.

Before I used a cane, no one remarked on these preferences. In the past couple of months though, the visible marker of disability has made them open to question.

A few weeks ago, I was standing at the bus stop, holding my cane with my backpack at my feet. Next to me was a bench occupied by two people. A young man was stretching out his legs at the far end, and an older woman was sitting up straight at the near end, holding onto her cart of groceries. There was enough space between them for at least two people.

After I’d been standing by the bench for a minute or so, the woman looked up at me and said, “Would you like to sit down?”

I looked over at her, smiled and said, “No, that’s all right. I’d rather stand.”

She seemed disappointed – and even a little disapproving.

I was very troubled by this interaction. It was so brief, so apparently simple – and yet, I was registering a huge amount of discomfort. So I set about looking at why that discomfort was there.

Because I like to feel that people have good reasons for what they say, the first thing that bothered me was that her offer made little sense. If there had been no room on the bench and the woman had offered her seat (or had asked someone else to get up), I would not have felt uncomfortable about it. If you see a person with a cane and all the available seats are taken, it’s considerate to ask whether the person needs to sit down. I would have done the same if the roles had been reversed.

But there was already room on the bench. I could quite clearly see the empty space, and if I’d wanted to sit down, I would have. I wasn’t waiting for an invitation or for permission. If I hadn’t been holding a cane, the woman’s assumption would have been that I wanted to stand. After all, others were standing by the bench, and she had not asked them whether they needed to sit down.

The presence of the cane made all the difference. Suddenly, I became what civic activist and independent scholar Jesse the K refers to as a help object. Simply put, as a person with disabilities, I became the opportunity for someone else to extend his or her generosity, and my own boundaries and internal process meant very little.

I always feel very conflicted about moments in which people offer me unneeded assistance. I appreciate any attempt at kindness, and I empathize with the impulse to help. I am one of those people whose default approach to nearly everything is, “How can I help you?” and the desire to help runs very deep in me. We live in a harsh and competitive culture, and many people have a deep hunger to do a kindness, to extend themselves to connect with others from a place of giving.

So I understand the goodness of the intention, but I also understand the ways in which it can become patronizing and intrusive. In this case, whatever good intentions were involved, those intentions flipped very quickly from an offer of kindness to a way for the other person to feel good about helping me,  with the result that she became unhappy when I refused her assistance.

As a help object, I was not treated with the presumption that I knew what I needed and was acting on it. As a help object, I wasn’t a person with an internal experience in which standing was a good thing. As a help object, I was expected to accede to the other person’s offer so that she would not feel disappointed.  Rejecting that offer was akin to breaking the rules of an implied contract I had never signed.

There is nothing wrong with feel-good moments, mind you. But they can’t come at the expense of treating people as though they are incapable of deciding between options like standing or sitting. Put another way, feeling good about ourselves can’t become central to the interaction. Helping someone shouldn’t put the giver at the center.

So how does one avoid the pitfalls of overzealous giving?

First, I think it’s very important to look carefully at the situation to see whether the other person actually needs help. If the person has a mobility issue and there are no seats, offering to get up is considerate. But if the person has the option to sit and has decided to stand, step back. If the person isn’t asking for help, step back. If the person is just minding his or her own business, step back.

Second, respond graciously to a rejection of help. This is crucial. If people don’t respond graciously, they’ve set the other person up as a help object who exists only to make them feel good. That is not why other people exist. Are there opportunities for service? Undoubtedly. But people with disabilities, simply by virtue of our disabilities, are not automatically such opportunities.

Third, consider the impact on the other person. One of the great ironies of becoming a help object is the feeling that, suddenly, I am supposed to receive help, but not give it. For someone like me, who has a fierce desire to help, that expectation is the social equivalent of tying my hands behind my back. I can hardly describe the feelings of grief and pain that position engenders.

People with disabilities, like anyone else, need the dignity of giving in addition to the dignity of receiving it. Everyone can serve in his or her own way, according to his or her own abilities. Just as no one should always be a giver, no one should always be a receiver.

So please, if you see me with my cane, just strike up a conversation about anything you like – the weather, the bus schedule, my bright red Converse high-tops. But don’t assume that I need your help. If I do, I will certainly ask.

Rachel Cohen-Rottenberg is a writer, photographer and activist passionate about disability rights. Rachel holds a Master’s degree in English from the University of California at Berkeley, where she taught freshman composition and sophomore literature as a graduate student instructor for three years. After graduate school, Rachel began a 15-year career as a technical writer in the networking and telecommunications fields for companies such as Novell and Lucent Technologies. She is currently pursuing her second Master’s degree (this time in history and culture) at Union Institute and University. Her field of concentration is Disability Studies.

71 Responses to The Complexities of Giving: People with Disabilities as Help Objects

  1. michele says:

    John Allan is very rude. I worked very hard before I was disabled, and I am disabled because I was hurt at a job. I have a compressed spinal cord and cannot sit, stand or walk for more than 15 minutes or I get dizzy and pass out. I am bed ridden, yet I still lie in my bed and try to do something useful. Obviously you are not physically disabled because you know NOTHING about severe spine injuries.

  2. michele says:

    You are lucky if anyone asks to help. I am disabled with a spinal disease. I collapsed walking into my local library and the people gave us very nasty looks, no offers of help. My teenage daughter was able to help me back to the car, but was really upset people would just stare.’ I am on a cane/walker and have to use the handicaaped cart at the store. Sometime I get very hasty looks and people say ride comments. As a disabled person I can say abuse is rampant and if anyone offers to he’ll I jump on it, because the offers are few and far between.

  3. Hayley says:

    Rachel, I really appreciate how well your article has articulated a nagging irritating thought I’ve had for ten years. I can’t tell you how many times I get asked if I need help, just for sitting in a wheelchair. I have a constant spotlight on me. If I drop something, three people pop out of nowhere to pick it up for me. On the one hand, I am the queen, so naturally such behavior is expected of the common folk. (Cheerful sarcasm) On the other, the fact that so many people are always at the ready to bend over backwards makes me feel watched. I’m uncomfortable because people are waiting to find out what’s wrong with me. If I drop something, “oh maybe she has cerebral palsy.” If I stop to think about something “Oh, maybe she has an intellectual disability.” How do I know people are thinking these things? Because if I stop in a grocery store to think about what I need, people have asked me: if I need an assistant; if I’ve lost my “companion;” if Clearly, this is not an issue of a polite or impolite society. This is a fight to be respected, for people to be comfortable with disabilities to the point where they don’t feel the need to watch them.
    Another aspect people might consider is why are you that desire help uncomfortable to ask for it? Maybe you are shy, but maybe it’s because you know that society disapproves of people who are dependent on others. I’m not just pulling this out of my head; there’s a whole field of sociology dedicated to disability issues. With American emphasis on youth and command over the body, disabilities are terrifying for people! From a psychology existential perspective, disabilities make people conscientious about the fact that they have little control over their fate. Frankly, disabilities remind people of their own limitations and mortality. In general, I hope discussions like this generate questioning of the current status quo that emphasizes “rugged independence” and blinds people to how dependent they truly are.

  4. Ryan says:

    I have been thinking about this post since it came out and am actually writing about it in my dissertation right now (with appropriate citations). I appreciate that this incident, and Rachel’s reflections on it, continue to open up questions about ways of conceptually and corporeally relating to disability. At first I thought the “suggestions” were far too prescriptive, not giving enough room for others to reflect on the multiple narratives that are revealed in these sorts of encounters. Now, having read through the comments, I’ve changed my mind. This is an excellent account insofar as this describes the “disorientation” that these moments can present. Do people–disabled or not–have to think about what they say and do before they say and do it? Yes, but this thinking should not stop at the moment of encounter or, worse, just before it. To me, what is called for is an ongoing interrogation and wonder(ing) about what these moments do, and what we can do with them.

  5. BC says:

    That second sentence should have read “I should not have expected others to have read it as I did.” I really know others ( with and without disability) that would have had some the same thoughts

    I could go on and on about that statement, but I won’t”.

  6. BC says:

    OK People! I was really surprised how many folks were offended by this post. I suppose I should not have read it as I did. You see have cerebral palsy, walked with crutches and used a scooter until about twenty years. I am now almost seventy and use a wheelchair. I thought I had seen and felt all those negative feelings and and now could proceed with life with what I thought was a good attitude. But, in recent years, I have begun to realize I am seen as just an old lady in a wheelchair. Believe me, that presents whole new set of challenges. I admit some of my problems are within me, but my point is that that your post was most accurate. And, if you expect people to change by legistion and even attempted education. Think again.
    But, we people with disability have to keep trying. Never give up!

  7. Krissy G. says:

    Ok, I had to stop reading the comments after a while. Holy tomato. People really missed your point and verbally attacked you. I’m sorry for that. This is a well written piece. Thank you.

    My brother went through a car windshield when he was 12. He had been on his way to the Little League State Tournament–he was hot stuff. He went through puberty in a coma and came out severely disabled. He never spoke normally or walked normally again. He had a lot of anger issues after the accident because he didn’t *want* help but he *needed* help.

    There is an art to offering help. This is something that people are totally missing in your post. I’m sorry they are missing the point.

    When you are offering help to anyone it is good to acknowledge when you are speaking that refusal is a great response. “Hey, I’m totally ok with being told to go away but would any assistance be useful?” Give someone a safe out so that they are not compelled to do what you say or be rude.

    I *understand* the impulse to compulsively offer help to people who are visibly disabled. I also understand that people who are visibly disabled are often bombarded by help they don’t need and it gets really frustrating. I expect people to be snippy. Maybe it was my early training. Ha.

    These kinds of writings need to enter public dialogue. Your opinion and voice does matter. You should not smile and say thank you just to make other people feel good.

    Ugh. And Ugh. And UGH. No.

    Have a nice day.

  8. Penelope says:

    In general I agree with being frustrated with how the woman reacted to your refusal of help. I don’t have any problem with her asking, but there’s no reason not to accept a no gracefully.

    My general thing is that I appreciate being asked or offered help as long as my answer is respected. I’m horrible at asking for help when I need it and sometimes when I am ready to ask there is no one to ask or they’re too far away or something. I really don’t have a problem being asked if I want help even if theoretically I would have already done what was being offered. I one of those who wouldn’t necessarily sit on a bench when there are other people sitting there even if I needed to and there was room. Since I am a wheelchair user now, it”s not an issue for me, but I definitely ended up standing when I couldn’t really do so safely in the past in a situation like you described. My issue is that no one should be disappointed when their help is turned down. It isn’t a rejection of the person and their self-worth should not be based on helping others even when those others don’t want or need help.

  9. Elisabeth H. N. says:

    I am on a mobility scooter and dearly appreciate being a help object. I have a hard time asking for help and really appreciate the kindness of styragers who take the initiative in asking to help me. When I just used a cane, few people offered to help me and I would stand in line for hours, waiting my turn and quietly writhing in pain. I am so touched by the goodness of people now and always say thanks even when I indicate it is a task I can handle myself. I am the mother of a seriously disabled son now experiencing disabiities myself, though of a less serious nature. I do not think our society cares enough for the well being of seriously disabled people so I appreciate the small acts of kindness from other human beings that remind me that we are all part of the same human community.

  10. Lauri Sue R. says:

    Hi Rachel,

    As a woman who has been on both sides of the issue, I think perhaps you are reading too much into this exchange. I used a cane for years, and a wheelchair, and I am now in remission and walking unaided. If I was with my cane I would have found it very difficult, or maybe impossible, to sit between two people. I needed to be on an end if a bench, so I would have stood, rather than ask someone else to move, but would have been grateful for the offer.

    As for the expression on the woman’s face after you declined, it may well have been embarrassment for her perceived faux pas in making the offer! Unless you know someone quite well, you can not expect to accurately recognize all their facial expressions. Survivors of strokes, Bell’s Palsy, and many other conditions, have expressions that do not always relate to their emotions.

    Just be glad she did not grab you and try to force you into the seat, as has happened to me and other “caners”!

  11. Deborah D. says:

    I totally empathize as a person with a disability who is short statured, used to walk with a cane, and now uses a wheelchair. Just one point that might be useful…. sometimes people ask impulsively and/or reflexively based on their upbringing, and then react because they worry that they are somehow uncomfortable to sit next to. It then could be about their combination of what is courteous and normative, and perhaps self esteem concerns if the offer is not accepted. Am I scary, smelly, uncomfortable to be around…. just a thought to add to the dialogue that I try to keep in mind.

  12. Jamie says:

    HI Rachel,

    Thank you so much for your blog. As a woman who uses a wheelchair I really relate to your story. I often accept and deeply appreciate the kindness of strangers – for things like offering to open a heavy door, etc…. However, sometimes people take things too far and it can be quite intrusive. Last Friday I was visiting a friend in a nursing home and asked an employee where a room number was located so that I knew which direction to go. The employee immediately started pushing me (not speaking). I gently and firmly asked them to stop pushing me that I preferred to do it myself (strangers pushing me actually makes me nervous!) but if she could direct me in the right direction I would really appreciate it. She was outwardly annoyed at this request, and so it became in fact awkward. Sometimes negotiating boundaries for us is a process.

    Thanks again for your blog, I found it very insightful.

    take care, Jamie

  13. Deidre says:

    OH woman you are a breath of fresh air! I have been contemplating on this issue all week, I was trying to figure out was it substituted judgment that is the problem? NO its HELP OBJECT that is the problem! I will be using this far and wide and have already sent it to gobs of people who will send it to gobs of people! Thanks.

  14. Erin S. says:

    Thank you for this blog post. As the mother of a child with significant disabilities, I have watched my daughter become a “help object” at times in the classroom and in our community. I have been offered assistance that I have gratefully accepted, like one beautiful woman who watched me struggle with an infant in a carrier and an older child in a wheelchair and asked how she could help. First she held the baby while I cleaned the one child, then she entertained the child while I changed the baby! I nearly cried from relief! There is nothing more priceless than authentic help offered without strings attached. But other times, I have been offered help I clearly didn’t need, as though the presence of my child in a wheelchair necessarily means I must be helpless or exhausted or grieving. I have received that disapproving look when I effortlessly used the accessible button to open the door or backed my daughter’s chair down a step. Yet without the physical sign of the wheelchair, we have been ignored when obviously needing help!

    I have assessed offers of help for signs of authenticity: is this a show or is this for real? I have flagged down total strangers and simply said, “please help me” and I don’t think I have ever been turned down or felt debased; I simply needed it and people responded. I find people are pleased to help but the help needs to be authentic and meaningful. I have seen the magic when my daughter is the giver of help. I have seen her receive help as an act of grace, choosing to let the helper take centre stage. But as I raise my girl, one of the most important qualities I try to cultivate and protect in her is her intense honesty about the help she needs. Maggie will unselfconsciously request as much help as she needs, never asking for more than she needs, never accepting help that is superfluous. I LOVE this quality of hers, this confidence that she deserves assistance, and this self-assurance that help must be on HER terms. Maggie will need assistance her entire life; what more important skill is there for her to learn than how to direct these supports and help? One of the qualities that Maggie role-models for all of us, at only 10 years old, is an uncomplicated approach to requesting exactly what she needs without any apparent sense of obligation to accept more.

    • Rachel Cohen-Rottenberg says:

      Erin, everything you are saying is just gorgeous. So nuanced and so right. .

  15. LVM says:

    I’m not disabled, and I’ve had the “don’t offer to help for fear of offending” drilled into me quite well. But I don’t think you should read that much into the woman’s disappointed look, or into her offering you a seat when there was clearly room on the bench.

    The way you describe it, the only available seating was between two people who were maintaining a socially acceptable distance between them (which for Americans is long – Americans tend to have a large personal space bubble). A third person sitting between them would have to sit right next to the woman – you describe the young man as “stretching his legs” on the far end of the bench. She may have assumed that you were hesitant to sit close to her, and that you were standing for that reason.

    Quite honestly, if I were sitting at a bench, the seat next to me was available, and I saw a disabled person with a cane who was standing, the thought would cross my mind that the person is standing because they are hesitant to sit next to me – for whatever reason (shyness, personal distaste, fear, prejudice, whatever). It wouldn’t be the only thought that would cross my mind, but it would definitely be there.

    As for her disappointed look – rejection sucks. Even if it’s a minor social rejection like this one. Any kind of rejection, whatever the situation, may result in a feeling of disappointment and the corresponding facial expression. Even if it’s something as simple as smiling at someone and not having them return the smile.

  16. Hahn J. says:

    i want u to know i will offer assistance without making you feel guilty for saying no. i find it sad that ppl make others feel that way bcs they show that they can and will make there own choices. perhaps the woman thought you didn’t want to sit with s1 like her. it angers me when ppl get upset that i was my own boss rather than their slave. it is nice though to say what you offer is nice but I’m happier too stand. i have always been and will always be a stander, but Ty 4urcourtesy I’m very glad that you care. i tend to smooth over ruffled feathers more than i should but then I’m learning diplomacy

  17. Annie C. says:

    I come from the blindness and disability perspective. Over time, i have learned that the discomfort I feel is my internal struggle with not wanting to be viewed as helpless. My sense of self was attacked when I lost my vision and it took a long time not to feel marginalized when offered help or ignored until I ask for it. I’ve learned to say, ‘thanks, I’m good’ instead of saying ‘no thanks’. I find most folks accept it a little better this way. I think that paternalizing behaviors from others is annoying but I’ve learned to let it roll off and go about my businessjust like everyone else.

  18. Rachel Cohen-Rottenberg says:

    I’ve been meditating quite a bit on the comments to my piece, and I’m struck by the level of anger expressed at what some see as a lack of gratitude. I’m not sure how to parse the irony here. I write because I want to help move disability rights along, because I want to create dialogue, and because I want to make get people thinking about different ways to look at disability. Given all the givens, it seems to me that if someone values gratitude over criticism, the only possible response to this piece would be “Thank you for writing this piece. I’m grateful you took the time to help us see your perspective.” It’s not that I want that response; not at all. I like substantive disagreement and I welcome constructive criticism. But a non-substantive response like that would be consistent with what is being asked of me as I interact with others.

    Apparently, disabled people are supposed to simply express gratitude, even if we disagree with what someone has expressed, even if we find it unhelpful, and even if we perceive that there are flaws in the dialogue and that it does not work for us. It’s a very curious double standard. In this piece, I bent over backwards to express how much I appreciate offers of help in general, how much I appreciate the impulse to help, how much I understand why people want to help, and how much my discomfort was specific to a very particular situation — and still, I’m not grateful enough because I’m not willing to simply say thank you and be quiet. I’m not sure why expressing my perspective and doing critical analysis engenders anger in some, but that anger speaks volumes about what society expects of us as disabled folk.

  19. Cathy says:

    This may have been well-intended and the intent is understood. However, this did become increasingly disturbing as read. A rational person would just politely decline the seat with grace and let it go. On the other hand, many of us with disabilities do welcome random acts of kindness and do not share her sentiments. This well-intended encounter questionably festered in the writer to the point of writing a commentary — as opposed to a rational person’s response of seeing it as a positive or letting it go. She then crossed the line to irrational when she arrogantly stretched this simple gesture to see herself as self-appointed independent “scholar,” which means a person who is highly educated in the topic at hand (which her listed credentials fail to show she is). Most do-gooders do not do things just to make themselves feel good. Many people have manners or were raised to show respect to people, including those with canes, etc. Others have dealt with family and friends using canes or devices and “pay it forward.” Some have disabilities she does not see or recognize. An act of kindness to a stranger may have been all that woman felt she had to offer. The writer knew nothing of the woman she rebuffed and made no attempt to do so before commenting negatively on a beautiful action — making it hypocritical for her to write a piece about judging others’ needs. What is most eye-opening and revealing (more so with her a degree in English) is counting the “I” and “me” references in her writing. As the piece progressed, she came across as a deeply troubled yet arrogant person. For instance, she seems to be justifying her own self-admitted trouble accepting help by dictating to others her own misperceptions and desires. All combined, that makes me question if the writer has become way too self-focused or is having an identity crisis. Bottom line, many of us with disabilities do appreciate very much random acts of kindness and are more understanding of those who do them than this writer is.

  20. Mary L. says:

    Thanks for your words. I have two different stories that popped into my mind. One was my truly embarrassing experience of getting on a bus, yes, with my cane and asking someone who looked able bodied to stand so I could sit. See, I have no balance, so riding a bus while standing is nearly impossible for me. She looked like she wanted to argue, but stood anyway and I was mortified when she revealed what looked like an 8 month pregnant belly! Thank goodness someone else offered her his seat.

    The other time I was on my scooter trying to open a door to get into a building. Each time I opened it I would have to back up to get in, but it would shut before I could make it back. I did this over and over and person after person walked by with no one offering assistance. Why didn’t I just ask? Because I was crying from the frustration so was too embarrassed to ask. Sometimes an offer isn’t such a bad thing.

    • Tam says:

      That second one is what I was thinking of as I read this. Sometimes it’s really hard to ask for help, especially in a situation where we’re embarassed about needing it. For that reason I much prefer people ask by default instead of not asking by default, especially if there’s any indication of a struggle going on.

      This particular situation of Rachel’s was obviously not falling into this category in the first place (since there was a seat open already, and she could have taken it as easily as the one the woman was offering). And I think Rachel’s reaction is much more about the woman’s response to the decline of help than to her offer.

      It’s a fine line, and when we live with a disability we have to see people making those decisions every single day. On the good days it can get exasperating to have people wanting to help you with every little thing. On the bad days it can get frustrating when no one offers. It almost seems to me like most people will *only* offer help if it doesn’t look like you really need it. As if they want to offer to make themselves feel good, as long as it’s not a situation where you’d likely take them up on it. But then I suppose it could just be happenstance, and my frustration is making it feel that way :)

  21. aw h. says:

    My disability is old age. I appreciate ALL the people who extend offers of help and I’m usually glad to be able to say ‘no thanks’. People with disabilities that are unseen or disturbing to others may not be so fortunate. Extend a friendly ‘Hi’ or smile. We need to improve ways to integrate people with disabilities into the wider world. That requires empathy as well as persistence. We can-and should-do it asap.

  22. elizabeth s. says:

    funny, now one has to analyze everything before we open our mouths. now i have to think hard before i speak to try to figure out if i am going to hurt anyone’s feelings by trying to be kind… kind of crazy. i have disabilities, and i have never felt uncomfortable with being offered assistance. i am just grateful that there are still thoughtful people in the world…each time i am offered help it makes me realize that the world is not always as bad as everyone makes it seem. i think maybe you need to look deeper inside of yourself to try to figure out why this affected you so intensely….a good therapist can help you to work this out…i know…i went through other, similar issues, and learned to let go and be grateful. take an offering of help at face value and be grateful people are not being thoughtless. things really could be so much worse than a hand offered in kindness. maybe she did feel pity for you…what is the sin in that? many rich people feel that way towards the poor and give of their riches to them…because they care, because they really want to help. i call that a helping hand, not charity for the poor. people who do not have a disability have no clue about what it is like to have one…but to punish them by feeling uncomfortable for what they verbalized and to then write about her on a blog? that reaction requires you to investigate more deeply why it had this affect on you. something is wrong. take the time and energy to talk to a good therapist and work it out. you will live much more happily and richly after you rid yourself of this hang up. good luck! the world isn’t really ALL that bad. try to learn to be thankful for all those who speak as this person did. that’s the good in the world just trying to shine through!

    • Rachel Cohen-Rottenberg says:

      Elizabeth, engaging in critical thought and doing social commentary are not psychological maladies requiring therapeutic help. All my life, I’ve been fascinated by the ways in which people interact and by the power relationships between them. I’m an inveterate watcher and analyzer of process, and I love to write about the ways in which people negotiate space, see one another, and relate to one another.

      I did not come away from the interaction upset or angry. I came away from it feeling uncomfortable — as though something had happened that felt “off” to me. I usually pay attention to that feeling because it’s usually not an indicator of something wrong with me (or with anyone else, frankly) but with the larger terms of an interaction and with the narratives that people are living out. In this case, I set about examining the source of my discomfort and what that means about how others see and interact with a person with a visible marker of disability. If you are not interested in analyzing these sorts of interactions, that’s fine, but please do not pathologize me or my interest in critical analysis.

    • William B. says:

      I agree with Elizabeth. I have been disabled for over 3 years, I would appreciate any help I could have. People shouldn’t have to think out a whole situation, pros and cons, before offering help to someone disabled or NOT disabled. Kindness should just be reactive, you see someone needing a cane to stand and you offer a solution. If they are offended by that, that’s there psychological problem. I noticed all the “education the writer has” I am bewildered by all of the people who have all this education and they can’t interact with the average person. This person is clearly over thinking every situation. With all that education you need to take a “Life Living in The Real World class”,instead of the academic world. As I said I am on permanent disability and would appreciate any help offered. I would throw up my hands in the air with disgust, but if my hands left my walker I would fall to the ground and be in even more pain than I am now.

    • Steph C says:

      Wow elizabeth b, talk about not really reading and taking in what Rachel wrote in this blog post. You state you have disabilities, and that the woman on the bench might have pity for Rachel…BUT…what’s wrong with that?! Wth? Either you’re okay with people pitying people with disabilities or you aren’t. You can’t have it both ways. Just because you’re okay with that, in the name of receiving help…at all costs, fine, but not all of us do. I don’t know how long you’ve lived with your disability(s), but I was born with mine. And I can tell you, being asked if I “Need help” 20-30 times a day!, over 53-year time span…it gets really old, very fast. And I know that a large number of folks were offering me help because they saw I had a disability, not assessing the situation and then determining if I really needed their assistance. I remember years ago, learning about the this type of action directed at those of us with disabilities, it’s called, “Attacks of Help”. God how I loved learning that one. It truly names what Rachel and I and thousands of us with disabilities experience on a daily basis. I wish I knew who coined this beautiful, perfect and spot-on description. Elizabeth B, in answering your question, “what’s wrong with being pitied and accepting help”: well, accepting help we don’t need by people we feel are pitying us or offering to make themselves feel better in the moment, continues the larger scheme of society viewing and treating us as dependent on others, always needing help, lesser than non-disabled folks. THAT’S what wrong with going along to make others feel good about themselves at OUR expense. It perpetuates the helplessness myth around disability. And plays out in many negative ways on a societal level. If individuals view me as helpless, “less then” or always needing help, well then, how are they going to view me as a potential employee or co-worker, for example? Or even as a supervisor or manager? You add up incident after incident, person after person, viewing those of us as dependent, a burden, ALWAYS needing help…we won’t be able to break through the glass FLOOR in many aspects of American society. THAT’S what’s wrong with going along with being a “help object” or accepting “attacks of help”. There’s a bigger picture, and in the long run, it’s very harmful to the disability community and it’s our responsibility to stop it, in it’s tracks. Again, this not about not accepting offers of help when we really need it and it’s clear the offer is presented without any strings attached. But clarifying the two is very important.
      Thanks Rachel, for writing a well-written, thought-provoking and spot-on post.
      Best Regards,
      ~Steph

  23. Emily L. says:

    This post quite accurately describes my inner dialogue when I’m asked if I need help when I’m simply existing. For instance, I am quite often asked if I need help when I am doing nothing more than sitting still in my wheelchair. It is as though a visible indication of disability makes me appear helpless by default, when I am in fact always very much aware of my own needs and purpose.

  24. karen b says:

    I am pretty sure I’ve felt uncomfortable after offering help and being refused, not because I thought the person should take my help, but because I then wasn’t sure if I had been rude for asking. Not the other person’s problem, but my own. This is probably more acute for me if someone has a visible disability because I realise I’ve called attention to their disability, and worry about that. Again, not their issue, mine.

    I feel saddened by these comments but not surprised — as someone who was studying Psychiatric Anthropology I can well attest to how this piece is a way of thinking about an experience, which comes from Rachel’s perceptions and perspectives on her experience. But it’s also an attempt to push the conversation about ableism further outside of our comfort zones — disabled people as help objects; sure for some, every person is a help object. But the subject of this piece is a very important one. Looking at that one encounter through this lens, that is the exercise, and it is not saying that disabled people ARE help objects, it’s not saying that all offers of help to disabled people are bad, it’s not saying those things. And calling out that Rachel didn’t say “thank you” is a pretty big side issue that doesn’t invalidate her analysis.

    I’d like to extend the analysis with my own side example — as a queer person, I went on vacation with my family and I was hit on by people whose attention I didn’t want. When I exclaimed my discomfort to my family members, they exclaimed, “You should be flattered,” — no, it doesn’t work that way. By that logic any man who is hit on by another man should be flattered. But people have been murdered over that “mistake”. The fact was, I was uncomfortable when I realised I was being hit on, and had a difficult time dealing with it because I was young and autistic and hadn’t learned how to deal with these subtle kinds of come ons. Being sexualized in a way I didn’t want _did_not_feel_good_.

    Being in a bikini at a resort is no more an invitation to be hit on, as being visibly disabled is an invitation to be automatically helped.

    It’s absurd if every woman answered to catcalls with “thank you”. However, I’m sure there are plenty of people who’d disagree with both examples.

    Learning needs to happen, and that includes the uncomfortable experience of being called on a kind of ignorance, i.e. seeing a person with cane, chair, braces, or other visible signifier(s) of disability and automatically making assumptions about how to respond to the person (they must need help), and then being anything but supportive when said disabled person doesn’t fall in line with being an object of help. Yes, offer help, in ways that make sense, certainly if someone appears to have tried a few times to do something, or is really struggling to do something, then offer, but accept a “no”. Graciously.

    • LVM says:

      The question is this: if we push able-bodied people in the direction of “don’t help for fear of offending” – where does that leave the disabled people who do, in fact, need help on occasion?

      I remember the last time I offered help – I saw a blind woman who was crossing the street at a dangerous intersection, and who appeared lost and was heading into moving traffic. The obvious danger to her overrode my normal “don’t get involved” reflexes, and I asked her if she needed help, got a “yes”, and helped her across the street.

      That was a life-threatening incident, and thus, the course of action was pretty clear. But what should I, as an able-bodied person, do when I see a wheelchair user struggling to get through a door, for example? If I hold the door for them, I’m not respecting their agency as a person and their independence – so I’m supposed to ask them if they need help. But if I ask them if they need help, am I going to be accused of using them to get my jollies from a “help object”? Having read this article, I’m assuming that the answer is “yes”; so inaction appears to be much less socially threatening. I certainly don’t enjoy having my kind impulses misinterpreted.

      Is that the outcome that you, as a sociologist, think is the most desirable one? Universal inaction?

      • Rachel Cohen-Rottenberg says:

        LVM — First of all, I’m not a sociologist. I’m a writer.

        Second, in the article I said that, if there are no seats, it is perfectly appropriate to ask a person with a cane if they’d like to sit down. That’s empathetic and considerate. Sometimes people have a hard time asking for help, and there is nothing wrong with smoothing the way. I fail to see how that implies a desire for universal inaction, and I really wish that people would stop suggesting that I think we should create a moratorium on all offers of help. There is nothing in my article that supports that interpretation.

        Obviously, sometimes offering help is a good thing. The problem is when a person’s disability *automatically* results in an offer of help. If the situation calls for being helpful, fine; in my article, I expressly suggested that people look at the situation they’re in. If someone is about to get hit by a car, or fall down on a bus, or crash into someone while walking in the street — yes, of course, you offer help. But a situation is different from a person. A person holding a cane is not automatically calling for help by virtue of holding a cane. Believing that the mere presence of disability requires an offer of help makes us help objects.

        In the final analysis, what I want is for people to be willing to hear “no” with some grace. Imagine if the lady at the bus stop had said, “Oh, I’m sorry. That was silly. Obviously, you saw the space on the bench and would have sat there if you’d wanted to.” Had that been the case, I likely would have written an article about what a great conversation it was, because the person would have owned her mistake and we’d have had a good laugh. I probably would have responded with, “That’s all right. We’re all on a learning curve. I appreciate your seeing my perspective here.”

        It’s fine to make mistakes. There is nothing wrong with that. It’s not fine to make an offer of help in which an expectation of taking that help is built into it. Then it’s not an offer. Then it’s a demand.

  25. Jisun says:

    I think the comments telling the author that she is overreacting are missing the opportunity to learn from the message of this story. Presumed helplessness is insulting, no matter the kind intentions of the one presuming. Isn’t this a reminder for us all to stop and think before assuming anything about anyone? To me this goes even past disability. Like when I was younger, people assumed I couldn’t speak English (I’m Asian), and I found that people would try to speak for me or over me in an attempt to “help”. To me, it was a very similar situation, someone had judged me and assumed I needed assistance without much critical thought. In that case as well, a simple question could have sufficed.

  26. Joan E. says:

    Funny how we all react. I have an invisible disability and tho’ I prefer to stand AND walk, I can’t always. Nothing “shows” – no cane, sometimes a scooter if I’m at huge hotel or convention center but most of the time I do my best. But when I take a cab only 3-6 blocks (when I used to walk miles just to do errands) I always feel I have to apologize for not giving them a better fare. And when I do need help and ASK for it, I get “looks” like “really, what’s wrong with you?” Invisible disabilities are a strange thing and sometimes some of us want a bit of care and caring.

    • Mary K. says:

      I know how you feel! I have an invisible disability also. My tailbone and spine make sitting excruciating at times. The worst thing is being mislabeled by Doctors. I once had a Psychiatrist misdiagnose me because I could not sit down. She assumed I was angry, I was just in pain! This misdiagnosis has followed me for years, because I don’t look sick! I have had 2 back surgeries and constant pain, yet I have been misdiagnosed numerous times. Everything shows up on my MRI so how can I be making it up! Event though I look healthy, I cannot get people to understand that some things are difficult, like sitting, people become offended!
      They often assume I have a Mental Problem or an intellectual disability which is really irritating. This is people in the so called helping field, not the general public!
      I had to leave College and work because I could not make them understand that a few simple accommodations would have allowed me to continue. I gave up fighting and dealing with caseworkers who just assumed I was mentally ill because I don’t look disabled. I am so sick of it, dealing with Chronic Pain and always being put down or ignored.
      By the way if I see an old person struggling I usually try to help, or a pregnant lady with a bunch of kids. It is amazing how many strong able bodied people do not bother in the least!

  27. Jennifer says:

    This post is absolutely spot on. This is a topic on which I have been trying to communicate in a way that people can understand for a very long time. Some of the comments below the post illustrate the puzzling fact that it is a very tough nut to crack. I and many others can vouch for the fact that psychic powers are not required in order to perceive that sometimes, even the politest decline of an offer of help can reveal that the offerer’s intentions were much more about what the would-be helper may want than about the needs of the potential recipient of help. In my own experience, reactions to “no thank you” can range from quiet insult, to loud remonstrations, to simply ignoring my answer and proceeding with the help anyway. Mostly I do not think people are deliberately being difficult or disrespectful–they just often have not really thought it through and are operating under misconceptions common in our society. However, we really need for people to take that next step and—well, think it through. It seems to me that some of the best real help that can be given would involve taking to heart the guidance in this piece.

  28. Jonathan B. says:

    I understand the discussions only too well. I am legally bling (tunnel visioned), and legally deaf (corrected with hearing aids.
    As a child my Father was in denial of having a handicap son. So I was forced to conform to the world by utilizing senses that many persons have no idea they have. I am not “Disabled”, I am “Differently Abled”. When I came to work for the Federal Governement, I had to prove that not only could I do the job, but I can do it 10 times better than a average person who had no disabilities. I had no choice, either I FIGURED IT OUT, OR STARVE. Now there is a push to hire “Disabled Persons” in the government. Young persons coming straight out of college are being pampered to their job roles as “Tokens”. The develop a sense of “Entitiement, and whine for attention. Yet I see the fact that they are not develping their abilities to do things differently by experiencing the adversity. . .That is where one’s inner strengths become obvious.
    Since I have always conducted myself in a manner that most persons don’t even realize how blind or deaf I really am. My friends, coworkers, and extended family members understand – “I WILL CHOOSE TO LET YOU KNOW WHEN I AM IN NEED OF ASSISTANCE. . .DON’T ASSUME YOU KNOW WHAT I NEED BEFORE I DO.” It causes unwarranted embarrassment and confusion for a person who uses parts of their brain that the average person has not evolved into utilizing.
    Again, We are not “Disabled”, We are “Differently Abled.”

  29. Gayle says:

    I understand the importance of your independence, and the choice to stand while you still can. For some of us with a cane, standing is simply not an option, at least not for periods of a few minutes or more.

    What I suspect you wanted is to make sure you were not pitied or condemned. However, this article is quite dangerous for us who must sit, and it is counter to the battle I have had to wage as my arthritis has become progressively more debilitating.

    What I am finding is there are far too many people, especially young people, who sit on the bus or train with their nose in the phone, tablet, or book and ignore completely the sign behind them that says this seating is preferred for disabled or seniors. Standing with my cane and requesting the seat, I’ve been challenged by much younger men who have said as much as I might be faking the disability.

    While a cane is the fashionable accessory for the Boomer generation, a great place to put protest signs, and a tool for claiming one’s luggage in airport carrels, it is an indicator for most of us that a little consideration is often needed.

    I’m just afraid that your “Oh, I don’t need a seat,” could be interpreted by many as any of us do not and that would be a travesty. I still hold the door for those who are older and appear more infirmed than I. It’s just a question of how one was raised, and the person who offered you a seat should be commended for their nobility, and not condemned.

    Here’s hoping you continue to be able to stand. Oh, for the luxury….

    • Rachel Cohen-Rottenberg says:

      Gayle, I think that context is vital here. As I said in the article, if there had been no seats on the bench at all, and someone had seen me standing with a cane, I would have welcomed the offer of a seat. Such an offer would have shown consideration and empathy; I have done the same for others because that’s the way I was raised. And if the bench had been full, no one had offered to get up, and I needed to sit down, I would have asked some young able-bodied person to move it. I’m rather shy in general, and I can be polite to a fault, but when it comes to advocating for my needs and not standing around in pain, I am quite assertive. Today is one of those pain days when standing for very long would be out of the question, and I’m more than able to specify what that sort of support I need.

      The crux of the matter is that there was a seat available and I had chosen not to take it. It should have ended there. I am quite clearly and intensely aware of my surroundings and generally do not require anyone else to point out that I can sit down on a bench. I am not obligated to take a seat when I don’t want a seat, and I am not obligated to accede to someone else’ offer of help just to make the person feel like a good person.

      I long for a world of kindness and respect, and part of kindness and respect is giving people the space to make their own decisions and to graciously accept no for an answer.

    • Penelope says:

      How do you know that at least some of those young people don’t have a need for those seats? Keeping their nose in what they’re doing or seeming to ignore may be a defense mechanism because people look at them and assume they’re healthy. I didn’t have an option to use public transportation because I was living in a rural area when I was 18 and dealing with severe chronic pain. If I had lived somewhere with public transportation, I would have needed as close seats as possible. At that point I wasn’t using a cane because it was hard enough to deal with not being able to stand/walk as much as someone else my age without the added reminder of the cane. Plus my parents were in even more denial than I was and a cane would have required a fight I wasn’t up to. I did get looks and verbally harassed when using my handicapped placard because I was young and looked healthy. Those people just missed the parts where I’d be crawling for most of the rest of the day and probably was only getting out once a week in a good week (more often once a month). Ironically, the only time I was ever physically threatened was after I’d become a wheelchair user when a guy saw me parking and assumed there was no way I legally had handicapped plates because I looked young. I have no idea if he saw me in my wheelchair because I was so scared to look for him at that point in case he actually did hit me with his cane rather than just threatening me with it out his car window. I did notice that he found a parking space not much, if any, further out that he could use and I could not have used.

  30. MARSHA C. says:

    I call them The Do-Gooders. I have seen examples of Do-Gooders that border on cruel and selfish, as in ripping a door out of the crutch users hands while clearly the guy was holding onto the door for support. He fell to the old whine, ‘I was just trying to help’, to my friend who complained of people who step towards his wheelchair at an outside café he frequents and ruined his $3 coffee drink by dropping into the cup a handful of dirty change as if my friend did not belong with other people unless he were begging!

  31. Alex W. says:

    Great article, and I appreciate the spirit in which it was written. I was born in ’87 and went to school when the push for inclusion (note, not integration, necessarily) of children with disabilities in the classroom was still young. For the first six or eight years of my education, I always had an aid hovering over me, all but demanding that I allow him or her to “help.” It didn’t matter that my disability mostly impacts my lower body – someone was always trying to be my note-taker, cut my chicken patty into tiny pieces, or stuff me into my coat at the end of the day.

    In an inaccessible world where it’s difficult for folks with mobility issues to be independent, we lose our few and far between opportunities because someone insists on helping. I appreciate it very much when someone offers, but it creates a dilemma for me when he or she reacts negatively to my polite declination: Should I accept the help to make another person feel good, or do what’s right for my body and mind, and do it myself?

  32. Cheryl L P. says:

    I have a disability myself and I understand your point. However, I must say that in this day and age when people can be so rude, an offer of help is nothing to complain about. When people offer to help me and I don’t need it, I just say no thank you, and I appreciate the offer.

    • ruth h. says:

      I consider the person writing this in the first more rude. Why would it bother you to recieve an offer of help from someone? In this day when I see alot of people who could stand next to someone who needed to sit, an offer of help would be graciously accepted. I am disabled, I walk with a cane, and must use a motorized cart in the store, but I will give up to someone else if necessary. Don’t make people afraid to ask or offer assistance, if they read this article, they probably will stop. I welcome the help, and I offer my own seat, my parents, and grandparents instilled in me to help others whenever you can, even if i am disabled.

    • Marc says:

      Just wanted to say (Me Too)

  33. s. s. says:

    Funny, as I kept reading I have myself been on both sides..as a person with Rheumatoid Arthiritis. I am a giver and often open doors and give offers of help for healthy persons, although my wrist have fused and don’t bend. I also have had a knee replaced and my hands are deforming, but i feel uncomfortable if someone offers me help. I do say thank you if it does happen, yet I still feel uneasy. I have had this disease for 32 yrs. but have a hard time excepting my limitations. Funny how our minds tell us we are okay, when our body says we aren’t!

  34. raymond de l. says:

    I prefer not to use my heelchair except forsaftey issues. I canmove around on crutches ad my leg brace. Util my body is compltetely in need I tery to be as normal as posible. Wha is normal anyway Some have no limbs and wwere born that way.

  35. martha2746 says:

    there is a word which leads to KINDNESS which has been forgotten by most, similar to opening the door for a woman or older adults, offering a seat is just one, what about the elders or women with child or children she’s trying to hang on to…some people only care about themselves that’s why the lady who asked grew up like me ,,,with manners it was just nice to ask, like me in a wheelchair or walker its nice when someone thinks to be polite it won’t hurt to say no thank you I’d rather stand for awhile……

  36. Mary T. says:

    Thank you for this article with another way to look at Disabilities. I have many years experience ,but none like this. Thanks for letting me in on another view.

  37. Harlan C. says:

    You are describing what it would be like to live in a perfect world. Sorry. Why don’t you let a little reality sink in, get over yourself and move it along. You are also presuming that you have the ability to interpret the woman’s facial expression. She could very well have been suffering an uncomfortable moment from a disability of her own. I have been disabled for over 60 years. As long as someone doesn’t lay hands on me to help without asking if I need help I am OK with it regardless of their motivation. Sorry to disagree with you, but, I call ‘em like I see ‘em.

    • ruth h. says:

      Amen!

    • Marc says:

      A very, and lost World we live in,,,,, I do so heartily believe in kindness, where kindness has it place in time as with anything.

      • Steph C says:

        Wow! Yeegads people! Why are you not READING what Rachel wrote? This post is not about kindness; and your replys about just “going along because people are more rude these days”, is just rude in itself. Go back and read her post…slowly…and take in what she’s really trying to say. You’ve truly missed her points.

  38. JOHN ALLAN P. says:

    I WAS INCREASINGLY IRRITATED AS I CONTINUED TO READ THIS BLOG..
    THERE ARE A MULTITUDE OF WAYS TO VIEW A SITUATION, AND YOURS OF BEING OFFENDED AND PATRONIZED IS NOT A GOOD ONE! A SIMPLE NO THANKS SHOULD BE RETURNED INSTEAD OF PUTTING SOMEONE DOWN BECAUSE THEY NOTICED YOU AND REACHED OUT..IN ADDITION…HAVING WORKED WITH CHILDREN MOST OF MY LIFE,TO WAIT FOR A PERSON WHO IS HAVING SERIOUS DIFFICULTY TO ASK FOR ASSISTANCE IS CALLOUS,UNFEELING AND COLD AND A LOT OF LESS EUPHEMISMS! I HOPE I NEVER READ ANYTHING LIKE THIS AGAIN!

    • ruth h. says:

      Same here, increaseinly irritated. Accept what is offere or politley say no. dont interpret someone’s else expression.

    • sonya r. says:

      John,

      I feel like you skipped over a large segment of Rachel’s post. Much of it was acknowledging the desire to help and expressing gratitude for that. The rest was about the PERSONAL work we can do to make sure that they way we help people is useful. It is very paternalistic to assume that whatever someone offers should just be graciously accepted without having actually made sure the giving was about the person and not about personal ego. Seems Rachel was asking for people to be reflective about their motives and actually place the needs of the person you are “helping” at the CENTER of the help. I am uncertain what could be problematic about that.

  39. Hilaire H. K. says:

    I don’t want to appear patronizing, Rachel, but you are one lovely young woman, and I have turned 70 with new disabling problems. It is also the first time I have looked my age, if not more, and that is also troubling.
    I know what you mean about those who need to be helpers. At the supermarket, they want to change no to yes, and have this compulsion to resort my groceries. When I get them home, they are not where they belong, you know, frozen with frozen, et.al, and I go nuts.
    I use the do-it-yourself lane to avoid more hands and coughing on my food, and I seem to have distanced myself from the ones with kids, who invariably bounce their carts off of my rear. The last time, I backed up, deliberately, and I’ll bet no one from that household does it again.
    I have grown myself a giant hump – a dead giveaway and very public notice that I have problems, but others seem to associate this with an individual who is now non compos mentis as well. Most distressing.

    • Rachel Cohen-Rottenberg says:

      Hi Hilaire — Don’t let my photo fool you! I am 55 with lots of lines and grey. Like you, for the first time in my life, I look my age and it’s a challenge in many ways. Your seeing me as a young woman is an experience I have not had in a while. :-)

  40. Herman says:

    I believe my biggest complaint is people that think I can’t take the groceries out of the basket of the electric shopping carts. Who do they think put them in the basket? It is obvious that my arms are not broken.
    Thinking back, I cannot remember anyone offering to help when my arm WAS broke.

  41. Roger G. says:

    Funny (well, not ha ha funny) that some of what you experience is experienced by minorities dealing with well-meaning white people. Thinking THEY know what’s best for you.

  42. Dennis M. says:

    I think you take things a bit too seriously. I would have thought that if you needed a place to sit you wouldn’t have boarded a packed bus. As for how you perceived the “feelings” of the person that asked if she could help do you think that your use of a cane has provided you with psychic powers? How on earth can you tell what the woman in question was “feeling”? And as for when the next time you desire assistance “you will ask for it”, I wish people with disabilities all felt that way so that the country could have been spared the billions of dollars in being forced to make EVERYTHING “handicap” accessible.

    • Kesha says:

      Are you so called “handicapped?” Do you have any earthly idea what it would be like to maneuver in a community pre-ADA? IF not, you don’t have the knowledge to make a comment like that. We pay the same taxes you do. It is only human right that we have equal access.

    • JOHN ALLAN P. says:

      I AGREE DENNIS..IT IS GREAT TO MAKE ACCOMMODATION FOR DIFERENCES BUT AS MANY THINGS IN OUR COUNTRY,THE TERM DISABLED,LOW-INCOME AND OTHER SUCH “NEED” CATEGORIES IS “WAY” TOO BROAD..i KNOW OF AN INDIVIDUAL WHO IS “HANDICAPPED” BECAUSE OF DRUGS,LOOSE LIVING AND OTHER IMMORAL ACTS THAT IS ALWAYS “DYING” FROM MALADIES AND ILLNESSES THAT GOES TO 3 FOOD PANTRIES,COUNTY FOOD BANK,MANY HOSPITALS FOR SURGERIES,PHYSICAL THERAPY,ETC.
      THE TRUTH IS, THERE ARE MANY PEOPLE WHO ARE IN POOR SHAPE PHYSICALLY, EMOTIONALLY, FINANCIALLY AND SPIRITUALLY BECAUSE OF THEIR POOR CHOICES AND THE GOVERNMENT SUPPORTS AND IS IMPOVERISHED BY THEM! i BELIEVE EVERYBODY CAN DO SOMETHING…VOLUNTEER EVEN SITTING IN A CHAIR AT A HOSPITAL,SORT CLOTHES AT A WELFARE SITE,ETC. UNLESS YOU ARE DEAD,YOU CAN CONTRIBUTE SOMETHING TO THE WELFARE OF OTHERS WITHOUT BEING A BURDEN ON THE COMMON PEOPLE..YES,I AM DISGUSTED WITH THE DIRECTION OF OUR COUNTRY …WE ARE VERY RICH,MORE THAT 90 % OF THE WORLD,AND THE DEBT OF THESE WELFARE PROGRAMS IS OUTRAGEOUS! PEOPLE BEGGING ON THE SIDE OF THE ROAD INSTEAD OF WORKING..VERY IRATATING!

      • kc says:

        John , what do public assistance programs have to do with ADA accessibility? I hope that ramps, widened doorways, lower counters, kneeling public buses, smaller gaps between subway platforms and trains, elevators and grasp-bars on bathroom walls never become necessary for you.

    • Alex W. says:

      There’s a huge difference between needing assistance to navigate an accessible world and living in one that’s not. The point of the ADA is to build a community where everyone, regardless of ability levels, has the same baseline for access. Confusing that with the topic of this article shows thoughtlessness and ignorance.

    • Rachel Cohen-Rottenberg says:

      Dennis M — Not sure why you thought I had boarded a packed bus. I was standing at a bus stop with space on the bench available and had elected to stand. When I am on a bus, I sit in one of the seats reserved for disabled/senior citizens, because standing would not be safe for me on a moving bus. On solid ground, I am perfectly safe while standing.

      As for the woman’s feelings — I was interpreting based on her facial expression and, to some degree, her body language. Neither were subtle in the least, trust me. People make these interpretations every day and aren’t accused of pretending to have psychic powers. Minority people in general (including but not limited to disabled people) are constantly questioned about how we know what really happened in our own interactions — as though we’re incapable of interpreting our own experience and surroundings. That’s simply a way of ignoring the point. It’s not just about my experience. If this were just my experience it might be interesting, but it would not representative. But the fact is that it *is* representative. We’re treated like help objects a great deal. Most disabled people encounter similar interactions fairly regularly and I assure you, we are not hallucinating.

      I’m not sure what the ADA has to do with only asking help when you need it, since accessibility is a human right and not something that anyone should have to request. Installing a wheelchair ramp (which is always a necessity for people who use wheelchairs if they want to enter any space that isn’t right on level ground) is quite different from someone offering help when it is clearly not needed. I was standing. It is my right to stand while disabled without being questioned about it — and without being treated as though I got in the way of someone else’s attempt to do a good deed when I very politely said that I’d like to continue standing.

    • sonya r. says:

      Dennis,

      Your entire tone and comment is rude and bigoted. i wonder how you might engage if you were deciding not to be intentionally sarcastic and mean spirited?

  43. Lavenia O. says:

    That’s a feeling I know well. I had a stroke almost 5 years ago, and am left with left sided paresis. My daughters and grandson have different approaches to giving me the help I do need and smothering me with concern. Thanks for the insight!

  44. Boda C. says:

    I think you might have overreacted to the elderly woman’s suggestion. If she is anything like my sister and many other people I know, she would have told you to sit whether you had a cane or not.

    There are some people who continually tell others what to do. You should sit. You should eat something. You shouldn’t eat that. You should comb your hair before leaving the house. You should wear a coat. Micro-managers like this don’t make sense; how old do you have to be before they stop telling you what to eat and wear? Answer: you’ll never be old enough!

    So don’t take these misguided suggestions personally or think that these people are deliberately looking for “help objects” so that they can feel good. That’s not the case.

    These micro-managers butt into everyone’s life with equal authority! They know better how we should be running our lives, better than we do (at least in their humble opinion).

    If you don’t believe this theory, just come live with my family for a few days. Between my mother, my sisters, and now even my nieces, they all will tell you exactly what you should do all the time, and how to do it.

    Now go sit and chill out .

    • Rachel Cohen-Rottenberg says:

      Boda, you make a good point. I came from a similar family in which everyone knew best and wasn’t afraid to say it. In this particular instance, though, the woman wasn’t telling anyone else what to do. She wasn’t attempting to micromanage anyone else. She wasn’t offering the seat to anyone else, and she wasn’t striking up a conversation with anyone else. She was pretty much minding her own business until I showed up. It’s a fairly well-traveled bus stop, so there were many others milling around and standing. She could have offered a seat on the bench to any one of them, but she didn’t.

      I love observing people and watching process, and if she’d been a busybody with everyone, I would have noted it and passed it off. But I was the only one there who became a help object, and that’s significant.

  45. annie o. says:

    Thank you so much for this post people really don’t understand what it mean not to assume what a person with disability need. Its simple ask!! Some similar happen to me at the bank, except it involved opening a bank account. the tellers assumed my needs instead of asking me what I wanted, it was frustrating for me.