Eight ‘Helpful’ Things That Don’t Really Help People With Disabilities

An interesting conversation picked up on Reddit this week when a user posted the following question to people with disabilities: “What is something that we (presumably people without disabilities) do that we think helps, but it really doesn’t?” In just a day, more than 9,000 comments rolled in, and people living with all types of health conditions — from physical disabilities to developmental delays to invisible illnesses — offered a lot of great insight.
If you’re unfamiliar with what it’s like to live with a health condition, you may not even realize when you’re not actually being that helpful. (That’s OK because that’s where we come in). According to Redditors, here are eight common mistakes people make when they’re trying to help:
1. Helping without asking.
“A friend of a friend of mine who [uses a wheelchair] told us how people constantly offer to push her to her destination, and often times go to start push (sic) her along. One person said, ‘I’m helping!’ as he started pushing her in her chair. She yelled back, ‘No, you’re kidnapping!!’ He stopped.”
2. Changing the way you talk.
“I’m hearing impaired (or hard of hearing, as the Deaf community prefers to put it). Do. Not. Yell at top volume, reeeaaaaaallllllly painfully slow. Just like it isn’t going to help a Spanish person understand the English you are speaking, it’s going to make you look real stupid to me… and everyone else we are around. It might work for you with Grandma, but I’m not your granny. Face me so I can read your lips, speak sharp and speak clear and we cool.”
“I have an autism spectrum disorder… Just talk to me like you would anyone else, and if I need something explained to me, I will ask. It’s that simple.”
3. Saying “But you don’t look [disabled, sick, etc.]“
“‘But you don’t look sick.’ ‘Well you don’t look like a doctor, but that’s just my opinion.’”
“The thing is, people without visible disabilities… often hear ‘But you don’t look sick’ as an excuse for the person saying it to not take the condition seriously or not give proper accommodations. In those cases it’s not a compliment, it’s an accusation. It happens way more often than you’d expect, and since it’s not just annoying but often an obstacle to actually getting the help needed to get on with your life, it gets old fast.”

4. Feeling sorry.
5. Offering medical advice.
6. Calling a person “inspiring” or “brave.”
“I laugh when people call me an inspiration. If they only knew. No Hallmark movies to be made about me anytime soon. lol”
“This! I’m being praised for going to university and doing normal random everyday stuff. What am I supposed to do, sit on my ass all day and wait to die?”
“There’s nothing brave or strong about it. I exist. My strength and courage comes from what I do. Not what I am.”
7. Shrugging off an illness you can’t see.
“I have a chronic pain condition. Please don’t tell me it’s all in my head. Everything we experience, we experience through the brain. Of course it’s in my head.”
8. Avoiding eye contact or keeping your questions to yourself.
But remember, everyone is different.
“Many of the things that some people don’t want could likewise be things others might welcome. The point is, everyone is different and has different needs and feelings about their situation in life. My advice is engage in a conversation and ask if there is anything you can do. If the answer is yes, help. If the answer is no, fine. This applies to everyone — not just those people with a clear physical impairment.”
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