By Ana Swanson April 24
The Internet community reddit has become a destination for all kinds of arcane topics, including cats dressed up as lobsters, creepy things found at garage sales, and people riding invisible bicycles. But once in a while, the forum also hosts a conversations that connects people with different life experiences in mind-opening ways.
On Tuesday, one reddit user posted a thread about the lives of people with disabilities. Called “Disabled people of reddit, what is something we do that we think helps, but it really doesn’t?”, the thread received almost 10,000 comments from people with a wide range of disabilities, such as missing limbs, cerebral palsy, severe back pain and rheumatoid arthritis, in just a few days.
Here are 14 of the most common suggestions that people with disabilities made about how to treat them. Some of these suggestions are incredibly insightful; others should be obvious, but apparently bear repeating. (We've edited out some comments in the thread for length and R-rated language.)
1. Don’t tell someone with a disability that they are inspiring.
AuthenticSpace: Don't call me an inspiration. Be your own damn inspiration.
AuthenticSpace: RIGHT? Brave? Strong? I'm pretty sure I didn't say "Hey, universe, make me handicapped." There's nothing brave or strong about it. I exist. My strength and courage comes from what I do. Not what I am.
cakez_ 2035: This! I'm being praised for going to university and doing normal random everyday stuff. What am I supposed to do, sit on my [expletive] all day and wait to die?
violetauto: Or "Oh, I could never..." Well, guess what, Lady, if you had this and you "never'ed" you'd be dead. So you could ever. You would live your life too. [expletive]
CrabFarts: I cannot upvote this enough. When we lived in our apartment one of the maintenance men would tell me how much of an inspiration I was every time he came over to fix something. He did everything but make the sign of the cross and bless me. We started doing as many of our own repairs as possible.
2. Don’t try to heal people with disabilities with health foods, essential oils or yoga.
ErrantLight: Trying to push your fad diet on me like it's some sort of miracle cure. I have a hard enough time with food as is, I don't need to drink that smoothie that smells like a fish tank.
DragoonDM: Paralyzed from the waist down, eh? You know, a raw food diet would clear that right up in no time. Cleans all the toxins right out and lets your body's natural healing processes kick in.
chilly-wonka: Just dab a little essential oil on your spine
SaebraK: Ow mai gawd, have you tried coconut oil?
3. It’s not your business to question a person’s handicap parking sticker.
Megaman915: I was out driving to the mall with my seemingly non handicapped Cousin and we parked in a handicapped space. A Lady sees us both get out and throws and absolute fit and waves down a cop as we stand around laughing as we both have our own handicap placards when the cop shows up and starts seriously questioning us my cousin looks back at me and says, "Hold my leg, im going in." He then proceeded to remove his prosthetic leg and hop over to the cop and lady who both realize that they have goofed and here i am in a parking lot holding a fake leg and unavailableble to stop laughing.
4. Also, don't question service dogs, motorized scooters, or people who take the elevator to go up or down one floor.
ThorneLea: I'm not disabled myself but I have a co-worker who has a service dog and no outward disability. A woman scolded her for "Making light of other peoples situations." in order to bring her dog to work.
iGrope: I used to have a service dog for a disability that didn't present itself outwardly (he could sense when I was going to have a bradycardic episode and pass out before it happen, his official title was neurological response dog) anyway, it was horrible. I actually needed him but people treated me like [expletive]. I couldn't walk into a single business, get on the bus, go anywhere with him without being stopped and hostilely questioned. It kind of turned me into a shut in, its emotionally tiring enough dealing with being sick all the time without dealing with [expletive] too.
cactuar44: That's why I don't use mine anymore, even when I really needed to.
5. Don’t assume that only the old have disabilities.
panda-erz: I broke my back last year and people were not very nice when I would ask them for help or decline being able to help them physical chores. To them I was just a lazy 23 year old. To me I was trapped in my [expletive] body, asking my mother to carry my bag to the car because it was too heavy and couldn't physically lift it. It was a bad time all around.
6. Don’t assume that all disabilities are visible.
DJTanner1: from a mental disabilities perspective, telling us it's "all in our head" and we should "just calm down" can be really irritating to hear. Sure, it's all in our head, but that's because it's a neurological disorder, one which we clearly have no control over.
Askduds: All I can visualise now is someone in a wheelchair being told its "All in their legs"
7. Don’t assume that someone has a disability just because they look or speak differently.
pijinglish: On the other end of the spectrum, my face was disfigured when I was a kid (bone grafts, etc) and when I walked around alone, people made the assumption that I was mentally disabled. They'd talk to me very slowly and try to help me find my mommy and daddy.
It was hard to blame them outright. They were well intentioned. But ultimately it didn't make what was already a difficult situation any easier.
8. If you’re talking to someone who is having a hard time hearing you, try changing your wording or lowering your voice.
Commander_Shepard_: People who are hard of hearing are unable to hear certain frequencies very well. It varies, obviously. But yelling at them is rude and doesn’t work at all. Speak normally first, then allow the person to ask for clarification. If they do, speak a tad slower and maybe with a deeper voice (usually it's higher frequencies that go first).
Commander_Shepard_: I was a nursing student. It was one of the first things they taught us for socializing and conversing with the elderly, for whom this is rather common. Speaking more loudly won't make the hair fibers targeted towards mid range freqs pick up any more then they can. The high freqs are dead.
Taking to deaf people is easier then ever before now. Sign language has always been there, but I know a deaf dude and he just texts everything and everyone. He tells me how much of a miracle mms and texting has been for him.
9. Sometimes all people with disabilities want you to do is treat them like a normal person.
IggySorcha: One of my favorite stories to tell when it comes to that is when I was working as an actor on a haunted trail:
I saw this girl in a wheelchair and she looked tough/calm, like she'd not been scared yet (you get good at judging peoples' fear levels). I love a good challenge so I went after her. She was so scared I wouldn't have been surprised if she jumped right out of her chair. Everyone, visitors and actors both, stopped and stared at us for a second.
Suddenly she burst out cheering and laughing and gave me a high five. Apparently she'd been going to haunted houses for years trying to get scared, but no one ever did because she was handicapped. All she'd ever wanted was for someone to have the guts to treat her like a "regular" person and scare the crap out of her because that's what she paid for. (I ran ahead and told the next group to pass it on that this lady was here looking for the scare of her life and not to go easy on her.)
10. Don’t touch someone’s wheelchair unless you have permission.
TrilliumDeBeredrach: A friend of a friend of mine who is wheelchair bound told us how people constantly offer to push her to her destination. And often times go to start push her along.
One person said, "I'm helping!" as he started pushing her in her chair.
She yelled back, "No, you're kidnapping!!"
11. Some people in manual wheelchairs see them as an extension of their body – so pushing someone is as weird and infantilizing as picking up a stranger and carrying them.
BlackWhiteCat: Years ago I had just finished working. I was putting the tools in the van when a man came by in an old wheel chair. We were on a very steep hill with a very broken and uneven sidewalk. The guy was really struggling to make his way along. I looked up the long shitty hill and thought he's going to have a really tough time. I didn't know if I should ask if he wanted an assist? Should I just start pushing and try to be funny asking "so... Where are we going today?" And keep pushing. In the end, I think I just asked if he wanted any help? He stopped completely. Slowly looking me up and down he asks if I have a whole bunch of money I can give him? I told him the truth which was "nope!" He chuckled and said he was good. Then slowly made his way up that nasty hill on a miserably hot summers day. I don't know why, but I wish he would've let me give him a push up the hill. I also don't know why I think of that little exchange so often. It had to have been at least twenty five years ago! But it's almost always on my mind.
whyihatepink: I have a friend who uses a manual wheelchair, and she has turned down help in many similar situations. She stated that she views her wheelchair as an extension of her body, so to her, your situation would be similar to seeing someone who looked tired at the bottom of that same hill, and offering to carry them up. To most people, no matter how tired, that would be pretty damn weird and infantilizing. Similarly, someone grabbing her wheelchair and pushing her somewhere is like someone bodily picking you up and just taking you somewhere without your consent, or physically moving your legs for you. It's extremely invasive and not helpful at all.
If someone with a disability needs help, they will ask for it. They of all people know their own limits, and when they reach them, they will let someone know. Until then, it's important not to assume you know better than someone else what they need or what they can handle.
I understand you meant nothing by it. That man may also have understood. It doesn't mean your heart's in the wrong place for wanting to help, it just means it's important for you to realize that a person with a disability is absolutely as capable of figuring out obstacles as you are, and they're more of an expert at living and moving and solving problems in their body than anyone else.
You may have wished you could have pushed him up the hill, because you would feel like you were lifting a burden from his shoulders. Someone carrying you up a hill or around town would also relieve a burden for you. Walking is tiring, and difficult, and you could get hurt. It wears out your shoes and it wears on your joints. So getting carried around by some big guy must be a help to you, right?
Most people wouldn't agree with that, because they like walking, or they recognize the freedom and independence that come with being in charge of your own body, or because they would just feel really weird being carried around by someone else, no matter how 'helpful' it might be.
everyonewaswaiting: I wish I could give you more upvotes. This analogy is so perfect for understanding how disability so often and incorrectly gets translated as inability.
12. Just having a disability is not a request for help.
hazywakeup: You hit the nail on the head right here.
Being A Disabled Person In Public is not a way of saying that I need or want help. It is not an invitation to express your personal thoughts, feelings, and ideas.
It is something I cannot help. I am always disabled, I'm not being disabled at you when you see me, and I'm not constantly thinking about my disability or how I cope with it. Unless I directly ask for help, I'm probably just trying to go about my day.
If I'm chatting with you or seem open to conversation, you are welcome to ask if I'm interested in hearing disability-related anecdotes, or to ask honest questions about my condition. I get that my disability, which is commonplace to me, might be striking or interesting to you.
But me existing nearby is not a good reason for you to launch into an unwarranted story about your own life without preamble.
13. Instead of offering to help, try just saying hi.
aawillma: Would the best option in that situation just be a smile and a "good morning"? That's generally what I do if I see someone of any ability struggling. It makes no presumption that they need assistance but let's them know that I see them and am available to help if they need it. I've heard that some people with disabilities feel like people avoid eye contact with them in public. I would hate to need help while feeling invisible.
So far only elderly people have taken me up on asking for help after I give a greeting. I can't tell if it's because they have less qualms about asking for help or if they just appreciate the hell out of strangers saying hi on the streets.
KnowNothingNerd: I think it sometimes a societal thing with people wanting to follow the golden rule and do unto others as you would have them do.
I like the golden thread which states Do not do unto others what you would not have them do to you. Some people think they are the same. I see this more as I don't do something out of respect for others people situation.
I feel people want to help to make themselves feel better and don't take into consideration the position others are in. Do I want someone to just pick me up out of the blue. No. So I don't do the same in return. If someone asks, then you can help.
14. Don’t assume that people with disabilities have the same preferences -- their preferences are just as varied as people without disabilities.
whyihatepink: That could be one thing to do! Or you could simply go about your day, just like they're doing. People with disabilities, especially those who've had them a long time, generally aren't oblivious to people hovering around, and sometimes it might feel like a blessing (especially if there's a potential for danger and there aren't a lot of other people around), or it might feel like someone waiting for you to fail. People with disabilities are people like anyone else, so not everyone will have the same reaction or desires. It's one of those things where some people might like it or find it helpful, and some won't, just like offering to help carry someone's groceries or smiling at someone on the street. One person might find it annoying or helpful or any number of things depending on their mood! And like you said, there might be a generational or societal component to it, too. There's no one size fits all.
I appreciate that you said it's something you do for people of any ability who're struggling. You'll notice a lot of the responses on this thread from someone experiencing a disability show at their core a desire to not be treated differently just because their bodies or brains work differently. It can be tricky to feel like you can help or want to help and not entirely know what to do, so good on you for trying something!
angryherbivore: See, this is where we get into problems. The post directly above yours right now says, "I'm deaf, just yell at me."
Because every disability is different and every person is different, everyone is going to have different preferences for how they want to be treated. We're all just doing our best to read and judge and respond to the situation in the best way we know how. Being generous when interpreting other people's actions is a kindness. I think usually folks mean well and are just doing what other people have indicated to them in the past is the right thing to do.