Thursday, August 4, 2011

News Flash: Helping Hands Abound for the Disabled

The other day someone did something nice for me. I can’t remember what it was. It must have been extra sweet, because I mentioned it to my dad. 
“Well, there are some good people left in this world,” he said.
Actually, there are plenty.
Since I’ve become handicapped, I’ve had to depend on others for lots of little things: from opening doors and reaching items to chasing after a letter as it blew away from a drive-up mailbox.
And I’ve learned this: People of all ages are more than willing to lend a hand. They are happy to do it.
Despite what I call the “hell-in-a-handbasket” view of life
 (that things are worse than ever, nobody is like they used to be in the good old days, people, particularly the young ones, are more impolite than ever) there are many, many folks who are willing, even eager, to help out a person in need.
A friend of mine -- old enough to be my mother -- suffered a stroke a few years ago and I was one of the first she called (before she called a doctor) because I had been through so much, she was inquiring about her symptoms. Days later, her husband told me that she had, in fact, had a stroke and had to be hospitalized.
She recovered well and checked in often, me recovering slowly but surely from cancer and her the stroke. The incident taught her a big lesson, she said one day: People are extremely nice.
“It restored my faith in humanity,” she said.

I observe the kindness of people daily. Any door I approach using my walker, someone is always offering to hold. One older gentleman told me proudly, “I still hold doors open for women,” suggesting chivalry is not dead.

But young boys, even when their moms aren’t prompting them, step in and hold the door for this woman.
When I am getting in or out of my car, folks offer to assist, even though it’s not necessary. It may look like I’m struggling, but it’s just awkward. 
I was opening my door and preparing to get out in an emptyish parking lot when a college-aged girl came running up to my car, bee-lining about 30 feet just to ask if I needed help.
The same goes for me getting myself into a grocery store.
Here’s my routine: I drag my walker across my driver’s seat and place it outside on the ground. Then I stand up, grab my purse and shopping bags, then I walk toward the store. There I find a cart (sometimes I need help there), place shopping bags inside, then steady myself as I fold up my walker and throw it into the basket. Then I hit the hand-wipes station and clean the handle before I head down the aisles. (As a stem cell transplant survivor, I am particularly careful about germs.)
It’s a cumbersome routine but doable. People are so willing to help that I sometimes let them. Last week as I was approaching the outside of the store, a woman insisted on helping me, getting a cart for me, throwing my bags in, then my walker. “Is that it?” she said. Well, I told her, my last step is to use a wipe. She grabbed it for me and then threw it away when I was finished.
I learned that sometimes people just want to help, period. It makes them and you feel good.
An important part of the equation is not being afraid to ask for help and learning how to ask for help. I’ve depended on the kindness of strangers to unload my grocery items onto the counter, put things in my car, grab that errant letter blowing away, go fetch a sweater that I left somewhere, go find a pillow that I left in my trunk.
A frequent request is reaching something on the top shelf of a grocery store. More times than not the specific thing I need is just inches out of my reach. (This a new challenge for me as I’ve shrunk 2 1/2 inches due to osteoporosis.) I wait until someone taller comes along or I recruit someone in another aisle. If you ask them nicely, people will help with anything. 
Once at Trader Joe’s I asked a woman if she could reach a container from the top shelf.
“OK,” she said, leaning closer to the shelf, squinting. “Fresh grated, parmesan cheese, six ounces.....”
I interrupted her. “Oh, I said reach it, not read it.”
One rainy afternoon I was picking up my pre-made Dream Dinners  at the local store.  A helper carried the packages to my back seat and then hurried inside. As I was heading toward the driver’s door, I dropped my car keys and they bounced underneath my car and landed close to the center.
This would have been a prime moment to cuss loudly or lament the fact that I found myself in this predicament, disabled and keyless in the rain. Would have been a good time to shed tears of frustration.
But I merely went inside and asked for help.
Out came two guys armed with brooms who squatted down in the puddles and retrieved my keys. 
I thanked them profusely and went on my way.


  1. You're spot on with this: "I learned that sometimes people just want to help, period. It makes them and you feel good."

    I've read and heard from some people who dislike assistance. Some people say things like, "Just because I'm in a wheelchair, doesn't mean I don't know how to get into and out of my own car. I'm not helpless."

    But a lot of us able-bodied folks don't know when it's better to let a lesser-abled person hold their independence or when to offer a hand. We don't want to insult or embarrass someone, but we also don't want to be inconsiderate either. It's tough.

    I saw a man trip in the crosswalk the other day in New York City. His foot snagged a small pothole. He did not go down hard, and I was just about to ask, "Are you okay? Do you need a hand?" when I saw he was lifting himself up, capably, but awkwardly. I stood by again, ready to offer help, but not wanting to make a big thing out of nothing, not wanting to further embarrass him. It's embarrassing to fall. When he got to his feet and began walking away, I could see his legs were not of a normal size, shape, and working order. He walked without a cane or walker, but fitfully.

    Should have I offered to help in that situation? Should I offer up my seat on the subway to someone who may be pregnant, but maybe not? Maybe you can write another post about when an offer of assistance is insulting and when it's appreciated. What words should we use or not use to offer help?

    1. I just saw this comment when I republished this blog post yesterday. Sorry, Jill! You make some good points and thanks for the idea.

  2. I so love your blog. And what a great lesson!