Some individuals who were born with a physical disability have learned to deal with it successfully and rarely need help from strangers.
Some were over protected as children and held back from reaching their full potential for successful living with a disability. Still others became disabled later in life and may or may not have received adequate counseling, rehabilitation, or training in how to maximize their abilities to compensate for disabilities.
Do not assume, therefore, that because someone has a disability that they need help. Ask first: "Do you need assistance?" If the response is "Yes", ask "How may I best assist you?"
Attitudes Towards Disability
Sometimes well-intended helping efforts anger people with disabilities. Why? Some people with disabilities want to be treated as equals and not given any special treatment or spoken of being courageous. Others have witnessed needless tragedies where reasonable accommodations have not been forthcoming in a timely manner and are pushing for their civil rights. They want access the same as other citizens which is still slow in coming. Still others have been patronized, treated as infants, spoken about rather than to, or assumed they wanted the kind of help given.
Helping Arms and Hands
Individuals who are blind often need orientation to new environments.Offer to describe this environment and to guide them through for the first time. If the offer is accepted. Describe the entry and what is directly ahead of them. Offer your arm and as you move together hold it in a 90 degree position with your elbow at your side and hand forward. A skilled blind traveler will place his/her hand on your arm at the elbow and walk beside you. Your movements will guide his/her response. Never grab or push them. When moving through doorways or other tight spots, bring your arm from the forward 90 degree position down and back to indicate to walk behind you rather than on the side. While walking describe one side of the room at a time from the point of entry.
Individuals with paralyzed legs using manual wheelchairs may appreciate a push of their wheelchair under certain instances such as traveling over rough surfaces or long distances. Be aware when pushing that there are brake locks to be unleashed before beginning and to be secured again when stopped. Move at a slow to moderate pace. They may also appreciate assistance in opening doors if there is no automatic door opener in place.
Today, people who are blind, deaf, paralyzed, or crippled are referred to as "People with Disabilities". They are people who have strengths and weaknesses the same as you or I. They differ, however, in that their area of weakness -- sight, hearing, mobility -- stands out and is visible to others at some point in their interactions. Others, therefore, assume individuals with such impairments need help. Sacred texts of varied religions reference the need to help such individuals.
Before the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 in the United States of America, "People with Disabilities" were known as "the handicapped." That term came from a historical image of individuals who were disabled having to make a living the only way they knew how as beggars with "cap in hand" reaching up for a "hand out". Fortunately the 1920 Vocational Rehabilitation Act government entered the picture to provide rehabilitation services to facilitate people with handicaps, impairments, or disabilities to enter, return to and remain in gainful employment. While initial efforts were with selected disabilities that could be readily treated or rehabilitated, eventually even individuals with other physical diseases, illnesses, or impairments as well as psychological ones were included in the term "People with Disabilities".
The following are some areas to be aware of in helping people with disabilities whether they are strangers, co-workers, neighbors, or friends.