When you tell others that you have a disability, the first thing most people want to do is help you. I'm not against professionals helping a person with one to be successful. If I did not have the support of the school and my family I would not be where I am today. What is not helpful is when other people offer unsolicited advice and help. I have had others offer cures and stories of other people who have similar conditions. Hearing this unsolicited advice is not helpful. Many of the strategies offered I have tried but have not been effective. People with disabilities also experience having one differently and comparing me to a family member or friend with one is not always relevant to the situation.
The most unhelpful type of assistance is when it is unsolicited. Many times people see a person with one struggling and they offer help without asking first. I recently experienced this at the grocery store. Many times my husband accompanies me at the store if it is busy and helps me with pushing and unloading the cart if it store is busy. The grocery store was not busy and he had me do the shopping independently. All was fine until I was ready to check out. I began to unload my cart and a woman came up behind me. She started chatting with me and began to help me unload my cart. I was appreciative but shocked by this gesture. When my cart was empty I thanked her. She smiled and said, "I like to help people and you looked like you needed it." The woman most likely saw my difficulty with my hand dexterity. My limited hand dexterity makes my fine motor skills difficult causing me to drop items and hold things at an awkward angle. I have found ways to cope with this and to me it is normal. Other people see what I am doing and think that they need to help. In reality, I have found a way to adapt and am capable of performing the task at hand. What I do may look different but it works for me.
Having people see my disability is also a different concept for me. You cannot see my Dyscalculia and why I struggle with numbers. Others can see my difficulties with my hands and want to help. Many people have dismissed it and thought offering encouragement would cure me. Many have told me that I didn't have a disability I needed to think positively or try harder so that I could learn. Putting that pressure on me did not cure me and was little assistance. I'm not against help. Having the disability accommodations of extended test time, a note taker, specialty instruction, and tutoring has helped me to be successful in school and my post-secondary life.
All of us need assistance at some point in our lives. I have helped sweet elderly people at the grocery store who have asked me to reach for items they could not. I did not put items in their carts or help them to unload them unless asked. There are times that you can offer help, without being asked. I try to hold the door open for others, as a common courtesy. People can see the need and offer help in an unintrusive manner.
Another part of helping a person with a disability is treating them in the same way that you would want to be treated. For most people it would be unnerving for most people to have people come up and offer assistance or make comments on their conditions would be considered rude. For an individual with a disability this is a common occurance. I don't mind answering questions or having assitance if it does in a respectful manner. Often it is helpful to ask the person with a disability if they need assitance. The person may be appericaitve of the gesture and will recevive the help. Others may truly not need the help and others may decline.
For me to survive in a world that is not meant for me, I have to find ways to adapt. Many of these strategies may seem strange to some, but for me, it works. What many people see as a struggle is my way of adapting. I am not against offering support to someone who needs assistance. If I did not have support with my disability I would not be able to be where I am today. My wish is that if people see a person with a disability struggling, they ask before helping and treat them with the same dignity that they would want to be treated.