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Out and About: 5 Tips on How to be Helpful to Disabled People you Meet

picture is looking along an empty train platform on a rainy day. In the centre of the platform a sign says "help point" and next to that is a big, round device with buttons, used at stations by passengers for getting help and information.

As I have discussed in the previous posts in this series, disabled people are supported to learn to travel in a variety of ways and there are a variety of things that we can do while we’re out to try to make sure that everything runs smoothly. But for you non-disabled people out there who want to try to be helpful, what can you do? I thought it would be a useful topic to discuss.

It may not happen often, but you may see a disabled person while you’re out on your travels. If you’re not familiar with people with that disability, then you may wonder how to interact or the way you choose to interact may be unhelpful without you even realising that. To give you some guidance, here are some tips for how to be helpful to disabled people.

  1. Do not grab hold of people and try to intervene. If you want to offer a person help, ask them. The amount of stories I’ve heard about people trying to grab hold of blind people and drag them along or people thinking they have the right to grab hold of a person’s wheelchair and start moving it, disturbs me. I have had way too many experiences of people trying to grab hold of me and guide me, because they think they’re being helpful, but actually they’re not. If you really want to be helpful, then communicate with the person, don’t just assume that you can take over.
  1. When communicating with a hearing impaired person, speak loudly, slowly and clearly, do not just shout. Many people think that if they shout really loud, the hearing impaired person will understand them. But often, they are shouting at a fast pace and not speaking clearly, in a way that in all honesty just comes across as rude. Speak slowly, clearly and simplify your sentences. If they still aren’t hearing you, is there another way you can convey what you mean? Could you write it down? They’ll shout at them, like by somehow communicating louder, that person will suddenly understand them. In fact, the same applies to people with a learning disability or anyone for that matter, who is misunderstanding you in any way.
  1. Bear in mind that if a disabled person is out on their own, chances are they actually know what they are doing. Their family or whoever they live with, are probably just as paranoid as you are, if not more so because they are emotionally attached to the person in question, so would probably try to insist on accompanying them if they thought they were really in that much danger. Particularly for visually impaired people but also for people with other disabilities they would have received extensive training for that particular route, so they will know exactly what they are doing. So try to bear that in mind if you offer them help and it is declined.
  1. Remember that the disabled person will have strategies to overcome their disability. I’ve heard people say before, that they don’t know how they’d get round such and such a place if they couldn’t see, as if to imply that it therefore makes it unsafe for me to do so. In thinking this way, they are forgetting that my hearing is more fine tuned than theirs and that I automatically pick up sounds that sighted people wouldn’t even pick up. The same can be said for other disabilities. Just because you don’t know how you’d manoeuvre, a wheelchair around such and such a place, does not mean that a competent wheelchair user, who will be skilled at using their wheelchair because they do it all the time, is not able to. So as before, bear this in mind before trying to insist on helping a person if they feel they’re okay.
  1. Remember, that generally we as disabled people do try to be helpful ourselves. Sadly in recent years, I’ve known quite a few sighted people talk about when they travel with blind people, people give the blind people funny looks, if for example, the blind person does not move out of their way. I’ve also heard countless stories of deaf people and people in a wheelchair being given funny looks. I’ve also heard of people being annoyed that disabled people have asked for help thinking that the disabled person was just asking for help to be annoying, not because they really need the help because of their disability. While, I can’t speak for all the disabled people out there, I can say from knowing many disabled people, that we ourselves don’t like having to seek help all the time. It’s not nice to have to rely on someone to help you every time you go on a bus for example, but for many people that’s something they have to deal with every time they go out. So, we are not being inconvenient if we get in your way or we have to ask you to help us, we’re just trying to do the things we need to do.

Do you have any tips not listed here? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

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