Let’s talk about helping, shall we?
Everybody needs help every now and then – regardless of ability status – and there is absolutely no shame in asking for it. In fact, I think that sometimes, it takes a lot of courage to reach out and ask for help. It takes guts to admit you’re not perfect, you know?
Now, for disabled and neurodiverse people like myself, asking for help can be… complicated. Of course there are going to be times when we need it, but if we ask for it, we run the risk of two things happening:
- Being labeled “needy” or “dependent”. This is incredibly common and it relates to the infantilization of disabled and neurodiverse people. For some reason, abled/neutotypical (ab/nt) people often have this idea in their heads that disabled and neurodiverse people need to be taken care of 24/7, and that we can’t do anything for ourselves. We’re viewed as “less than,” and treated like children solely based on the fact that we’re disabled/neurodiverse. For me, and for many other people, this is beyond frustrating, because the common misconception that we lack independence often leads ab/nt people to try and “help” when we don’t actually need them to (example: do not touch someone’s wheelchair or mobility equipment without their explicit permission, simply because you “think they need help” – cut it out!). This can result in many disabled and/or neurodiverse people – including myself – being reluctant to ask for help because we don’t want people to think it’s something that we constantly require.
- Having people try to fix us instead of trying to help us. Again, this is incredibly common because ab/nt folks often operate under the assumption that disabled and neurodiverse people want to be or become “normal.” So, their idea of “help” often includes taking steps to try and make us “normal”. It happens all the time – trying to force an autistic person to stop stimming, insisting that deaf people should do whatever it takes to hear, discouraging the use of mobility aids (especially in young people, because nobody under 65 should need a cane, amirite?), or even saying things like, “no pain, no gain” when they know damn well that for us, pain can be really, really harmful. Now, I’ll admit that of course there are some folks who do want to appear as “normal” (read: abled/neurotypical… which is what y’all think of as normal, don’t lie) as possible. I understand that, and I respect their right to want that for themselves. The problem is that not all of us want that! Not all of us want to be “normal”, so when ab/nt folks try and “fix” us under the guise of being helpful, it really, really sucks.
Before you get all worked up, I know what you’re thinking… and trust me, I understand that it may not always be intentional! But I’m going to share a little secret with y’all, okay? Intent does not matter!
That’s right, I said it! Hell, I’ll say it once more for the cheap seats, too:
INTENT. DOES. NOT. MATTER.
It just doesn’t, y’all – not in this case. I understand wanting it to matter, but here’s the thing: Regardless of whether or not you’re trying to help us, in the majority of cases, you are harbouring some internalized ableism, and you are hurting us. Every time you make a snap judgement about a disabled/neurodiverse person, every time you try and “help” us by forcing us to assimilate and appear as ab/nt as possible, you are hurting us… because the reality is, this is who we are, and we are not the problem!
If you want to help us, there are plenty of other things you can do – things that don’t involve changing things that are central to our identities. If you want to change something, focus on changing society, not us, because society is what’s broken.
So if you really want to help us, try:
- Learning sign language.
- Talking and listening to autistic people instead of Autism Speaks (ewww, Austism Speaks is bad!).
- Reaching out to MPs and others in government to inquire about accessibility standards (physical and otherwise).
- Volunteering at blood banks, hospitals, clinics, or summer camps for people with disabilities.
- Encouraging school boards to increase funding to Learning Centres in local schools.
- Helping us make mobility equipment more affordable for those who need it.
- Talking to your university administration about increasing accessibility on campus.
- Making your websites accessible (colour schemes, typeface, font size, zoom capabilities).
- Speaking out about the lack of available mental health resources.
- Using trigger warnings (and cut the crap about saying they’re censorship – we’re not saying you can’t discuss sensitive topics, we’re asking that you do so in a manner that respects people who’ve undergone trauma, so don’t be an ass).
- Examining the language you use, and eliminating harmful, ableist terms (*unless you’re someone who those words are intended to hurt and you choose to reclaim them, which can be a great tool, hence my calling myself the East Coast “Cripple”!).
- Holding events at accessible venues so that everyone can attend.
- Asking if we need help instead of assuming we do.
- Listening to us.
- Listening to us.
- Listening to us.
There are days that being disabled and nerodiverse is incredibly difficult for me… but it is who I am. It is because of my disabilities that I’m pursuing an education in social work and medicine. It is because of my disabilities that I’m empathetic to other marginalized groups. It is because of my disabilities that I am this version of myself!
I’m not broken!
So stop trying to fix me.
– Stephanie, ECC