The other day I took a drive in the country to find a cider mill in the hopes of purchasing some fresh cider. I asked Jack, a good friend, to go along because I knew he would enjoy the drive too. We had a great time, eating freshly made donuts and drinking apple cider! After we were done, we returned to my house to visit.
As dark began falling, it was time to take Jack home. It is not particularly difficult as, even though he has a disability, Jack has worked out a plan for getting down the stairs and into my car. Jack is a veteran, and he manages quite well in spite of his disability. I know how important it is for him to maintain his dignity and manage on his own, so I stood by to help if he asked, but I didn’t rush to his aid. I know he values his independence and doesn’t like to feel he’s a burden to anyone.
As Jack made his way slowly down the steps, a neighbor arrived. The neighbor, we’ll call him Joe for the sake of this article, turned to me and said, “Chris, can I help him down the stairs?” I replied, “No, thanks, he’s fine. He doesn’t need any help.” Perhaps I wasn’t clear enough. Perhaps Joe simply didn’t believe me. Whatever the reason, he rushed up the steps, grabbed Jack by the arm and proceeded to “help” him down. I could see the anger flash across Jack’s face, and at one point, Joe even threw Jack off balance and ran the risk of making him fall as he held onto his arm.
To begin with, Joe should not have directed his question to me; he should have asked Jack directly whether he needed help. Jack is perfectly capable of making decisions on his own. And, Joe should have listened when I told him Jack didn’t need help.
After we got in the car and headed off to Jack’s house, he turned to me and said, “I had a great time today, but Joe made me feel like I was disabled and helpless. I don’t like that feeling. I know he wanted to help, but it really didn’t help me at all – it just made me feel like I’m a burden on everyone.”
All too often people try to help others who have disabilities, and although it’s with good intentions, it is proper to ask if they want help. Jack had a tried and tested method of managing stairs and that should have been respected. Joe actually placed him in greater danger when he threw Jack off balance trying to help him. We need to remember that veterans with disabilities know best whether they need help or not. They have had enough losses already; we don’t need to make things worse by stripping them of their dignity too.