Offering to help a person with a disability

I live in a big city, where it’s not uncommon to be grocery shopping and pass someone in a wheelchair or using one of those motorized carts. Sometimes, as I’m shopping, looking through the vast array of pasta sauces and taco seasonings, I’ll notice said person looking WAY up, near the top shelves. I’ll often politely ask, “Is there anything you need help reaching?” Most of the time, the answer is no, they were just looking, but sometimes it’s a smile and a relieved, “Oh, yes, would you mind?” So I’ll get the item, smile, and hand it to the person, or put it in their basket, depending on how heavy it is, if they nod towards the basket, etc.

I suppose they could ask someone who works there for aid, but I know how hard it is tracking down an employee sometimes. It just seems like a little thing I can do to make life a little easier. Heck, I’ve made the same offer for short people.

But now this thread and this one have me worried. Am I being rude? Am I drawing unwanted attention to their disability? I really don’t want to get caught in a PC trap, but I also want to be sensitive to folks’ feelings.

If you have a disability, would my actions embarrass you? Does anyone else offer a hand?

I often do similar things. As long as you don’t insist on helping little old ladies cross the road, it’s plain old human kindness.

I see nothing wrong with politely offering physical assistance to anyone who looks like they might need it, whether it’s a person in a wheelchair, a mother holding a wiggly child, a short person, or a little old lady. As long as you accept “No, thanks” if that’s the answer.

We were once walking to the post office and came up behind a man in a wheelchair who was struggling to get through the slush at the bottom of the driveway, and not having much luck. We asked if he would like some help, and he said, “Sure, that would be great” and accepted a brief push to get him to where he could propel himself again. But if he’d said, “No, I can make it,” we’d have let him do his thing.

“Would you like some help?” Not being rude.

“Do you need some help?” Considered a bit impolite by excessively sensitive disabled people?"

“Let me help you.” Considered rude by some disabled people.

Also, if you’re going to help guide a blind person, let them take your elbow, do not grab their arm. They’re more likely used to the former, not the latter. If you see somebody with a guide dog near an escalator looking confused, you can ask if they need to know where the stairs are (many guide dogs are not trained for escalators, as the escalators can pull the hairs out of the bottom of their feet).

and never pet the dog without asking, of course.

I hope I’m not being rude when I do the same things. My husband is tall, so little old ladies often ask him for help with items that are above their heads. I found that saying something like, “Kroger thinks we’re all eight feet tall, don’t they!” seems to make them feel better about asking, so I started saying that if I found myself standing next to someone in a cart or wheelchair and it looked like they couldn’t reach something. Most of the time, the person agrees and then asks for help. Sometimes, they just agree and laugh. I’ve never had a negative reaction from anyone.

I always operate under the principle that if I admit something is hard or confusing then I’m not insulting (or at least as insulting) if I ask someone if something is hard or confusing. And it seems to work.

I’m too short to reach certain items that I buy regularly in the supermarket, so I’m always having to seek out a tall guy for assistance. They’re usually happy to help, and sometimes joke about it as jsgoddess suggests. The biggest problem for disabled people is when people insist on helping them as opposed to offering. Always follow their lead – what you think will be helpful may not always be what they want or need. But there’s definitely nothing wrong with asking. And if you see a short girl jumping up and down trying to get a box of Kleenex off the top shelf, please feel free to give me a hand.

IAND, but if I were in the same situation I would revise this slightly to, “Is there anything I could reach for you?” If I’m going to help a person who is blind or who looks a bit frail, I say, “May I offer you my arm?” rather than “Do you need someone to guide you / to lean on?”

It takes a little of the emphasis off of their needing help, but maybe the difference is so subtle that nobody would notice.

In College, I was a paid Handucapped Students’ Assistant.
I helped a wheelchair-bound student get around, carry things, etc.

Rule #1–Always leave the person you are helping in control of the situation.
Rule #2–Always leave them feeling like they have more control over their situation.
Rule #3–Never be patronizing. If they’re in a wheelchair, don’t bend down when you speak to them. Use “Sir” “Miss” or “M’am” when you address them, not “Honey” or “Dear”. No babytalk.
Rule#4–Never feel bad about offering to help–the frustration of not being able to do simple things can be enormous.

One thing: don’t get offended or anything if you get a “no thanks” when you ask. Just because somebody looks like they need help doesn’t mean that they do. I’m always happy to turn down an unnecessary offer, but I take people up on them a good bit of the time as well.

But if I’m looking at a jar of spaghetti sauce that is three feet over my head, do please go ahead and ask. I used to go to two different grocery stores for different things, since each store stocked different items where I could reach them. One store had the sauce waaaaay over my head, the other at eye level. That sort of thing.

Thanks for the refinement suggestions - I understand completely.

Yes! Absolutely offer to help. Even if 99 people snap at you and give you dirty looks, if I’m guy #100, I would be thrilled if you offered. Most of the time I really don’t need help, but when I do it’s very much appreciated. (I use a wheelchair.)

There have been times when people would offer me help, and I would tell them that I was fine, then in the winter when I needed help, people wouldn’t offer. I prefer not to ask, because I don’t know if other people are in a rush. If I ask, and someone is in a hurry, I don’t want them to feel guilty or obligated to help if they really can’t.

I can open doors with no problem (a bigger accomplishment than it sounds considering I couldn’t when I was first hurt), and it’s good practice. Some people will say something if an automatic door opener is available, and I’ll thank them and explain that it’s good practice to open the door. If I did need the opener, then I would be happy that people tell me. And even though I can open doors, when there is a lot of foot traffic, it’s helpful if someone else opens the door for me so that I don’t back up a crowd.

You don’t need to ask about opening doors, just provide the same courtesy as you would to anyone else; offering help for other things is great and I recommend it.

Definitely offer to help just don’t belabor the point. A friend of mine uses a tenodesis brace on his hand (approximates thumb-finger opposition by wrist action) and it takes him a bit of time to apply it. We have had lunch together every couple of weeks for a while. The first time we had lunch together I asked if I could help…he said he had it under control…so I don’t ask anymore.

I can never reach things on top shelves in grocery stores, because I’m short. And I’m amazed at how often people DON’T offer to help. Fortunately, I’ve learned to scale shelving like a monkey, which usually makes a previously invisible store employee materialize at my elbow and admonish me. On those occasions when someone does offer to help, I say yes please and thank you - and then I tell them that any time they need a ping-pong ball retrieved from under the sofa, to give me a call :slight_smile:

I have noticed, though, that people are sometimes hesitant to offer help to someone who needs it because they are afraid of offending. I have a couple friends who are visibly disabled, and offers of help are invariably accompanied by unnecessary apologies. For my part, I’d rather offer the help than ignore someone in obvious difficulty. If someone is offended by a POLITE offer of assistance, that’s their problem, not mine.

I agree with all that’s been said - it’s all a matter of tact.

I train service dogs - so I get to work with folks with a wide range of disability. Most usually say that they appreciate offers of help as long as they’re not the babytalk/patronizing kind. Sometimes they don’t need a hand, but sometimes they do - especially to reach things that they (and their dog) can’t get.

I once helped a young blind lad (with a cane) who was headed straight for disaster - his normal path to work had been altered by an exploding water main… the sidewalk was gone, and things were fenced off, and he couldn’t determine where to go. A whack of people just elbowed their way past him, and he just stood there a step away from falling into holes and such. I had a dog in training with me then, but I walked up to him, touched his elbow (it was downtown, loud with traffic) and told him what was going on… “Sir, it looks like a water pipe blew up or something, the sidewalk is gone and the road’s half dug up… If you want I can get you to the sidewalk on the east side of the street. If you take that for about a block, you can cross again and get back onto this sidewalk.”

He appreciated the offer, and I let him take my elbow. We crossed the street and he was on his merry way. Whatever you do, don’t LINGER after you help. They’re not gonna break in half if you walk away :wink: Do what it is you offered to do, (you can ask if there’s something else you can get for them, say, in a supermarket as in our too-high-shelving issue), then move on and wish 'em a great day. :wink: