Helping people with disabilities – personal space – by Rev Jason Forbes

disaster area

We’re looking at the question, “When we help someone with a disability, how do we know when our help is appreciated?” There are several factors that need to be taken into consideration – some to do with the person with the disability, and some to do with the helper. In the first half of this series, we’re focussing on the person with the disability. Last time, we looked at the person’s stage in life. A person’s outlook on life can change with their age. While help may be refused at one stage of life, it may be readily accepted at another.

This time, we’re looking at personal space. We all have spaces we don’t mind sharing with others. We all have spaces we’d rather not share with others. Then we have spaces we refuse to share with others. There is nothing wrong with this, and it’s an essential part of being social creatures. It’s the same for people with disabilities. Help may or may not be appreciated depending on the type of space the help is being offered in.

Each week I have someone come in and clean my home. I used to have my study in the second bedroom, and I would effectively ban the workers from cleaning the second bedroom. I didn’t care what they did with the rest of my home, so long as it was clean. But they couldn’t touch my study. That was sacrosanct. Although, it was probably the one room I needed the most help with! At one stage, I was thinking of putting a sign on the doorframe reading, “UNNATURAL DISASTER AREA. Cleaning up is futile!” So why was I bent on banning workers from the room I needed most help with? Because, despite the perpetual chaos that it was, I knew where everything was. I didn’t want someone reorganising the mess I had spent months creating! As another worker said, that’s how I organise myself. And they were right!

These days I have my study in my living room, so I’ve had to become less precious with this space. Even still, if I’m in the throws of deep study, I point out two tables that my worker is not to touch. And if they feel a strong urge to stack the books and papers sprawled out on the floor into a neat pile, DO RESIST!! Thankfully they do.

Before helping someone, it’s good to pause for a second, and note what kind of space you’re in, and give the due respect. Just because someone is willing to allow you into one area may not mean you can go into any area, even if they need help. As a mutual relationship develops, they may be more willing to let you into other areas to give help.

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