Helping people with disabilities – relationships – by Rev Jason Forbes

Jasons bike 2

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 focussed on the person with a disability. We saw how a person’s outlook can changed with age; the way different spaces have different values for a person; and how the right procedure can mean the difference between possibility and impossibility.

In the second half of the series, we’re focussing on the helper and the factors in relation to the helper that may influence whether or not the help offered is appreciated. Last time, we were looking at competencies, and we saw that competency can be a huge factor in whether or not help is appreciated, especially when safety is a concern.

This time, we’re looking at relationship. Think of where your help comes from, or to whom you give help. I suspect your preference is to help, and receive help from people you know. This is because the help is given and received in the context of a mutual relationship which involves more than solving problems.

It’s the same for people with disabilities. Sadly, the relationships which many people with severe forms of disability have revolve around solving problems, and are not personal. This kind of relationship can be likened to the relationship a tick has with a dog! The tick has the problem of finding somewhere to live and the dog provides it. It’s not loving, and it certainly isn’t mutual. So if someone knows me, and knows my fears, hopes, interests, and aspirations, I’ll be much more interested in receiving help from them rather than a stranger off the street. Because I know the person who knows me is working to empower me as a person in the context of who I am.

For once, I have a positive anecdote. I was camping with friends, and needed to get my trike back in my truck (Yes, another trike and truck story. Sorry!). One of my friends offered to help. In my typical stubborn fashion, I refused saying, “No. I’ll do it.” To which he replied, “Oh, not when I’m right here!” and grabbed my trike. But for some reason, this was ok. I wasn’t offended. Why? Because he wasn’t disempowering me. He wasn’t denying my ability. He indicated that he knew that if he wasn’t there, I would still get my trike in the truck. He helped me simply because the opportunity was there. Plus, I already had a solid friendship with him, and I was confident he would listen to my instruction. If it was someone I didn’t know that well, and they had no interest in listening to my instruction, then, it would have been an issue.

None of this is to say you can only help people who you know. But it is to say relating to someone with a disability can be much more than simply meeting their immediate needs. It is far better to offer help in the context of a relationship, and not to form a relationship in the context of their need for help.

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