In Kelly’s Words – “Are you sure you don’t need help?”
I don’t often reflect on how people perceive or treat me because I have a spinal cord injury and use a wheelchair. We have built the KBF brand based on empowerment, capability, and quite simply doing things normally!
But I recently had an experience that gave me an opportunity to reflect on stereotypes, biases, and how I should react.
Here’s what happened. A couple weeks ago I was at a gas station pumping gas and looking through my owner’s manual for the type of oil to put into my car (an oil light had just come on). A guy (probably in his 50s) who was also getting gas came over and asked if I needed any help. I said no, that I was just looking for the kind of oil to buy to put in my car. A few minutes later I went in and purchased the recommended oil (5W-30 for those keeping score at home) and was on my way back to my car. My plan was to have Zeke put the oil in later that evening when I got home. The same guy came up to me and said, “Are you sure you don’t need help? I don’t want to be presumptive but just want to be sure.” I thanked him for offering help but said I was going to put in it later so I was okay.
A few minutes later while driving home I began to think: was he offering me help because I was in a wheelchair or because I was a young female. My first thought was, if he was offering help because I’m a young female then should be pissed (how sexist!) but if he was offering because I’m in a chair then I kind of appreciate the sentiment.
Which made me wonder, why would I accept the stereotype of being helpless because of my disability that I wouldn’t accept because of my gender?
I often get offers of help for things I do every day, such as getting my chair in or out of my car, opening doors, etc. I always appreciate the offer and most often decline (honestly, I can get my chair in my car faster and easier on my own than with someone helping who doesn’t know how to do it). And there are times when I do need help. I once dropped my phone and it slid under my car where I couldn’t reach it. I also will often ask for help reaching something on the top shelf at the grocery story. I recognize and accept that I have some physical limitation and there are times when help is greatly appreciated. I also find that it is much easier to accept help when it is offered than it is to ask for help, which is why I appreciate the offers of help even if I almost always decline.
The more I thought about it, the more convinced (hopeful?) I was that the man at the gas station was offering to help me because I was in a chair. But would he have offered if I were a guy in a chair? If not, then the gender question is problematic. I tend to think the best of people, so I’m going to stick with my theory that he was offering because I was in a chair for no other purpose than he thought I may not be able to reach the engine cap (which is true).
I often get asked how one should approach offering help. My advice is that I don’t mind being offered help but don’t presume that I need help. A quick, “Anything I can help you with?” is always sufficient but not condescending. I know it can be uncomfortable to offer or not offer help but the more you do it the more comfortable you will become. Just catch yourself before making any gender stereotypes, those are off limits!
As an aside, I was going to write this month about the 13thAnnual Kelly Brush Ride we just hosted on September 8. All I will say is it was awesome and I couldn’t be happier: over 900 riders, great volunteers, lots of enthusiasm, and perfect weather. Read the full recap here. I feel like I have blogged about the ride often so I thought this week I would talk about something else that came up recently.
One thing that has been a change for Dylan recently is that she cries when I drop her off at daycare. She has gone to daycare since she was 4 months old and has always done well with it. She’s been at her current daycare for about a year but at the start of the school year they switch to new classrooms and get new teachers. I remember her crying some when I left her at the beginning of last year and then she got used to it and would be fine when I left. I’m sure this is just a phase again but it is always sad to have to leave her when she just wants to cling to me and then screams as I’m leaving. She is always as happy as can be when we pick her up, and her teachers assure us that the crying is very short lived.