Yesterday a cousin who is in a wheelchair came visit the house. I hadn’t met her before, nor had I handled a wheelchair before, yet because of our situation (my uncle can barely walk himself and needed assistance from his partner) I would need to handle my cousin and the wheelchair.
My cousin has cerebral palsy. She came out of the car by herself, I brought the chair and positioned where I thought it would be easier for her to sit in, and then instinctively grabbed her by the arm pits so that she wouldn’t fall into the seat. I let her down gently and then apologized “I’m sorry if you didn’t like that, I really have no experience handling a wheelchair and you’ll have to help me out a bit”.
She smiled and said it was OK. As we went through the house I noticed just how many spots are inaccesible, little steps everywhere are an annoyance and normal steps a challenge. I made a commitment that when I have the equipment I will build some ramps.
Finally we reached the backyard and they commented on the swinging rope hanging on the tree. From seeing my cousin help me with the wheels of the wheelchair I knew that her strength was enough to hold herself on the rope. I asked her if she wanted a swing. “Yes, that would be nice” she said.
We got her to the rope and then I lifted her up so that she would wrap her legs around the knot, and she held tight to the rope. I let go, and she was able to hold herself on her own. I swung her to her delight and her parents, and after a while she complained about being dizzy, so I helped her back into the chair and then we went for lunch.
I sensed: in this environment of political correctness it is taboo to help people with different capabilities. Helping others is a way of saying they can’t do it themselves. What nonsense!
Every person is different. Observe at the situation. Admit ignorance. Ask when in doubt. Have a lighthearted approach to accessibility challenges. Use your intuition, not fixed rules, to treat the person. Being afraid of making mistakes put you into the biggest mistake of all: the mistake of inaction.