So in my August 18 blog, “3 Responses to ‘Do I Need Help,” I talked about how to react if somebody just randomly offers help. But what about when you actually do need a hand … and the only people around are strangers? I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sat around the auto-opener-less front door of a business, wanting to get in, and racking my brain about how to ask some random person walking by to open the thing. The same happens for grabbing a book from my bag at a café — or worse yet, when I need my whole laptop-headset-power cable concoction and a hand putting everything together. Asking a stranger for help and walking them through it can be tough, but there are a few starters to make it run smoothly and turn up just fine. So here we go, asking for help 101:
1. Change Your Perspective
Alright, so you’re staring at that door, sans auto-opener, knowing that you can’t get in on your own — and you’ll have to ask for help from some stranger. That help doesn’t feel like a favor, it feels like a bother. But take a step back: if a door opener was indeed there, would it be a bother? No, it’d represent full accessibility. So would always-available personal attendants, or staff’s assistance at a store or restaurant. All of those things — and more — would represent universal access for us folks with disabilities. But often they just aren’t around.
In absence of that universal access, sometimes a quick hand from a stranger is the closest we can get. And trust me, they almost never view giving a hand as a bother. It’s actually almost always seen as just doing the right thing. Indeed, that’s what it is: help from a stranger is a substitute for universal access and accommodation. Keep that perspective in your mind, and asking for a hand will seem much more appropriate than troublesome.
2. Speak With Confidence
It’s humbling to ask for help, even if you’ve changed your perspective. But asking with confidence emboldens you to move past any nervousness you have. It empowers you, makes you comfortable with your disability, and builds up what we call “disability pride.” Better yet, that feeling radiates out. When we ask for help with pride and not pity, others will see giving it as the right thing to do, or “no big deal,” rather than charity. While that’s not the same thing as adding auto door openers or universal attendants, it’s a reasonable move toward a more accessible world.
Of course, figuring out how to ask with confidence — and the phrasing to make it go smoothly — takes some refining. Since it’s such a quick interaction, everything from the opening “hey bud” to the “should I use ‘please?’” conundrum, all the way to the tone of voice and posture, can make a difference. So if you need to lock down your method, chat with your friends with disabilities and see what others are doing, then just experiment until you see what’s right for you. Find the sweet spot, and you’ll be all the more confident in your delivery going forward.
3. Give Respectful Thanks
Always remember what your mother told you: Say thank you. Of course that should be pretty obvious when someone gives a hand, but there can be more nuance than the words themselves. I don’t quite think a how-to is even doable over a blog, but I always say that respect is the key. That means a “thanks” in a way that respects the other person — and it also means saying it in a way that respects yourself. So if you’re not sorry that you asked in the first place, no reason to sound apologetic after all’s done.
In the end, there’s no one way to ask for help that stands above the rest, and certainly not one that will work for every situation. The key to finding your style, though, starts with trying. It takes overcoming hesitation, speaking with confidence, and honing in on phrasing that hits the sweet spot. So go ahead and give it a try — it’ll be worth it.