Saturday, July 21, 2007


It happened two days ago at Sobey's, our neighbourhood grocery store. It bothered me when it happened, but like a good soul, I let it go. If I took real offense everytime someone did something stupid or acted a little insensitive, I'd be in a constant tizzy. So, I dropped it, or tried to. I didn't even blog about it for fear of being thought petty. But it hasn't left me, still bothers me and last night I dreamed about it.

It's still there.

What happened was this. For about 6 months now I've been able to both push my wheelchair and the grocery cart at the same time. I use one of two different methods. In wide aisles I ride beside the cart and grasp it and shove it forward by gripping the side of the cart and shoving. Alternately, where it is more narrow, I roll behind it and shove it forward and simply follow along behind. It's taken me a while to get the knack of this and I'm kind of proud that I don't need assistance to make my way around the store. Joe can run off and get something while I take the cart with me, just like the days, pre-chair. More of my life reclaimed.

So, we were heading for the checkout tills and I noticed that Joe had only picked up one package of cresent rolls when we needed two. So he headed off to get another one and I began towards the till with the cart. I was very nearly there when a woman appeared out of nowhere and said, "Let me help you with that," reaching to grab my cart and take it to the till.

I was quite polite and said, "No, that's OK, I can do it myself."

She became almost, I don't know, angry. She grabbed the cart quite forcefully out of my hand saying, "It's good to help." She could see that she'd upset me so she almost slammed the cart up against the counter and strode off.

Her need to help me far outweighed my need for independance.

I don't know why but tears sprung to my eyes, I was really upset. I felt that I had been abused in some fundamental way that I didn't and still don't understand.

And I can't shake the feeling.

Yet, I fear I've done this same thing to people in my care several times over the years. That needs got mixed up.

And mine always won.

I am so deeply sorry.

Abuse of independance may not be illegal but I now know, it sure is wrong.


Anonymous said...

I had an experience roughly similar to this happen to me when I was a teenager.

I don't remember now exactly what group I was with, but it was some group of teenagers, along with a bunch of adults who were supervising us. Either from school or from summer camp. We were at McDonald's, back in the days before I stopped eating meat. I ordered a meal for myself, paid for it, yada yada, and walked away from with my tray of food. Then I realized that I forgot to ask them for extra ketchup. So I put down my tray somewhere and started to go back. One of the adult supervisors asked me why, and I casually explained about the ketchup. Another adult supervisor happened to over hear me, and immediately RAN to the counter to order the ketchup on my behalf. By ran, I mean literally RAN, as if fleeing some horrible fate. I didn't quite understand what she had done until I got to the counter and she was there handing me the ketsup.

I was shocked by this and asked another adult supervisor (I think the first one I was talking to) why this woman did that. At first the woman I spoke to didn't really want to answer but then said that perhaps she had been afraid that the food servers would not understand my speech and that I would find this upsetting, so she wanted to save me from that experience.

So, first of all, this woman ignored the fact that, hello, I had managed to order an ENTIRE TRAY FULL OF FOOD by myself without a second thought or a moment's trouble. So what on Earth gave her the notion that asking for a bit of KETSUP was going to give me trouble.

Second of all, even if they HAD misunderstood my request, did she really think I had no back up strategies ready for that contingency? Did she really think that being Deaf for 14 or 16 years of life time (or however old I was) wasn't enough to allow me to figure out multiple strategies of expressing myself? Hello? What does she think writing is for? Or, has she ever heard of the really novel concept of POINTING as a form of communication?

And, third of all: did she really think me so fragile that I would crumple to pieces just because someone maybe initially has a little trouble understanding my speech on the first try? Or even the second or the third? Excuse me, but in my experience, 99 out of a 100, the HEARING people who don't immediately understand my speech get a HELL of a lot more flustered than I do. Which I suppose isn't their fault since they have a lot less experience than I do, but it's still heavily ironic when a hearing person assumes that *I'M* the one who's going to get upset, hey?

So. You can see that, yeah, it really bugged me A GREAT DEAL that this woman (to put it in your terms) "abused my independence." And although the anger has faded over the years for me, I still think it's justified.

So, no, Dave. It's not "petty" to be upset when someone unilaterally decides that it's okay for them to swoop in and just take over something that you were handling just fine (if maybe a little more awkward or slower or simply in a different way than what she's used to) without even bothering to ask for your permission. Or better, checking that this is something you even want.

I'm sure that woman in the store genuinely believed that she was "just helping." Just like that woman in McDonald's probably thought when she was getting the ketsup for me. But I think you're bang on the money when you say that, for the woman in the store (and also for the woman in McDonald's), it really ended up being more about THEIR need to PERCEIVE themselves as being helpful than it was about YOU (or me) and OUR actual needs.

Sometimes the best way to be "helpful" is just to BACK OFF. Or if you really do think someone needs help -- fine, but ASK. This is what many non-disabled people don't get.

This puts me in mind of something Amanda Baggs recently said at her blog:

"And it’s important not to get your sense of self-worth all tied up in whether you’re doing good things, because that actually makes it harder to do the right thing. Because it makes you want to think you’re doing the right thing even when you’re not, so that you can keep up the belief you’re a good person. And when you want to think you’re doing the right thing even when you’re not, it’s easier to just go into denial when you screw up." (

-- Andrea

Gone Fishing said...

I be undergoing a strange learning experience.

For some time I worked as a Teacher Aide to a 16 year old Non communicative Autistic and other Students.

I was then assessed as having diffuse Brain Injury and Significant cognitive impairment.

So therefore no longer able to be employed to work with Special Needs students and suddenly apparently a risk to have in any workplace.

I already had the injurys just being fiercly independent I had not been assessed as having such and had done apparently an excellent job as Teacher Aide.

Years have past and being sick of being occupationally and socially isolated last week I gained enough courage and encouragement so start attending an "Art Works group" as a member not as a Supervisor.

Trying as much as possible to be just an insignificant independent member quietly trying to paint and learn.

However it seems many of the people who attend also knew me back in the days of being a Teacher Aide, some even greeting me as an old long lost friend.

Possibly the Supervisory staff, who know nothing of my background are starting to wonder how so many of the attendees know me so well and maybe just why I am there at all

So I wonder just how such will affect my new found independence and will the "System" which I have avoided for so long catch up with me and start trying to "Help" me.

jennifergg said...

I know I've done that, in the past, too. And I too am deeply sorry.