6 Things That Disabled People Do Not Find Helpful

Updated on December 23, 2017
Carola Finch profile image

Carola is a disability advocate with many years of experience working in the disability community. She is also a freelance writer.


A Reddit discussion of common mistakes well-intentioned people make while trying to “help” people with disabilities shows they may do more harm than good, says the Huffington Post. Some so-called “helpful” behaviors can be insulting, disrespectful, and patronizing. As someone who has worked in the disability community for many years, I have recognized these and other behaviors that hurt more than they help.

Mistake 1: Invasions of Personal Space

We all have personal space around us that should be respected. Able-bodied people should not touch people with disabilities unless invited to do so. Equipment such as wheelchairs and service dogs are also a part of that space.

Having someone come up behind a person sitting in a wheelchair and start pushing can be alarming and aggravating for the wheelchair user, especially if it is in the opposite direction that the disabled person is going in. It is disorienting for blind people to have someone grab their arms and start guiding them somewhere that they may not want to go without being asked for assistance.

Solution: Respect their personal space by not touching them or their equipment. Wait for disabled people to ask for assistance before touching them, their service dogs, or their mobility aids.

Mistake 2: Treating Disabled People as "Inspirational" or Helpless Objects of Pity

Some people think they are encouraging disabled people by putting them on a pedestal and telling them they are inspirational. Others feel that people with challenges are objects of pity who can’t achieve much without their help. If they do manage to do some things successfully without a lot of help, they are considered to be exceptions.

Unfortunately, the media promotes the idea that people with disabled people are extraordinary just because they have physical or cognitive challenges. The media runs a lot of “feel good” articles about people “overcoming” their conditions, succeeding “in spite of” their disabilities, or not allowing disability to “stop them” from achieving something.


Social media tends to spread these articles with comments such as:

“When I look at this person’s challenges, I realize how good I have it”
“I thought I had it bad until I read this person’s story”
“When I see what this person does not have, I am thankful for what I have”
“Isn’t this awful?”
“Poor thing!”

Solution: People with disabilities want to be treated as equals and live their lives in peace.

Mistake 3: Asking Inappropriate Personal Questions

People can ask personal questions if disabled people indicate that they are open to them. If the disabled people are not open however, , people who are asking should accept a “no” or negative response. Some people think they have the right to be nosey and mask this with an appearance of concern for disabled people. They ask questions that cross the line such as: “How did you end up in a wheelchair?” “When are you going to get better?” “Do you have a good diet?” “Have you tried … (yoga, certain therapies, etc.)?” Some people ask questions they would never address to people who were not disabled.

Solution: It is up to disabled people to share their story in their own time or to determine when they want to address certain issues. We should respect their boundaries on possible discussion topics.

Mistake 4: Talking Down to People With Disabilities

Some non-disabled people treat people like they are children or lesser beings. They yell at deaf people and distort their mouths, speaking in convoluted ways that are impossible to lipread. They exaggerate their voices and movements when talking to people with autism, making it impossible for the autistic people to pick up social cues or understand them.

Sometimes a person with obvious physical or intellectual disabilities is out in public with a caregiver or personal support worker and run into someone they know. In some cases, the person they know will conduct a direct conversation with the able-bodied person and refer to disabled person in the third person or asking: “Is he able to walk?” “What does she like to eat?”

Solution: People should always converse with people with disabilities in a normal way. Sometimes, a third party may speak for someone who is non-verbal or difficult to understand. For example, if people with cerebral palsy have trouble speaking clearly, they may look to another person to repeat their comments. A deaf person may require a sign language interpreter to communicate.

All people, even those using others as communication supports, should be addressed directly in the first person. Individuals should not talk about them in the third person in their presence.

Mistake 5: Making Inappropriate Comments and Suggestions

Able-bodied individuals may make suggestions on how disabled people can improve their condition even when the able-bodied do not know what they are talking about. Some inappropriate comments may be on their appearance (“You don’t look autistic”), abilities (“Have you tried to walk lately?”), or lifestyle (“You people date?”).

Solution: People often blurt out inappropriate comments because they feel uncomfortable and think they have to say something - anything - to break the tension. Sometimes it is better to say little or nothing.


Mistake 6: Acting on the Assumption That Disabled People Are Not Capable

Disabled people may become frustrated and angry when people do things for them without asking them if they needed help. For example, amputees walking on prosthetic limbs may be able to walk well and may only need to lean on a shoulder when navigating stairs. If someone grabs an amputee’s arm or wrap their arms around the amputee’s waist, that person would probably have more difficulty walking and navigating stairs.

Sometimes people become angry when a disabled person exceeds their expectations. For example, when a people in a wheelchair show that they can stand and walk a few steps, some able-bodied people may accuse them of faking their disability.

They leave nasty notes scolding owners of cars for using handicapped parking spots after seeing owners getting out of their vehicles without difficulty. The able-bodied may not realize that some people have invisible illnesses such as multiple sclerosis (MS). The effects of MS on their bodies can fluctuate from day to day. Sometimes a person with MS can walk normally, but at other times, needs to use a cane or a wheelchair. Other assumptions are that disabled people cannot be educated and trained, have romantic relationships, or have a job.

Solution: We should assume that the disabled person is capable of living a full life. They will ask for help, if needed. They may do things differently, but things usually get done. For example, some people in wheelchairs use assistive devices such as metal rods with pincers that can reach food packages on high shelves.

Concluding Thoughts

People with disabilities do not want to be treated as “special,” “inspirational,” or helpless. They would like to be treated with the same respect as everyone else.

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

© 2017 Carola Finch


Submit a Comment
  • lsmith131 profile image

    Lanecia Smith 

    2 years ago from United States

    I worked with individuals with disabilities for about 6 years. It was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. You mentioned a lot of ways people with disabilities choose not to be treated. Oftentimes, I've heard a lot of them say how they wish people would respect their personal space and treat them like people. These are individuals who have minds, and think, and love, and have all types of feelings and desires. So treating them as if they were ordinary, rather than "special" would be doing a great service to them. Thanks for sharing!

  • Carola Finch profile imageAUTHOR

    Carola Finch 

    2 years ago from Ontario, Canada

    As I a breast cancer survivor, I get the inspiration thing all the time. Frankly, it makes me uncomfortable. I do not want to be put on a pedestal or considered special just because I chose to fight for my life. I just want to be treated like everyone else.

    I wrote an article that answers your question more fully than I could here at: https://hubpages.com/health/Why-Many-People-With-D... .

    It sounds like you really enjoy your work and bless you for that. I think that "inspiring" when it means encouraging and admiring people is fine.

  • GARH608 profile image

    Pathways thru life 

    2 years ago from Mid West

    I like being an inspiration to others. It is unfortunate, but the U.S is made up of so many labels. I work as a Job Coach for disabled clients. It is always a wonderful feeling to see them be successful. I feel many of my clients are an inspiration to conquer their challenges. Is that wrong?

  • Deborah Demander profile image

    Deborah Demander Reno 

    2 years ago from First Wyoming, then THE WORLD

    Thanks for pointing out these mistakes. It's easy to forget personal space, when meeting disabled people. I appreciate your insight.

    Thanks for writing.


  • Dunbar Green profile image

    Richard Green 

    2 years ago from New Mexico

    What a useful article. These are the kind of things people don't like to talk about, so it is even more important that you wrote about it. Thanks and good work!


This website uses cookies

As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, soapboxie.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://maven.io/company/pages/privacy

Show Details
HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)