"emotional costs also have practical consequences"

Nov 12, 2019, 03:12pm

For People With Disabilities, Asking For Help Carries Hidden Costs
Andrew Pulrang Contributor
Diversity & Inclusion
Exploring disability practices, policy, politics, and culture.

... The ADA has changed these kinds of interactions for the better. But almost 30 years after the law passed, barriers still get in the way, and emotional costs still add up.

Despite the more equitable framework provided by the ADA, the charitable view of “helping disabled people” persists. It’s less pervasive and suffocating than it used to be, but people still often behave as if providing help is a personal favor, for which disabled people should be appropriately grateful ... and which can always be refused.

The process of asking still opens the door for people to interrogate us about our disabilities. It fuels one of the most pernicious forms of ableism … the belief that people who “claim” to be disabled really aren’t, and are just trying to use people’s goodwill and laws like the ADA to score “special privileges” and unfair advantages.

Disabled people are also still expected to follow an unwritten etiquette of asking for and receiving help. It’s one of the cardinal virtues disabled people are supposed to display, along with endless innovation, cheerful adaptability, and patience, always patience, no matter what happens.

It’s hard to imagine a more empowering process for people with disabilities to ask for and reliably obtain individual assistance from employers and businesses. But that doesn’t alter the fact that people with disabilities pay a price for having to ask for things multiple times a day, every day, just to function.

What can be done to lower this price?

First of all, we must acknowledge cost. Disability counselors and advocates especially should remember that while disabled people benefit from strong negotiation and self-advocacy skills, reluctance to use them day after day should never be dismissed or minimized. The ADA legally supports requests for assistance, and that’s a good thing. But that doesn’t make asking easy, or painless. We often decide to just stay at home when we’ve reached our aggravation limit. So emotional costs also have practical consequences.
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