The Manual Wheelchair Training Guide
by Axelson P, Chesney D, Minkel J & Perr A
Asking for Help
Public awareness of access issues is constantly improving. Strides are being made every day toward the goal of universal access for people with disabilities. However, situations will still arise where you need help.
Everyone needs help now and then. The need for assistance varies from situation to situation and from person to person. It's difficult for many people to know when they should ask for help. Some ask more often than they need, while others fail to ask at all.
"Assistance" has many meanings. You may ask someone to push your wheelchair because a shoulder injury has temporarily made propulsion difficult and painful. You might need help reaching a package of corn chips on a high shelf at the store. You might need to be lifted up stairs, helped over loose gravel, pushed up a steep hill, or otherwise assisted with something you have a hard time accomplishing alone.
Who can Help?
A variety of people are available to give you assistance when you need it. These roles vary in responsibility and commitment. The amount of help you need will depend on your abilities and the tasks you need to perform.
Personal Care Assistant (PCA)
If you need help frequently or at regular times during the day, you may want to hire a personal care assistant. Some wheelchair users find it difficult to ask family members or friends to help because they feel they are burdening them. Relationships with family members or friends may become strained if they always feel responsible for helping you.
A potential advantage of a hired assistant is that he or she can help you with personal tasks such as bowel and bladder care and is generally not as emotionally involved with you.
It is the job of a hired assistant to provide the help you need in a given situation. You can train your professional assistant to do things the way you want. If the arrangement doesn't work out, you also have the freedom to replace the PCA.
Family and friends
Family and friends with whom you spend most of your time will need to spot or assist you on some occasions. It can be valuable to rely on people you are comfortable with when feeling strong emotions you don't want to express before strangers.
Do not assume family members or friends will always be comfortable helping you. Be sure to ask if they are willing to help. Make sure they know not to help you unless you request assistance. You probably have a good idea of which friends and family you can trust as assistants based on your familiarity with their personalities.
Co-workers or acquaintances
Co-workers or friendly acquaintances can also make good assistants when you need help at work. If you are on good terms with a co-worker, you may be comfortable casually asking for assistance (for example, "Hi, can you give me a push over this threshold? Thanks!").
People you meet after your injury may be more comfortable with you as a wheelchair user than friends or family still making the adjustment to your new circumstances.
When you are alone, situations may arise where you need a stranger's assistance. For example, you may have dropped your car keys where you cannot reach them. In this case, you may need to ask someone you do not know for help.
Alternatively, you may be out with a friend and find yourself in a situation where the assistance of a second person is necessary. For example, you may need an additional person to help lift the front end of your wheelchair up some stairs.
How to Ask for Help
How you ask for help will vary from situation to situation. Ask for assistance in a way that allows the person to comfortably decline. Practice asking for assistance with a companion acting as a stranger. This will help you learn how to ask strangers for assistance as well as teach your companion to help only when necessary. This type of practice also helps you learn how to instruct others to safely assist you.
Remember that there can be many valid reasons for people to decline to help you. Some have disabilities that may not be visible, such as arthritis or heart disease, and they may be reluctant to disclose their condition to you. Other people's beliefs or customs may also prohibit them from assisting you.
Accept refusals to help gracefully. After all, you don't want help from a person who feels uncomfortable with the task, because their apprehension can increase the risk of injury for both of you.
Consider the following before asking a stranger for help:
Ask the jogger for assistance rather than the man in the suit. The person in the work-out clothes is less likely to worry about getting dirty or wrinkled.
If you enjoy challenging environments such as hiking trails, remember that this type of environment attracts a lot of people who, like yourself, are looking for an adventure. They may see helping you as yet another challenge and be very eager to assist.
Be clear and concise when giving instructions. Most of the skills in this manual include instructions you can give an assistant.
Describing Safe Body Mechanics
Since your spotter or assistant is being nice and helping you out, protect her/him by pointing out safe body positioning and mechanics. Section 5.1 contains additional information on safe body mechanics for helpers.
Always remind your helper to:
When You Do Not Want or Need Assistance
Who says human nature isn't inherently good? You will find that some people will try to help you even when you haven't asked. While such intentions may be virtuous, their actions can be very frustrating and, at times, even dangerous. An unexpected push may catch you off balance and cause you to fly out of your wheelchair.
Decline their premature efforts by saying something like, "Thanks, but I'd like to do this myself" or "Thank you, but it is actually easier for me to do this without assistance." More aggressive good Samaritans may need to be deterred by a sharper directive such as, "Please don't grab my wheelchair."
You may have to be assertive when telling people not to help.
Last Updated: February 5, 2001