I attend school on a hill. For the most part, this is fine. While it is certainly a steep hill, my classes are arranged in such a way that I never have to go all the way down it; the building at the bottom of the hill is almost a hundred years old, somewhat inaccessible, (I can get into it, but that’s about it) and just a little creepy.
In any case, I do have to go part of the way down; of the two buildings I tend to have classes in, one is at the top of the hill across from the University Center where the cafeteria is, so it’s really easy to get to, and the other is about midway down the hill. It’s also fairly easy to get to, especially using the tunnels. (You heard me right, my campus has tunnels connecting most of the buildings, and it’s a wonderful thing not to have to wear a coat to class in the middle of a Midwestern winter.)
Now, down is easy; I have gravity working in my favor. Up is just as doable, but takes slightly longer. Sometimes, more often than I’d like, people see me making my way up the hill, and decide that they are going to help. This is a problem.
They come up behind me, say, “here, let me help you,” and start pushing my chair. I will now lay out for you the reasons that this is a problem.
This is a problem of agency. Specifically, this well-meaning person has taken mine from me in a small, ubiquitous way. They have not asked my permission to help, nor have they waited for or heeded any answer. They have simply decided for me.
I do not know who is behind me. I can hear you talk to me, but that doesn’t mean I’m instantly able to identify your voice. I can recognize the voices of friends I interact with a lot, but if you’re somebody who was five rows behind me in that one lecture that one time, I’m so sorry, but I won’t know who you are- certainly not by voice alone. I also don’t really want to stop and turn around to see who’s talking, because that would slow everyone down, defeating the purpose. Please let me know who you are.
There is the larger problem of assuming you know how best to help, which applies to more situations than just hills. This also ties in to the agency one. Beyond assuming you know best when a person needs help, assuming that you know how best to help them can cause more harm than good, even if it’s unintentional. In the case of the hill, the electronics in my wheelchair can be damaged if multiple people try to control it at once. Once again, it is best to ask (and wait for) permission and instructions before jumping in to help.
Just for clarification, I’m not saying that no one should ever help me on a hill again, I just thought I’d give you some pointers on how to do it nicely, so we don’t end up in a situation where I’m super confused because where am I going who’s pushing me and you’re accidentally damaging my wheelchair while trying to help. Those situations are somewhat uncomfortable for everyone involved, but luckily, they can be avoided .
Thanks for your time, and have a lovely day!