Saying no to help gracioulsy in a wheelchair

Saying ‘No’ to Help Graciously

Is it ever wrong to say ‘no’ to an offer of help? Or should we be gracious and always accept the offer to help even if we don’t need it? I always struggle with this predicament, especially at the grocery store.

Every time I shop alone, there is always some nice person who asks (both employees and other shoppers) if I need help. I like this; it’s nice. There are a lot of times when the thing I need (small garbage bags hello) are always on the top shelf. It’s just, however, that there are times when I’d like to do every portion of my shopping on my own.

I’d like to be able to say, “I did that,” and know I really did (I think a lot of wheelchair-users can relate to this. Many of us fiercely crave independence). Whenever I say ‘no’ to help (and I do), there is always that worry in the back of my mind that if I say no, it will come across as rude.

My hands are paralyzed and sometimes it can take a good minute to grab a container of butter out of the refrigerator. I fumble, people stare. They see me having a hard time at it and want to help. But very rarely do I ever want someone to help me (unless it’s too high of course).

I’ve mastered the art of turning down help without being rude, or at least I like to think I have. Tell me what you think: “Thank you for asking, but I’ve been practicing and would like to be able to do it on my own.” Sounds good right? I’ll even sometimes say a white lie, “My therapist really wants me to figure this out on my own” (even though I’m not in a rehab. I just think it sounds good). People usually like this answer, nod and carry on.

I’ve had people in wheelchairs tell me to be very careful about giving other people in wheelchairs a bad rep (you don’t want to prevent someone from ever asking a person in a wheelchair if they need help again) when saying no. A legit concern. I think everyone who uses a wheelchair should always remember the greater good for their brothers and sisters who also can’t walk. We got to keep our image in check…or don’t we?

How do you say no when someone asks if you need help? Do you, or do you always accept help to avoid seeming ungrateful?

Photo by Nic Readhead

2 replies
  1. CJohn Stanchina
    CJohn Stanchina says:

    Great piece, Tiff! I especially like the little white lie piece. One thing I like to try to keep in mind, and I know how hard it can be sometimes, is that if we on occasion swallow our independence pride, we can actually give by allowing others to help us. I think there are few things we can do for one another that are better than making somebody feel good about themselves. And if graciously accepting help (even when we may not need it) makes somebody feel better about themselves because they feel they helped somebody in need, then I for one think that’s a worthwhile thing to do, knowing full well that it may not be our preferred course of action.

  2. irish
    irish says:

    Think it’s especially cool when a young child offers assistance. Had it happen twice this week and was very impressed each time. The kids didn’t just barge in, but surveyed the situation and offered help.

    Great parents!!

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