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SOMETIMES DOING NOTHING IS DOING SOMETHING “Kindness is the language that the deaf can hear and the blind can see.” - Mark Twain

Kindness is a wonderful thing and in the disabled community it is in abundance. Society has come a long way in the treatment of disabled people over the past 100 years. Prior to the 1930’s, individuals who were born differently were often seen as a burden and abandoned by their families, their rights stripped away from them. Thankfully, our understanding and knowledge has changed since then, equal opportunities are championed for those with a disability as well as equal and fair treatment. The shift in attitude is easy to see, with multiple people often leaping ahead to open the door for a frame user or jumping to lift a wheelchair user down onto the train platform. But although the intention is always good, when does this kindness become unkind to the person with a disability?

It’s human nature to want to help the most vulnerable in our community, but our perception of what vulnerability is is not always accurate. It can be helpful to take the example of a frame user opening the door here. A line of people forms waiting to go through the door as the user struggles to pull while maintaining balance on their frame. Now, its important to emphasise that I believe the intention of kindness is always good in these situations, but it can often be misdirected. It’s painful to watch someone struggle, it makes us uncomfortable and as that feelings builds we get the overwhelming urge to end it. But what if we stopped looking at this scenario as a ‘struggle’? What if we instead begin to look at this as just an alternate way of doing things? The frame user may not be able to open the door as quickly or as efficiently as we can, but it does not mean they are incapable of doing so.

Not every scenario is the same, and no two disabled people are the same so, of course, it is about finding a balance in these situations. If someone is struggling to get up the curb and a bus is careering towards them then the appropriate thing would not be to sit back and let them ‘figure it out’. Similarly, it can be hard to decipher if the action of opening a door will be challenging but possible for one person or completely impossible for another. Dialogue here is the crucial answer. By simply asking ‘do you need help?’, support and assistance is being offered while still giving the choice and complete control to the disabled individual. Independence isn't unnecessarily stripped away and confidence is given by not assuming that that the task is unachievable.

We need to change our perception of what is kind. Maybe kindness isn't opening the door for someone but allowing a person with a disability the time and patience to do it by themselves, in their own way. So hopefully next time we find ourselves in a similar scenario to the example discussed above, discomfort does not build inside of us but kindness is exuded by our inaction. ∎


Personal Trainer & Founder of Alt Movement Craig is a Personal Trainer based in the UK, as well as the founder and creator of Alt Movement, which aims to provide individuals with disabilities alternative and adaptive ways of exercising.