Advice

Ask Ada: When Is It Okay To Help A Disabled Person?

Welcome to Ask Ada, Folks’ bi-weekly advice column for people impacted by health issues or disability. Want Ada to help you with a problem? Email Ada at askada@pillpack.com or tag @folksstories on Twitter with the #askada hashtag. What’s The Best Way To Offer My Help To Disabled People? Dear Ada, I’m a commuter and spend a huge amount of […]

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A man waiting for a subway.

Welcome to Ask Ada, Folks’ bi-weekly advice column for people impacted by health issues or disability. Want Ada to help you with a problem? Email Ada at askada@pillpack.com or tag @folksstories on Twitter with the #askada hashtag.

What’s The Best Way To Offer My Help To Disabled People?

Dear Ada,

I’m a commuter and spend a huge amount of my time daily on public transportation. I regularly see people with disabilities also accessing public transportation, and sometimes, I wonder if I should offer my assistance. For example, there’s a blind woman on my train who uses a support cane; yet all of the other passengers rush past her to get on the train. Another person I see on occasion who appears to be hard of hearing looks like they’re sometimes confused as to when their stop is coming. Should I ask them if they need help? Should I just start helping? I don’t want to insult them, because they’re obviously managing on their own. I just think that we could all use help, and I don’t mind stepping up to offer help. Should I, or shouldn’t I?

Sincerely, Conflicted Commuter

Dear C.C. —

Asking to help someone if you have genuine intentions is never wrong — ever. But before you offer your help, take a moment to check your motives, and determine whether the person actually needs your assistance, or if you only perceive them to need help because they are disabled. 

For example, the person you mention who is deaf or hard of hearing probably does know where their stop is. They’re counting and watching for each stop on their route, and as long as everything is going forward as expected, they can manage fine without assistance. They don’t need your help, and offering it might actually have the opposite effect, confusing them when they are getting along just fine.

So when might this person need help? When something happens out of the ordinary which they can’t hear. For example, imagine a scenario where a train needs to skip a stop, or is being rerouted, and an announcement is made over the intercom. In that scenario, you should absolutely offer them your help. 

When you do feel like you should offer your assistance, it’s imperative you ask permission of the person first. A simple, “Would you like a hand with that?” or “Do you need any help?” is the easiest way to start the conversation. If your offering help to someone who is deaf, make the gesture of what you’d like to do, and then look to their face for approval.

Check your motives, and determine whether the person actually needs your assistance, or if you only perceive them to need help because they are disabled.

If the person says no, then smile and go on with your day. If they say yes, then let them tell you what they need from you. For example, the blind woman may ask you to take her arm and guide her onto the train. Or, she may simply want you to tell her if the car is too full to enter at this time.

Someone may agree to accept your help, and then not instruct you how to proceed. In this case, explain everything you’re doing before you do it. For example, say to the woman who is blind: “I am going to stand to your right and block the individuals on my side from rushing past you. Please let me know if you’d like me to take your arm and help guide you into the train or if this is sufficient.”

By explaining your actions before taking them, you’re giving the person you’re helping the agency to accept what you’re suggesting or request you do something differently.

The most important thing to remember is this: Offer help to a person with disabilities the same way you would for an individual who is able-bodied. Be genuine, be sincere, and lead the conversation by asking for their permission first.

A depressed man with a man bun looking sad.
Photo by Matthew Henry from Burst

How Can I Reach Out To Someone Struggling With Depression?

Dear Ada,

My adult sibling was diagnosed a few months ago with depression and anxiety. He told us all about the diagnosis, but my family isn’t really the close-knit, sharing type. So, when he mentioned it at a holiday party, everyone kind of acknowledged what he was saying, but then moved on with a different conversation. My best guess is that no one has really followed up with him, mostly because we’re all a bit emotionally-naive in my family — myself included. I’d like to be better, and I want him to know I’m here for him. Can you teach me easy ways to reach out to him. Remember, this is awkward for me, and will likely be awkward for him to receive the help.

Sincerely, A.S.

Dear A.S. —

It must have taken a lot of courage for your brother to speak up and share his diagnosis with you and your family. It’s so nice to hear you’re stepping up to show you care, even though this isn’t exactly the kind of conversation that is easy for you.

You mentioned that your brother shared his condition, but you didn’t say how he’s handling everything. Is he seeing a therapist? Find out, and encourage your brother to do so if he is currently trying to manage on his own.

If you’re feeling too uncomfortable talking to your brother about everything, remember that you can always initiate the conversation via text, email, or a social media message. A simple note praising him for sharing his struggles and letting him know you support him is a great first step.

Not sure what to say? Try this:

“I know it’s been a little while since you told us you were diagnosed with depression. I wanted to let you know that I’m proud of you for speaking up, and that I’m here for you if you need anything at all.”

Do your best to support him in the way he needs, and not what you think he might need.

When he answers, ask him this question: “In what ways can I support you?”

Depression manifests differently in each person, and because of that, it can be tough to know what kind of help he needs. Hopefully, he is aware and is able to relay that to you. If so, do your best to support him in the way he needs, and not what you think he might need.

If he’s not sure how you can support him, the best thing you to do is be a constant in his life. Because you’re already concerned about being vulnerable with each other, just worry about being present. Email him funny GIFs ask him to hang out with you more often.  It’s not your responsibility to be his doctor or therapist, so take that weight off your shoulders, and instead, just be there.


Are you facing a problem that is being complicated by a health condition or disability? Folks’ advice columnist Erin Ollila wants to help. Email askada@pillpack.com and tell us your problem.

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