Suggestions for Allies to People with Disabilities

Allies have important roles to play in the participation and liberation of people with disabilities:

  • Allies can give good counseling to contradict disability internalized oppression. To do this, they need to get close to disabled people so that they can understand their lives and how the oppression works.
  • Allies can provide physical assistance at workshops. This is a good way for them to get close to disabled people, and of course it also helps the disabled people have access to the workshop.

Allies to people with disabilities need to discharge about both of these roles, just as all allies need to discharge on their relationship to any people whose liberation they want to support.

FEELINGS IN THE WAY OF PROVIDING ASSISTANCE

Providing physical assistance to people with disabilities at workshops is different from being an ally to most other constituencies. It can restimulate distresses different from those that come up when just trying to be a good counselor.

We can assume that giving help is a natural human role that can be fun and a good way to get close to other people, disabled or not. Humans are a gregarious species, and helping each other is natural and good.

However, sometimes helping disabled people can remind allies of ways that they needed help when they were young. All of us have feelings about our parents! And these feelings are usually the ones that get restimulated when we are helping others.

Providing help can seem like a lot of work. It can take time and feel like a distraction from other activities at the workshop. Helping others with their bodies can feel embarrassing.

Sometimes allies want to help too much, because they want to feel needed. Sometimes they feel guilty about disabled people having hard lives and try to fix the pain of disability.

The helping role is associated with women’s work, such as nursing, and working-class work, and some allies may feel oppressed in it.

All of these feelings get in the way of providing good help.

HELPING FROM A PLACE OF RELAXED ENJOYMENT

Is it okay to require allies to provide help for disabled people? No. Helping should be a choice. When allies feel obligated to help, disabled people may feel their resentment or confusion as oppression.

Allies need to have discharged enough, and have enough willingness to help, that they can offer assistance from a place of relaxed enjoyment in being close to and empowering disabled people. They also need to decide what kind of help they are ready to give.

COUNSELING SUGGESTIONS FOR ALLIES

Here are some counseling suggestions for allies:

1. Be willing to say to your counselor (a counselor who is not the disabled person you are assisting) your true feelings about helping disabled people. It is not good to pretend about or hide the feelings (which are simply from old hurts). When you share the feelings, you can discharge them. Trust the process of discharge and re-emergence. It works!

2. If you are too embarrassed to talk out loud about the feelings, you can say, “Yada yada yada” (some nonsense words), and think the actual words inside. This can bring discharge!

3. Notice how difficult or easy it might be for you to get help. Practice asking for help in your sessions.

4. Practice saying, “No, I don’t want to help,” and “Yes, of course, I’m happy to help.” Both can bring discharge and give you more clarity about the choice to provide help or not.

5. Discharge on memories of being a baby and getting help with your body. That is where any difficulties with help got started.

6. Discharge about sexism, classism, and other oppressions. This will help with any resentment about helping and with setting reasonable limits.

7. Discharge about feeling guilty or upset about disability oppression.

Allies who are asked or assigned to help at a workshop should get some discharge—before, after, or during the workshop—on the above points! Ideally they would meet as a discharge group or meal table sometime early in the workshop. Workshops get very busy, but discharging will make the helping go more smoothly. Of course, the disabled people should also ideally get to discharge about “being helped.” When the helping is not going well, the main workshop topic can get pushed aside for them because the difficulties with “getting helped” become their main focus. Discharge and better communication will enable things to go well for everyone.

8. Discharge about thinking together with disabled people about meeting disability access needs. There are alternatives to RC allies providing all the help—for example, having paid assistants along with allies at workshops. It will be a mark of success to be able to talk openly across the embarrassment or any other feelings that can come up between the groups.

Marsha Saxton

International Liberation Reference Person for People with Disabilities

El Cerrito, California, USA

(Present Time 192, July 2018)


Last modified: 2019-05-22 16:52:15+00