As a person with a physical disability, I face random daily living impediments that often affect my mental health, maybe more now with the COVID-19 pandemic. I get social anxiety when a nondisabled person misinterprets my condition or when establishments are inaccessible with no accomodations. For some individuals with a physical or mental disability, just getting to work is a challenge.
It has been a revolutionary 30 years since the American with Disabilities Act was passed, but in the span of a few months, one pandemic took all the hard work that people with disabilities and advocates have worked hard for and threw most of it out the window. As a person with a physical disability, it was not hard for me to adapt and overcome, but one thing was for sure, it started to affect my mental health. From fighting to deserve the same treatment as everyone else to being coddled because I am more “at risk” now has made me more anxious than ever.
One lesson that I would like to remind others when they see a person with a physical disability is to always ask if they need help before assuming that they actually do. Mental Health America shares seven ways on how to be helpful:
1. Practice active listening: Really listen to what their needs are. Instead of assuming you know what they mean, ask and confirm that you are really understanding their needs.
2. Don’t compare: Not everyone is going through the same situation. Yes, we are in this pandemic together, but what you are going through may not be the same as what they are going through.
3. Ask what you can do: Again, always ask before assuming they need help.
4. Keep your word: If you offered your assistance and they accepted, keep your word. Not everyone likes to ask for help, so it might be a big deal to them even if you do not think so.
5. Don’t judge: It does not help a person who is asking for help if you are sitting there judging them for what they need help with. Whether it is sitting and helping them fill out their own application forms or waiting in that long line with them.
6. Offer to join them: Limiting contact and time in public is what we are supposed to do now, so it may be hard to join them in their day to day activities, but if it is for a common good, like grocery shopping or commuting to work, offer to join them.
7. Know when more serious help is needed: Sometimes people who really need help don’t ask for help. If you see them struggling more and more ask again and offer to help them get professional help.
For more information about mental health or the Americans with Disabilities Act, contact the Northern Marianas Protection & Advocacy Systems, Inc. at (670) 235-7273/4 or visit us on the web at www.nmpasi.org, www.facebook.com/NMPASI, and follow us on Instagram @nmpasi670.
John Cabrera (Special to the Saipan Tribune)
John Cabrera is a program aide at the Northern Marianas Protection & Advocacy Systems, Inc.