To tell you the truth, I have never really thought about this question before. I am one to assume that if you get to the door first you should hold it open for all others. I am an equal opportunity door opener. I have held doors for big burly men, elderly ladies with cute little hats, small squealing children, and also people who carry canes or ride in wheelchairs. It just seems the polite thing to do and I am always grateful when it is done for me. I am especially grateful now that I have Multiple Sclerosis. But will there ever come a time when I will feel resentful of the door opening gesture and see it as a threat to my independence?
For some people with disabilities this may be the case.
I first discovered this controversial issue through a fellow MS blogger named Vicki Bridges who wrote about this very topic both on her blog, Down the MS Path as well as in an article entitled, "Why are Disabled People so Mean?"
Her discussion originated from a question posed with those exact words on Yahoo Questions. where a young man talks about a scenario where he holds open a door for an elderly woman who is disabled (he doesn't mention how) and receives a "dirty" look and no thanks for his efforts. He then vows to never help another disabled person again. If you read the thread of comments following his proclamation you might find yourself shocked and not in a good way. One fellow totally agrees with him and has also resolved to not help people with disabilities and another openly states that people in wheelchairs suck and feel that the world owes them.
Painting a portrait of a handicapped person as the "grouchy gimp" is not new in our culture. Take a look at this question posed by a lady who wonders "Do handicapped people mind if you offer help? Most seem a bit offended and some even snap 'no thanks' when offered. Watching them flounder around is horrible." I feel myself bristle at how this question is worded as though people who have handicaps are pitiful floundering fish who don't even realize they need help. The image is certainly not a positive one.
Still on the topic of opening doors, I found this blog entry by a young man who gets angry that people who are not in wheelchairs are using automatic door openers. It is his view that all people who are not in wheelchairs are simply lazy if they use the automatic door opener button. Invisible disabilities would no doubt be a hard sell for this man who uses the wheelchair as the only true criteria for disability.
So what to make of all this?
I did find some humor in one commenter who I assume has some sort of disability himself, poking fun at the whole perception of the disabled as a mean group of people:
"Gee -- a disabled person who didn't act like a Saint! How strange. I'm all in favor of disableds acting grumpy and grouchy. I used to limp around with this angelic half-smile, as though I was one of God's anointed temporarily living here on Earth to show people what goodness was. Then I got tired of acting like Jerry's Children and decided to become a poster child for Easter Meanies. I'd snarl, curl my lilp, push to the beginnng of lines, demand discounts."
Point well taken in my opinion. People are people. Nobody is enrolled for sainthood just because you have a disability.
But back to the original question of whether to hold the door for people who have disabilities. In reading the long threads of comments on these particular posts and questions the consensus seemed to be that one should ask the person first if they would like help. If they say "No thank you" then it is respectful to honor their wishes.
Some people talked about pride being involved. There is a difference between someone holding the door open because it is common courtesy than for the reason that the person feels pity for you and thinks that you are incapable of independence. How does one know the difference in the particular door opener? I would say that it would be very hard to distinguish. For me...I like to assume good intentions.
Perhaps I will see this issue differently as my disease progresses. But for now, I am happy to both hold doors open and have doors opened for me. Regardless of motivation, I am grateful for what appears to be kind behavior. My pride will not be usurped by someone holding the door for me.
What are your thoughts? Do you think you should ask first if a person who has a disability needs help before opening a door for them? What do you feel about the perception out there that people with disabilities are mean? Do you like when people hold the door for you? Please share your thoughts and experiences here.
I will be writing more about such controversial issues in posts to come. Stay tuned...