What is the protocol for offering assistance to people with disabilities? That question comes from a listener who noticed a wheelchair user having difficulty navigating onto a sidewalk. Our listener’s first instinct was to provide help but didn’t want to be presumptuous and assume assistance was wanted or needed. At The Emily Post Institute, we've talked about the best approach for this situation with those who have disabilities and the organizations that support them.
With roughly 15 percent of the population having some type of disability, this really is an important question. The easiest answer is to ask permission before providing assistance. Don’t assume it’s needed, but also don’t let fear of that assumption prevent you from offering help. Simply ask, “Can I give you a hand?” There’s no need to comment on how difficult a particular task might look, just plainly ask. The person will either say, “No, I’m good,” or “Sure, I’d appreciate that.” This allows you to know what the expectation is.
If ever you find yourself uncertain about offering a traditional courtesy and not sure how it will be received, always ask permission to perform that courtesy. This way, you give the other person the opportunity to accept or decline. This also applies to other traditions such as opening the door or pulling out a chair for someone.
If you have an etiquette question for us, send it to: firstname.lastname@example.org