Otherisation and discrimination also affect people whose bodies work differently.
I used to feel reserve when I saw someone in a wheelchair possibly running into a practical problem, but that’s been a long time ago.
I know that asking if I can help can offend, but it’s matter of measure, of knowing where someone’s boundaries are, and I haven’t encountered any friction with that in decades.
Sometimes, I merely observe and conclude “Nah, she is fine.” At other times, I ask something like “Can I help?” or “Need a hand?” and as soon as the person makes clear that he or she does not need any help, I move on.
The last thing I want to do is declare someone helpless. Because it isn’t about abilities. It’s about hindrances created by society and a lack of a willingness to accommodate for this type of diversity.
That one time when I saw that someone’s mobility scooter was threatening to topple because obstacles on the pavement forced the person to go onto the street, I didn’t ask whether he needed help. Plain logic tells you what to do. Grab the thing before it falls over. But don’t make an ass of yourself next.
Similarly, I once accompanied a woman who I saw hesitate outside a drug store. I asked if I could help. She said she wanted to get a few items but was worried it might take her too long as the shops would close soon and manoeuvring the aisles can be tricky because the displays are usually not positioned with wheelchairs and mobility scooters in mind. That time, I was really glad that I had decided to ask if I could help and that I didn’t let a fear of being rebuked or being experienced as intrusive stop me.
All these issues – of skin colour, ethnicity, abilities, gender, hair colour, sexuality etc – overlap.
Of course it is all simply about seeing each other as fellow human beings. That shouldn’t be so hard.
Why is that so hard? Because we are all merely human and all have our personal weaknesses and strengths and histories. We all do. But we can’t know what is the right thing to do unless we have conversations, no matter how awkward.