When a family member or friend becomes disabled through illness or an accident, it can be difficult to know how to respond. Sometimes, people slip into giving well meaning but unhelpful advice, not realising that they’re doing more harm than good with their words. It can often be more helpful to offer practical support when you want to be there for someone you care about when they’re experiencing disability. Here are a few simple ideas to help you show your love.
- Make sure they have what they need. Depending on the disability in question, there are certain practical tools that can be invaluable to those who need them. Even if the disability in question is temporary, there may be tools that they need for the time being that don’t have in their home. For example, handicap bathroom equipment may not be something a friend wants to discuss, but it can be an absolute necessity when their mobility is impaired. Encourage your friend to be open about what items would be useful to them, and help them find and purchase these things if you can.
- Offer to bring food and necessities over to their home. Limited mobility can make it very difficult to leave the house. Cooking can also be a struggle, so getting a nutritious and balanced diet on a daily basis may be tough for them. Consider bringing cooked meals over and eating with your friend, or offer to go out to the store for them to make their day a little easier.
- Provide companionship. For some people with a disability, loneliness can become a major problem. The isolation that comes with being stuck at home the majority of the time can lead to feelings of intense loneliness, which can in turn cause depression. Your friend may not feel like hours of chatty conversation, but they might appreciate some quiet company. Ask first, and head over with a DVD or some magazines if they feel like it.
- Assist with physical tasks. The daily physical chores that many of us find relatively easy can be much tougher for those with a disability. Offer to help your friend with household tasks that they can’t manage like cleaning, gardening, or doing laundry.
- Always ask first. Don’t assume that a friend is incapable of doing something merely because they have a disability. Make sure you always ask before helping, and allow them to be independent whenever possible. Be available when needed, and step back if not.
- Stay in touch. Don’t be one of those friends who flakes out and disappears when times get tough. Send texts asking how they are, open up about what’s going on in your life, and continue to invite them to events even if you’re not sure that they’ll be able to make it. This way, you won’t be contributing to any sense of isolation or exclusion, and you’ll be reassuring your friend that they’re still a part of your life.
- Educate yourself. You don’t have to become an expert, but take some time to learn about your friend’s disability so you can support them more effectively and avoid asking questions or giving unsolicited health advice that could be unhelpful or misinformed.