spinal-cord injury

the non-disabled depending upon the disabled

I spend much of my day asking for help. Coming home from the train station yesterday I was cold and so stopped to ask a young lady to get my beanie and mittens out from my bag. She looked at me strangely and said, “can’t you get someone else?” when I noted that she was nearest she again refused to help. it is a response that I get surprisingly often. initially it embarrasses me (I must look like a creepy pervert) and then it infuriates me. I suggested that she think of her failure to help me every time she watched the news of the Paralympics, and then made my way to ask someone else.

With this in mind it was interesting to come across the following quote in a book by Amos Yong, Theology and down Syndrome: Reimagining Disability in Late Modernity:

  • Sharon betcher notes (2000: 93), when she says as a person with a disability “excuse me, i need your help”—“in that moment the frozen wall between us topples; in your converted countenance, i discern that, as if in the twinkling of an eye, you have been changed. For the 45 seconds i needed you, you did not feel extraneous to the world. Sometimes i will ask for help just to save you, the nondisabled, from superficiality and irrelevance—just to save us from your own worst fear.” in that moment, god’s saving grace is made available through “the stranger” or those on the margins, and we can receive this grace or not depending on how we respond. This is the criterion dividing the sheep and the goats at the judgment: “just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me” (matt 25:40). Hence, the question concerns not the dependence of the disabled on the nondisabled but the other way around: the nondisabled are dependent on the disabled, whom god has chosen to be a means of saving grace. (page 188)

This is such a profound paragraph. And it has me wondering, what does that mean for the people who so often say “no” to the ‘creepy’ me when I ask for help? or much more importantly, what does it mean for all those brilliant people who help me time and again.

About Author

Shane is an ethicist and theologian, Honorary Associate for the Centre of Disability Research and Policy, the University of Sydney, and Assistant Director, Policy, at the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect, and Exploitation against People with Disability. Shane is proudly disabled, and an occasional blogger on


  • Sandra Godde
    August 31, 2012 at 3:47 pm

    Brilliant quote Shane! Spot on ……. and forgive all those who miss out on the grace to help you. You should feel sorry for them.

    • Shane Clifton
      August 31, 2012 at 4:42 pm

      yes, I was thinking the same thing when I glanced at my post a second time! Good thing God is more gracious than me.

  • Peter Allen
    August 31, 2012 at 4:05 pm

    It has been an intense week for me. I am a distance ed student currently doing your ethics unit. This week after reading your blog and articles and hearing your lectures for nearly 12 months I got to see you in your chair and all of a sudden so much of what you have been sharing as you poured out your life is starting to make sense.

    This quote is what brought it into focus for me. I started college because I wanted to study healing. Your blog posts have often had scathing comments on thoughtless but well meaning healers. I had started to wonder what I was doing at college working so hard to learn something that was apparently not wanted by those who from my perspective seemed to most need it. Confronting and challenging the status quo is where you are at your very best Shane. I am starting to realise, as this quote in your post says, that I need you and the my other disabled friends for my own healing and salvation. That this would be the criterion for dividing the sheep from the goats, God help us to see. Thanks mate for hanging it out there for us. You are doing more than you know.

    • Shane Clifton
      August 31, 2012 at 4:41 pm

      this is a very encouraging comment, Peter, thank you. Having said that, I’m sure I can learn to be a little less “scathing” and more generous in my dealing with those with whom I disagree. Best wishes, Shane

  • Kurt
    August 31, 2012 at 5:00 pm

    Next time you get that response you should say that you are asking for a Beanie not a *******! Did you miss-hear me?

    • Shane Clifton
      August 31, 2012 at 5:15 pm

      this is the funniest thing I’ve read in a long time. I had to edit it for the sake of our readers sensibilities – but I am tempted to use that line next time. although given Sandra’s earlier comment about my need to forgive, I shall try to resist.

  • Deborah Bond
    August 31, 2012 at 5:06 pm

    Hi Shane 🙂

    Very thought-provoking. I wish I had been there to help…but I must admit part of that willingness comes from knowing you.

    As a not-particularly-strong-or-fast female, I often feel vulnerable when approached by strangers. There is a part of me that feels compassion and wants to help, but also a part of me that fears something going wrong…a trap, a stalker, an obsessed person. It’s not constant – more triggered by environment ie. if it is dark, or there is no one else around. As a teenager there were a few times I was caught out by my naïveté (no major consequences, mainly ‘close shaves’), and family members worried about what would happen if I didn’t become more cautious. And then there are stories of people I know, friends of friends, and the media that serve as stranger danger warnings.

    But then, I guess the good samaritan could have thought the half-dead man on Jericho road was a trap, robbers could have still been in the area.

    Does anyone have any advice on how to balance showing compassion with ‘street-smarts’? All I have is my basic assessment of the environment and sizing up whether the other person might easily overpower me (which means, around someone in a wheelchair I’d usually feel like it’s safe to help – but then Shane, you’re still fairly tall sitting down :P)

    • Shane Clifton
      August 31, 2012 at 5:18 pm

      yes Deb, you have analysed the issue correctly – and I guess that is another reason I should be more forgiving. I do think though that our society has reached a sad point when fear overrides compassion. This is a similar issue to stranger danger. I would rather my children learn to be friendly and generous in conversation but then what would I do if one of them was attacked?

    • Ann-Elise Koerntjes
      September 1, 2012 at 8:21 am

      Hey Deb,
      I share your hesitation when it comes to safety and the Samaritan impulse…I have either been really lucky, or blessed (depending on your theology) that none of my close shaves were worse than they were, and that I have no reason to regret following the Samaritan impulse.

      I honestly feel the ‘stranger danger’ message has been overplayed in our society, statistially more assaults happen from people known to victims, not strangers, and the missing person senario is actually incredibly rare, just we are filled with horror stories both real and imagined through media, news and crime shows. These stories are far more newsworthy than the hundreds and thousands of completely safe and beautiful interactions that are possible between people, including helping strangers. (I was influenced in some of my thoughts regarding this issue by Lenore Skenazy and her blog

      But, how unsafe can you be on a train filled with people, you can always change carriages?

      I LOVED your respose Shane, I hope it popped back into her head with a twinge of remorse.


      • Ann-Elise Koerntjes
        September 1, 2012 at 8:22 am

        That should have read hey Deb, Shane et al (OOPS!)

      • Shane Clifton
        September 1, 2012 at 9:30 am

        I read the story on that link and it gave me a fright for a second until I realised it was a happy ending. Free range parenting was exactly the way we raised our kids. We made a deliberate point of it – refusing to tell our kids not to talk to strangers, and allowing them to make their way around our streets. Of course, the consequence was that damage done was not to them but by them. the Clifton kids terrorising the neighbourhood.

  • jenniferharding
    August 31, 2012 at 5:41 pm

    So true. When one person displays a vulnerability to another, a stranger, whether that be through the necessity of practical assistance, or through sharing of their person, they expose not only their self, but the other, read in the measure of their response.

    As I read this, I firstly felt angry and indignant towards the girl who refused to help; then a wave of sympathy hit me, as I wondered what in her socialization caused her to refuse another’s request for help. Ignorancy of disability? Fear of strangers? Self preservation? Self centredness? Whatever the reason, aside from you having to remain colder for some one more until you could find another more willing, she truly lost out on the gift of an opportunity to live not in western isolation, but part of a commonality in human existence that draws strangers together to make the world a better, or at least warmer for you, place.

  • Lauren
    August 31, 2012 at 6:49 pm

    Did you know that ted bundy often disguised himself as ‘disabled’ to request help from compassionate women? I saw it on a telemovie. And Shane, sorry, but I’m probably one of those bearches who would tell you to f..k off mate, find someone else…maybe i watch too many horror movies, i don’t know … but am still recovering from wolf creek (the movie) as well as few terrifying encounters of my own!

    seriously though, i wonder where current postcolonial theology fits here, which says that this sort of attitude can very easily turn narcissistic, as disability becomes a mirror for non-disabled persons to gaze flatteringly back at ourselves. Ah-ha, you have great wisdom to impart …as a moral object lesson! Ummmmm, thanks teech. We can quickly ‘colonize’ disability by infusing it (you) with romanticized morality.

    What a great performance, I can see it now! Shane, you can play the part of the needy victim, someone lacking a full and complex identity, you just have to say one line (could you help me please….?) And don’t forget to look like you’re in agony …. shouldn’t be too hard should it? And I – as the central character – will be ennobled through my Christ-like compassion and merciful assistance as I reach down to you and the camera pans close. Hmmmm, I can see it now …. and the Academy Award for Best Actress goes to ….. Lauren McGrow! We can call the film, sweet charity …

    Now I know this is a pretty savage re-reading of god’s saving grace, as outlined by betcher in the quote above, but i think it is also a great challenge to our inherent, Pentecostal crusader consciousness, and that can’t be a bad thing can it?

    finally, what about having a more accessible man-bag, located in front of you and within easy reach…?

    • Shane Clifton
      August 31, 2012 at 7:09 pm

      wow, Lauren, this is a seriously deep comment following my request for help for a beanie. But I actually do get your point. To be honest, this is precisely the reason that I have not blogged for months. I feel like every time I blog I’m setting myself up for either some sort of hero status or pity – which is precisely the point that you are making. when you over think these things it turns out silence is always the best option.

      In purely practical terms, I carry in my backpack a blanket, beanie, scarve, and mittens and sitting them conveniently on my lap is not really possible; given that my lap I have a man bag, an iPad iPhone etc. I guess the solution is that I only ask men for help. But then should I feel threatened as a vulnerable disabled person that the powerful man will steal my laptop and iPad and beat me to a pulp. It does seem as unlikely as the idea that I would be capable of doing damage to anybody. Which I guess answers my question. because I don’t feel threatened I should ask men. Both yourself and deb have expressed the vulnerabilities that women feel and since that matters to me I shall leave them “unmolested.”

      • Deborah Bond
        September 3, 2012 at 2:05 pm

        Hey Shane

        Thanks for being so open to our perspectives.

        But don’t be too hard on yourself about ‘setting yourself up’ by blogging about your experiences and feelings. Just think of how new mothers seem to spend years mostly talking about their labour stories and their child’s milestones.

        Becoming disabled is a very profound change in your life, and talking about it 1) gives you a chance to express yourself, let off steam, hear other perspectives and 2) gives other people a chance to start to understand just a bit of what you (and others) may be going through, learn how to help and find out what topics you are happy to chat about (very important, as many people can feel so awkward/guilty about being non-disabled that they might say/ask nothing for fear of saying something ‘wrong’)

        I personally would like to thank you for your openness; my background involved a lot of coverup of physical/emotional suffering, and having someone I know and respect address some of these issues helps build a vocabulary for expressing stuff, and create a conversation-style I can join in on, instead of being alone without a vocabulary/reference point.

        Thanks for your courage to share the ups, downs, randoms and profounds of your life 🙂

  • Elly
    August 31, 2012 at 7:03 pm

    You know Lauren, you’ll have scared him off bloggin again for a few months – he always worries about it soundin like making himself a hero.

  • Kerry Sanders
    August 31, 2012 at 11:09 pm

    Shane……firstly….THANKYOU…The discovery of your blog is wonderful…….

    I have agree with on you todays subject…….I spent 2hrs waiting for my Dr……..she had an emergency that needed her attention… I waited.
    In a waiting room full of people only one lady spoke to me ….lovely woman……everyone else avoided eye contact……in fact as I struggled through the door no one offered to assist ….they all looked then quickly looked away………Is it that uncomfortable to look at a disabled person?

    This experience is one that was repeated a fortnight earlier……when I had my first flat tyre.
    I rang the NRMA…..who informed me they could not assist me because I wasn’t carrying a spare…..Prior preparation prevents poor porformance……..I’d blown that one!!!!!

    Macksville Beaurepair to the rescue….1 call..10 mins……..lovely young man named Eddie…..finds me a chair , transfers me out of the powerchair…removes offending flat tyre……..20mins returns with repaired tyre…..wam bam Thankyou Man …..all fixed.

    In that time lots of people walked around me…looked the other way….crossed the street…IT WAS ALL TOOOO HARD FOR THEM.
    Two people stopped to inquire if they could assist…….A lovely lady who had just returned home from staying with her neice who is in a wheelchair and understood………..and a young lady who as she was leaving the cafe across the road was told by a gentleman to see if something was wrong with the woman in the wheelchair…..1/2 brownie pionts. to the man 🙂

    Well I’ve got that off my chest…….Thankyou again Shane.

    Please give my regards to Elly.

    p.s. Wrote a note to the Boss of the Tyre Centre…praising his young staff member….. and Yes …..I now have a share tyre and tube in the backpack…….hahahaha…Iam now prepared.

    • Shane Clifton
      September 1, 2012 at 9:22 am

      Kerry! So nice to have you on my blog. I am a bit stunned by your story about the NRMA – I thought we were promised in hospital that they would help. And who carries the spare tyre around with their wheelchair? in terms of people’s unwillingness to look at you and talk to you I sometimes wonder whether that is nothing to do with the wheelchair but just the way people are now. I guess the good news is that the only people worth talking to those prepared to look you in the eye. The thing I enjoy the most is children who walk past and turnaround and stare as their mother or father pulls them along. Makes me laugh every time.

      Hope things are going well for you up in sunny coffs (is that right?)

      • Kerry Sanders
        September 3, 2012 at 10:06 pm

        Yes….it is beautiful ,warm and sunny up here near Coffs.My house is about to commence….good things take time………POW taught paticence…hahaha.

        Shane the NRMA will only assist if you have a spare tube or tyre…….I now carry a spare in my backpack………I remember now that Craig mentioned something about a lady who carried a spare…… chair has only one pair of large wheels that require a tube……….the front and back are solid wheels……depends on the setup I suppose.

        With all your travelling Shane it might be worth enquiring.The tube and tyre where about $45.00………for peace of mind.

        Please keep blogging…….I have enjoyed reading different pionts view ………….your stimulating my mind….Thankyou and take care 🙂

  • Joohee
    September 1, 2012 at 4:25 am

    Blog away Shane, whatever you say, your always a hero to me! Love these insights you have… Miss u!

    • Shane Clifton
      September 1, 2012 at 9:23 am

      and you – that mad Joohee creativity

  • Tanya Riches
    September 1, 2012 at 3:19 pm

    I should read everyone else’s thoughts but I just wanted to say that I love this thought of the dependence of the abled upon the disabled. It’s definitely something that is also true of the dependence of the not-poor upon the poor. We always see it the other way, but I think our eyes are seeing things wrongly. I’m looking forward to reading Amos’ book. 🙂

    • Shane Clifton
      September 1, 2012 at 3:41 pm

      I think you would enjoy the book Tanya, but for others reading this blog Amos has a second book on disability which is directed at the lay reader (Tanya is doing a Ph.D.). The book is called the Bible disability and church, and I will be doing an ongoing review of it in the weeks to come.

  • Lauren
    September 2, 2012 at 10:12 am

    just one more thought …. we don’t want to essentialize either women or men here. not all shelias would be as slow or weak as Deb or myself. There’s some pretty hot butch dykes out there, who would happily assist you on a dark and lonely street … and knock your block off if you tried anything! As well, there are some very fragile blokes who would run a mile when asked. Maybe what is needed is a sensitivity to circumstance, Shane? (Hey, you are not the only ‘other’ in the room, y’know!) If a young girl looks out of place, on a deserted street at dusk, yeah, I’d say keep moving…

  • justingottuso
    July 8, 2014 at 6:29 am

    Reblogged this on Life's a Story, not a Script and commented:
    A recent acquaintance of mine is Shane Clifton, dean of theology at Alphacrucis College in Australia. In August 2012 Shane posted this moving piece titled “the non-disabled depending upon the disabled.” As a person who is constantly asking for help (to remember where I put things, for help completing an assignment, or for an extension on an assignment that was due last week), Shane’s questions provoke me to wonder how my asking for help can be reframed as an opportunity for others to enact the loving kindness of Christ and grow in their formation as disciples of Jesus. I welcome your feedback!


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