4 Ways to Foster Independence When a Loved One Has a Disability

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by Charlene Marshall |

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Although it’s changing in today’s society, it was previously presumed that someone with a disability was completely dependent on others.

It’s quite common for people to think that because someone has a disability, they’re unable to complete daily tasks on their own. It’s this type of thinking that cultivates dependence on others. This can happen whether the disability is visible or invisible. For example, someone may assume that an individual in a wheelchair, which is a visible disability, cannot drive or get in or out of his or her car independently. When in reality, there are many individuals who use a wheelchair and drive on their own, as well as navigate a career, appointments and errands independently.

There is a similar assumption when someone has an invisible, but known disability, such as a brain injury. This often comes with an assumption that this individual may not be able to achieve daily tasks on their own. For example, someone with a brain injury may experience forgetfulness, and instead of doing tasks for them, it’s important to foster independence and help that individual with tools that may help them remember what they might otherwise forget. There are always tools that can be put in place to help foster independence for people with visible or invisible disabilities.

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Being diagnosed with an invisible illness, such as idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF), can affect the ability to be fully independent. Honouring independence is incredibly important. There will be tasks that a patient can no longer do on their own, which makes the ones they can still do independently that much more precious.

By helping your loved one or friend with a task, instead of completing it for them, you are helping to foster their independence regardless of their invisible illness or their disability — and they’ll be extremely grateful.

Below are a few ways to help someone achieve a daily task or goal, as opposed to doing it for them:

Accompany a patient while running errands.
Sometimes patients need others to run errands for them, which is particularly true on physically painful days or on days where the fatigue is overwhelming. Other times, you could accompany your friend for their errands. By doing so, the patient still has the independence of selecting their preference of groceries, for example, without being left to do the heavy lifting or driving to and from.

Cook together.
Instead of making a meal for someone (which is usually appreciated by patients), suggest making it together in the comfort of the patient’s home. They can still contribute to the meal, but do not have to be solely responsible for preparing it and cleaning up, which can take a lot of energy. This also fosters an opportunity for quality time with your friend or loved one.

Offer to carry something, don’t take it.
Carrying things for a patient with an invisible illness, or for an individual with a disability is almost always appreciated. That being said, taking their things without asking whether or not they need assistance, is one of the quickest ways to undermine their ability to be independent. It is important to ask someone if they need assistance, as opposed to assuming they do.

Strategize or problem-solve together.
Instead of doing something for your loved one, spend time with them strategizing or problem-solving the best way to achieve what they want on their own.

For other ways to help foster independence in the life of someone you love with an invisible illness or disability, talk to the person you’re supporting. It is incredibly helpful to know that others want to assist, not to do it for you and by having this conversation, you are likely helping to maintain the person’s independence as long as possible.

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