Accommodation with a Side of Guilt, Please

This evening, I went out to dinner with some friends. I ordered a dish I’ve eaten many times (a salad) only to find that they’ve begun presenting it in a new way: the dressing was in a small cup on the edge of the platter, rather than atop the food as it usually is. I froze, slightly embarrassed. I’ve always had trouble dressing my salad if it’s in a cup. Squeeze bottles? No problem. These give me a certain degree of control. Cups, however, are a different story. (Disclaimer: some blind people have no issue with these whatsoever.) I was just about to ask someone at my table to help when our extremely-attentive server materialized at my elbow:
“Do you want me to take this back and dress it for you?”
“Um…no, it’s okay…it’s just a bit awkward—“
“I totally understand. Don’t worry about it. I’ll be right back.”
Away went my plate. The server appeared several minutes later, saying “Here’s your salad. We have a special rule here where each time food is sent back for any reason, we have to actually make a new dish. So, we just made you a new salad and dressed it for you.”
I was stunned. I had just inadvertently wasted an entire plate of food so that someone could put dressing on top of my salad for me? Forget being slightly embarrassed: I was mortified and, I confess, a little ashamed. While the server reassured me that it was all okay, I silently asked the powers that be to disappear me immediately. They did not oblige.

I’m used to being “accommodated”. Indeed, I often expect it: when I enroll in university classes, each of my instructors is given an accommodation letter, which describes the accommodations I’ll need to participate fully in the classroom. (If I sound like a handbook, that’s because I wrote one—no, really!) I also expect workplaces to make (reasonable) accommodations to the work environment. This is something I’ve been encouraged to view as normal and acceptable. As is typical for me, I have felt heaps of unnecessary guilt over accommodations, even when they are deemed “reasonable”. Once, in ninth grade, my science teacher got together with a few others on staff and made me a periodic table, so I wouldn’t have to use the rather inadequate one in my textbook. My junior high Industrial Arts teacher went out of his way to make sure I could try out all the same equipment everyone else could. He even positioned the end of a nail gun while I fired, showing a remarkable lack of concern for his fingers. (If you’re reading this, I want to thank you. I’ll never forget that one.)

When people go above and beyond the call of duty for me, I feel grateful (healthy) and horribly guilty (unhealthy). Instead of simply thanking people and getting on with things, I waste time and emotional resources worrying about how undeserving or inconvenient or high-maintenance I’m being. While the person who is helping me is busy doing me a favour, I’m busy coming up with all the reasons I shouldn’t be accepting it. Even when I do accept it, as I did with that salad, the shame and humiliation will plague me for days. Yes, you read that correctly: days. This particular incident was so awkward that I’m amazed I didn’t start crying right there at the table; goodness knows I wanted to.

As far as the server was concerned, she was helping a gal out, no more no less. I have no idea what the kitchen staff thought, though I wouldn’t be surprised if they were about a dozen different kinds of exasperated. As far as I was concerned, I’d manage to waste food, fill my server’s time with running back and forth (in a very busy restaurant, I might add) and make a fool of myself all in about five minutes. I’m cringing as I write this, but the more I think about it, the more I realize it needs to be discussed. There are probably a lot of people out there who have felt how I’m feeling right now.

I’m trying to be okay with being accommodated. I’m trying to be at peace with accepting help, and depending on others, and even letting people do me favours now and then. Could I have dressed the damn thing myself? Of course. Would it have been less messy and awkward to have someone else do it? Absolutely. Did I force anyone to do it for me? No. Am I still going to feel awful about it for days to come? Yup.

But should I feel guilty? Most people seem to think I shouldn’t. Accommodations are there for a reason, and in many cases they are universal enough to be made into policy and/or law. But just because it’s not in a handbook or policy statement doesn’t mean it can’t and shouldn’t be done. While imposing unreasonable accommodations on people at work, school, and elsewhere isn’t going to further the cause, it shouldn’t mean that any random act of kindness ought to be rejected.

Should we make a habit of letting people do things for us, especially when we’re capable of doing them ourselves? If you know me at all, then you know I’d never suggest such a thing. However, this does mean that we should be comfortable with accepting what people want to give us now and then. If it’s not a sin to let someone carry your heavy bag, or hold open a door, or grab you a drink (all things sighted people let others do for them on a regular basis) then why not let someone offer kindness if they really, really want to?

I’m learning, guys. I’m learning. But for now…I think I’ll go and have that cry.


12 thoughts on “Accommodation with a Side of Guilt, Please

  1. I get that feeling as well I told the bus driver at a the greyhound station give me direction, and I can find my own way. But then I thought about it after his directions, and changed my mind. A friend of mine is good a this because she tells me what I will feel with my cane, and what I need to do in relation to that.

    There are times I allow friends guide me, but I hold onto my cane still not because I don’t trust them, but because I have been walked into a pole by my own mother.

    But yes there I times I just cry. I haven’t been blind all that long I know what I could do before, so I still feel I could do this before and I can do it now(not always). And others days I take the help for many reasons.

    • I appreciate that you carry your cane even while being guided. I know that some people frown upon it, but it makes me feel safer, too; close loved ones have run me into poles as well.

      • Nice not to be the only one. Some might find it odd, but if they don’t want to guide me with the cane I would rather them just not guide me. My cane for me has become like a body part I don’t want to leave it, and the idea of doing, so worries me way too much.

      • I liked this post Eagan! I carry my cane everywhere I go and I still use sighted guide and it’s because without my cane I feel extremely vulnerable. on the subject of going out to eat, I go out for dinner on a fortnightly basis as I am in my local lions club. at first I was too embarrassed to ask somebody to cut up my meat whenever I got my meal and don’t frown upon me for this because I am perfectly capable of using a knife and fork it’s just that on the tables at this restaurant the knives are effectively butter knives so cutting through meat is a nightmare and if I tried to cut my meat up there’s every chance I could get it all over me particularly if it was a ladies night and I was wearing a suit and tie which wouldn’t be a good thing at all. Somebody, I think it was my mother as we know the proprietor of the establishment quite well. a discrete word was had with the kitchen staff

  2. something I did forget to say in my last comment. I started my payed job on Monday and there’s one thing I feel bad about at the moment. I’ve got on sight support through my employment agency and I’m always worrying as to how the office are going to manage without a few of their staff I’m worried that the employment agency office won’t survive without a few of their staff especially if they are sometimes short staffed though I do appreciate the support they are giving me.

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