Thursday, January 23, 2014

Why I hate asking for help...

You often hear that the biggest problem with helping people is getting them to actually ask for help. Too often, people in need of help suffer in silence because they don't want to bother anyone and quite often when someone in desperate need finally does admit they need help, they are - mostly gently - admonished for not speaking up earlier.

I acknowledge this is a problem.

But today I want to talk about why I hate asking for help, because, to me, this is an equally big problem.

I'm doing a PhD right now, and PhDs are hard work. This hard work is compounded by the fact that I live with low vision - which is now getting lower. I am not the first person with low vision to study at a tertiary level, or even at a PhD level, not the first by a long shot.

Luckily, there are bodies founded to help people with low vision, and people who are completely blind (as opposed to technically blind, like me) to undertake tertiary education. For this I am very grateful.

So, at the risk of biting the hand than feeds me, I'm now going to vent about what I'm not so grateful about.

I was told by my university that as an 'on campus' PhD student I would have a workstation to work at 'on campus'. I was asked before I began if I had any special requirements with reference to my disability. Assuming I was actually going to be 'on campus' I told the faculty all my tech needs would be covered by Vision Australia. When I was assigned a work station, I quickly discovered that it was only 'technically on campus', and that it was in fact, not actually on campus at all, but on an adjoining campus 15-minutes-brisk-walk-navigating-lots-of-traffic away.

When I put forth the argument that this would negatively impact my study - because I have to choose which campus to work on each day; either the one with the adaptive technology, or the one with the workshops, study groups, supervisor meetings, and library on it - I was told they would 'try' to find me a work station on the main campus. That was over six months ago.

At the same time, I applied for an adaptive technology bursary from Vision Australia and received one after a lengthy application process. I was told I had a bursary to the value of $6000 to purchase adaptive technology and while most students didn't get this finalised until after uni commences, in February, I could be fast tracked because I was already enrolled and prove as much.

After discussing my needs two weeks ago, I was told it would take 2-4 weeks to finalise purchases and delivery of the desperately needed equipment.

This morning I received a phone call where I had to further justify my needs - and I felt I was being encouraged to cut back on what I needed, even though I had not exceeded the $6000 bursary I have received. I was also told it would still be another four weeks until purchases were finalised.

Argh! So, with less than four months until colloquium, I still do not have a workstation on the main campus where all the resources are, and the resources that are at my desk I cannot access when on the main campus, and I also do not have a laptop to work on away from my desk which means I have to spend time every time I'm on a university computer setting up their adaptive technologies so I can use their computers.

I am grateful that there is some kind of assistance, but I am very frustrated by how much I still have to fight for agency where it has already been promised. I am frustrated that the assistance seems reluctant to be forthcoming in a manner that would actually assist me when I need assistance.

I really wish I didn't need assistance at all.

When you make an offer or a promise to help, make sure you know your own limitations, don't offer to help in a way you either cannot afford the resources or time for, or really just don't care to understand how deeply vulnerable the person asking for help feels in having to ask for help. Believe me, most people don't ask for help unless they really need it when they ask for it.

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Good Job!