There’s a photograph making the rounds on social media. Maybe you’ve seen it. A McDonald’s employee performed what the USA Today called a “random act of kindess.” According to the newspaper, the employee (Kenny) shut down his register to assist the customer, an unidentified man using a wheelchair, with cutting his food and eating. The act was caught by Destiny Carreno, who snapped a photo and shared it with her friends on Facebook.
Kenny performed a kind, charitable act. He assisted a customer who asked for help.
I am not denying this. I have received assistance from many people – both friends and strangers – in my life. Each time I am grateful for the blessings these compassionate people add to my world. In fact, whenever I am out in public and something wacky happens (I drop my reacher or find my wheelchair stuck on uneven ground), I am astounded by the speed at which my unspoken prayers for assistance are answered. It’s as if I only have to think, “I could really use an angel right now,” and suddenly help is on the scene. I know from experience most people are kind, and glad to offer assistance.
The photo of Kenny assisting the customer upsets me because of the questions it raises in my mind. When I look at the photo, I don’t see a photo of a kind person performing an act of compassion.
I see a person with a disability who is forced to rely on a stranger to meet a basic survival need, and it makes me angry. I see a man who does not have access to services or supports to assist him in the community. Maybe he does have access to services but we don’t know this because we don’t know who he is.
Did he want to go to McDonald’s and ask a stranger, “Please help me?” What happens when he leaves the restaurant? Is there someone to help him access the bathroom? Can he get into bed without assistance and will someone help him with that task?
If you needed this level of assistance, would you want to rely on a stranger to provide it? And if you did ask and receive such assistance from a stranger, would you want your photo to be published on social media sites as a means for others to have warm, fuzzy feelings?
There is no doubt about Kenny’s compassion or exemplary customer service. Kenny is not to blame in this situation. I am glad this man found kindness from Kenny when making his plea for help. I hope there are more Kenny’s out there who would react the same way upon receiving such a request.
I don’t blame Destiny Carreno, the photographer, for recognizing an act of kindness. I do have issues with photos being broadcast on the internet without permission, although I recognize our expected right to privacy is dwindling these days. I know if someone were to take a video or photo of me receiving assistance without my consent and then share it in a post which received over one million views, I would be upset.
I see the photo and I see ableism. I see inspiration porn. Watch the amazing late Stella Young if you don’t know that term.
I see a nameless wheelchair user who has been turned into the background character in a “feel good” story. I see a symptom of a society which has not yet fully developed and/or funded the supports required for a person with a disability to be truly independent and self-directing without relying on a stranger to meet a basic need.
This man, whatever his name, was hungry and wanted to eat. He had to ask a stranger, Kenny, to help him. Kenny DID help him, which is wonderful.
But do we want to live in a society where those who live with disabilities are forced to ask strangers to help them meet basic needs? As someone who regularly relies on others to assist me with such basic needs I know that is not a society I want for myself, or others.
Sure, praise acts of kindness if you want.
Just don’t forget the reason behind the need for such acts.