Helping others help her

Reporter’s Notebook

Aspiring professional speaker wants to use her story to make others understand what it's like to be disabled.

July 21, 2010|By Britney Barnes,
(Scott Smeltzer )

Watching Shawna Daigle roll up to our table, I looked from her to the chair in the place she was supposed to sit and panicked.

I wasn't sure if I should stand up and move the chair to make room for her wheelchair, if she could move the chair, or if I should just scoot mine over to make room. I settled with asking her if I should move the chair.

She said no.

It was later, when she was giving a speech on how to act around those with physical disabilities, that I started to blush. The Fountain Valley resident told the audience about a handful of the hundreds of incidents where people have tried to help her and she didn't need, or want, it.

She was talking about me, I was sure. It was self-centered, I know, but when she rolled up for our interview, I panicked. Not knowing what is appropriate made me uncomfortable, so I fumbled.


It is for people like me that Daigle wants to become a public speaker. The 42-year-old is trying to take away the guessing game of what to do when a physically disabled person appears to be struggling, and when and how it is acceptable to offer assistance.

Daigle spoke about the frustration she feels when people try to help her, telling the audience about the time someone ran across a grocery store parking lot to assist her.

Or when a woman offered to help her get into her car when she was capable of doing it solo. Daigle declined, but the woman proceeded to assist her anyways, whacking her in the jaw in the process.

"What part of 'no' don't you understand?" she yelled, shaking her head and arms in frustration during her speech.

The frustration came back when she wanted the peach-mango salsa on the top shelf of the grocery store, and no one was around to help.

"I want to be free like you, but I need help," she said. "Whenever you see someone with a disability, or in general struggling, stop and ask them to help."

Daigle spoke to more than 35 people July 14 at a Toastmasters International's Speakers Bureau, an advanced meeting for those pursuing professional speaking careers, said Jack Nichols, a professional speaker and founder of the Speakers Bureau.

The bureau helps advanced speakers improve and get to the professional level while qualifying speakers to represent Toastmasters, he said. The organization regularly gets requests for speakers and recommends those from the Speakers Bureau who have been qualified, he said.

Daigle didn't qualify Wednesday, but she did well, Nichols said.

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