The “Hammer Quality”: Helping Us Recondition the Way We Think

by John Estrem

We talk everyday about what we call the “Hammer Quality.” Every time I visit a home or an apartment I ask myself the question, “What makes this a quality place?” Quality is one of those elusive terms, like love, in that you know if you have it, but it can be hard to articulate it. I have come to the conclusion that quality can be about tangible things like a comfy bed, safe van and healthy food. However, quality is mostly about getting the support we need at the time that we need it. This is true whether we live with a disability or not.

John and his good friend Jim Finney aka "The Man About Town."

John and his good friend Jim Finney aka “The Man About Town.”


Redefining the Hammer Quality from the ground up.

If I have a good friend to talk to when I feel down … or if I can get help when I need it for daily or unusual tasks … and if I feel safe and secure in my daily life, I then have a quality of life. This can be even more critical for people living with a disability. In some cases, a person with a disability needs help with daily tasks like brushing their teeth or shopping for groceries. The key in providing quality helps in determining what it means to “help” someone.

Many years ago I was meeting a gentleman who used a wheelchair in daily life. I was outside waiting for him when he pulled up in his car. After he parked, he reached behind his seat to pull out his wheelchair. Raised to be helpful, I moved forward to grab the chair for him. He looked at me kindly but firmly and said “Don’t, I do this every day.” I learned a valuable lesson that day. My inclination to rush in and do something for someone is not always the best way to help. We all want to be as independent as possible. Providing quality help means being there for someone as they need me, not as I want to help. How do I know how to help? I simply ask the person if they would like some help. A big part of quality of life is being independent as possible and having control over daily aspects of life. It is great to want to help, and it is why most of us work or volunteer at Hammer. We just need to remember that it is their lives, not ours. So, go ahead and be helpful every day. Just remember to have respect and ask the person what they want.


  1. Eric Pederson

    Well said, John. There was a quote from JFK Jr. that said something to the effect of ‘quality lies in the interaction of a staff person and the person with a disability’. Asking is a key part of that quality interaction. The environment, the training, the policies, etc. are all important aspects to quality, but only if they serve to improve upon the interactions that occur every day.

  2. Ginger Venable

    I really like this message. Thank you for sharing. When offering to help I like to say, “How can I help?” It still gives someone an option to decline but directs their thoughts to the way they might like my help. I’m often pleasantly surprised by where that question takes us.

  3. Addie Motzko

    A few years back I attended a disability training and heard a great speaker on this topic who had stories from his own personal experience. It really stuck with me. His name is Norm Kunc and he also works with Emma Van Der Klift. They do trainings together and they have a website. I think you can look up the specific training I attended on their website. It’s called “Hell Bent on Helping.”

  4. Elspeth Lucas

    “Ask people what they want”.

    I love this! As DSP’s, we must remember that, while we have a “job”, that job is provide the utmost excellence in care for our clients. Our clients often know exactly what they want and we must make sure we provide that to the best of our ability.

    Great post!


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