When it comes down to it, many people with disabilities don't really want to be categorized or labeled as "disabled' -- they're just people (like the rest of us) who have an additional set of challenges to overcome or opportunities to take.
It doesn't always come automatically, but with enough time, people who might have been a little uncomfortable talking to Dad at first start to forget that he's even in a wheelchair. Sooner or later they realize they're just talking to Tim, a guy who happens to sit down -- a lot.
Other Disability Rights Articles:
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- ADA Compliance in Schools & Education
- Disability Etiquette Do's and Dont's
- Wheelchair Van or Handicap Van?
- BraunAbility Employee Cycles Across America
- What is the Proper Wheelchair Ramp Slope Measurement?
- What are Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI)?
- How to Interact with People with Disabilities
- What to Know About Mobility Awareness Month
- How To Talk to Your Child About Their Disabilities
- What Are Social Awareness Skills and Why Learning Them
- Brain Injury Awareness Month: The Role of Assistive Technologies
- What Is A Paralympian? History, Definition and Meaning
- 4 Things to Remember During Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month
- Cerebral Palsy Awareness Month: How to Support Someone With CP
How to Talk to People With Disabilities
This article was written by a BraunAbility employee whose father sustained a spinal cord injury while working on his farm. Her personal experiences have shaped who she has become as a person and as a professional and she graciously shared with us the following:
My dad has been a quadriplegic for the past 15 years, and he's taught me a lifetime of lessons about determination and overcoming adversity at that time. One of the most important lessons is how to make others comfortable when you talk to people with disabilities.
It's an unfortunate side effect of being a wheelchair user -- people can get a little uncomfortable and self-conscious when talking to you. But over the years I've noticed that Dad always maintains eye contact, smiles and adds a little humor when he can. (When someone says "I'm going to head over to (fill in the blank)," he likes to reply with, "Okay...I think I'll just sit right here.") There is a lot of eye-rolling at these jokes in our immediate family, but it's amazing how a laugh puts others at ease.
Of course, every once in a while someone will approach Dad and start to speak slowly and loudly like he may not understand everything he or she is saying. It takes a lot for Dad not to laugh (or worse, to start playing along). Usually, after a minute or two, the person realizes Dad's IQ is just as high as his or hers (probably a little higher), and normal conversation follows.
We've all probably been involved in or witnessed a similar situation at one time or another. Here are a few guidelines to keep in mind when you talk to people with disabilities:
- Remember to keep people first. Refer to individuals as "people with disabilities" rather than "disabled people."
- Do not assume that a person with one disability also has others.
- Keep the language positive -- say "a person who has Cerebral Palsy" instead of "a person who suffers from Cerebral Palsy" or "a victim of Cerebral Palsy."
- Maintain eye contact when speaking with a person with a disability.
- And it should go without saying that the terms "crippled," "lame," and even "handicapped" really aren't crowd-pleasers.