An estimated 20% of the people in the United States have a disability. Yet a lot of people are still uncomfortable or do not know how to approach and talk to someone with a disability. This awkwardness stems from the fear of saying something wrong or the fear of outward patronizing.
Many think that people with disabilities are bitter and resent their current situation. However, all these assumptions are untrue in so many cases. So how should we interact with people with disabilities?
Avoid making assumptions
Do not assume to know what someone wants, what he feels or what is best for him. Instead, ask the person. For instance, when visiting neurofibromatosis foundations, guests may have questions around the language or the appropriate terminologies to be used.
The first and best resource for the answers would have to be someone with the disability. Similarly, avoid automatically helping without asking first. In some cases, a person with a disability might seem to be struggling, but she may prefer to complete the task on her own.
Avoid the inspirational remarks
The internet is full of inspiring quotes about disability. While these may have been made with the best intentions and the messages may seem uplifting, people with disabilities may not appreciate them at all. These inspirational stories and remarks take away the humanity from them.
These messages often promote a fixation on the ways people with disabilities live their lives that could be different from an average able-bodied person. The truth is, however, that most of these people with disabilities are just trying to live their lives like everyone else and would prefer not to be patronized or treated as an exception.
This means avoiding child-like vocabulary, talking unnecessarily louder or even using pet names. A large portion of the population still does many of these offensive things when interacting with someone with a disability.
Speaking loudly does not improve understanding, unless when, of course, the person has a hearing impairment.
Use People First Language
People first language, sometimes referred to as a person-first language, is a way of communicating that puts a person before a diagnosis. It reflects respect for people with disabilities by describing what a person has rather than stating what a person is.
A good example would be “Chris is the writer who has a disability” or “child with autism,” instead of “Chris is a disabled writer” or “autistic child.” In the same way, avoid potentially offending terms or euphemisms. Avoid sensationalizing a disability by using language like “confined to a wheelchair,” “suffers from” or “afflicted with.”
This way of talking is still sadly used by many, and it can be very offensive to people with disabilities.
What many people do not realize is that disability is a common human experience. Instead, they make interacting with people with disabilities seem so difficult. By remembering the guidelines above and making sure always to remember the basics of the golden rule, interacting with people with disabilities shouldn’t be awkward at all.