In my 14 years living CreativelyAble, I have had many interactions with people who don’t know me AT ALL. Most interactions initiated by strangers have been neutral. But, some have been offensive and frankly “pissed me off!” I have learned over the years that each moment is teachable for them and if I’m honest, for me as well. I’d like to share thoughts and advice from my experience, research, and conversations that will be helpful as we all learn to interact effectively.
Number 5 – Offering Help
If you see a person with a disability who YOU think is struggling, ASK if they’d like your help BEFORE jumping in like a first responder. Many people with disabilities want to do things on their own. It may be for independence or for therapeutic reasons. A simple question like “may I assist you?” is advisable. If they say “no thank you” don’t hover. Wish them a good day and move on. Many adults with disabilities are perfectly capable of asking for help if they need it.
Number 4 – Compliments
My best advice here is to THINK before offering a compliment. Ask yourself…
- Is the compliment/comment about their disability?
- Is it something you would say to a non-disabled person?
- Are they busy doing something like shopping, moving quickly, reading, texting etc?
If the answer is “yes” to any of these questions, keep it to yourself. People with disabilities don’t consider themselves extraordinary just living their daily lives. Telling them you are “proud of them” or that they are “inspiring” can come across as condescending. Additionally, if the person is busy, your comment might be annoying.
Number 3 – Making Comments
As advised in number 4, THINK before you speak and ask yourself the questions above. The difference here is (for example) telling a person to “slow down, you might get a ticket!” or asking them if they have a license for their chair is annoying and quite unoriginal. I know YOU think it’s funny, but it isn’t! You should avoid comments that reference their mobility device or disability.
Number 2 – Addressing A Person
If a person with a disability is with others, please address everyone not only those who are standing. Some time ago I went into a shoe store with my sister. We were both shopping for shoes. The salesperson greeted my sister and didn’t address me…AT ALL. I continued to look at shoes, and the salesperson asked everyone (at eye level) around me if they needed help. I left the store. I’ve grown a bit since that interaction. Now, I would lovingly yet sternly let the salesperson know what they did and how it felt.
Being ignored is never pleasant. And many people with disabilities feel invisible. Remember to smile and address everyone in the group with kindness.
Number 1 – Being Too Familiar
People with disabilities don’t want to hear about…
- that time you were in a chair 2 years ago
- your grandmother who used one of those chairs before she died
You’d be surprised at how often people have stopped me to share their stories of bad health. Also, offers of prayer assume that people share your beliefs. And implies that YOU think they need healing to be complete. And finally, asking people what happened to them is inappropriate and none of your business.
In a world of political incorrectness, the best advice I can offer is…
- Greet the person, not the device or disability! Say hello, and keep moving
- Be mindful and think before you offer a “pseudo-clever” comment
- Be considerate, and speak as you would to any other adult (no baby language or baby tones, please)
- ASK before helping a person with a disability, If they say “no thank you” accept it
- Try to see things from our perspective. We are busy, productive, tax-paying members of society. Oftentimes we don’t have time for small talk (just like you)
NEVER UNDERESTIMATE US! We CAN do a lot more than you think!
We are all people first, worthy of respect and love. In most cases, your desire to be kind will be received with kindness.
If you screw it up, forgive yourself and begin again.
Approach EVERYTHING with love and…when in doubt, shut your mouth!
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Love, and Light!