5 ways you can actually help disabled people
When abled people interact with disabled people, they often feel like they need to do something to help. While that’s a great thing at its core and I always appreciate a helping hand, there are times when someone with good intentions might do more harm than good simply because they don’t understand what someone actually needs.
A simple example would be coming up behind someone in a manual chair and pushing it for them. It sounds like a nice gesture, but can actually really hurt their hands if they don’t have a chance to let go. Also, some people really prefer to just push themselves and feel uncomfortable with others controlling their wheelchair.
On a bigger scale, sometimes people try to do something like fundraising for organizations that they believe will help you, but maybe that organization is actually really problematic and harmful to the community it supposedly supports. Sometimes this kind of action is blatantly just for the praise or likes on Facebook, and it’s not only useless but pretty hurtful, too.
I love that there are people who genuinely want to help, but I also know that it can be difficult to know what a disabled person might need when you’ve never shared that experience. With that in mind, here are 5 ways you can actually help disabled people.
Take the time to learn about ableism – and make an effort to change your own ableist behaviors.
Ableism is not only alive and well, it’s running rampant in our society. Read articles written by disabled people and learn about the things we deal with on a daily basis because so much of it comes from the people we’re close to.
Look at the language you use and eliminate slurs against the disabled community like ‘retarded’ or ‘cripple’. Quit perpetuating inspiration porn. Talk to disabled people the same way you’d speak to your peers. Find out how you can do better and actually do better.
Listen to disabled people rather than just caregivers
My mom’s perspective is valid and important, but she can’t speak for disabled people. Her experience as my caregiver does not give her the ability to speak on my behalf, but everyone seems to look to her for her thoughts on disability while ignoring what I have to say.
Talk to disabled people when it comes to issues they face rather than getting a biased opinion from someone with no firsthand experience.
Include us in your activism
If you’re advocating for the LGBT community, advocate for the disabled members of that community. The ones who find themselves excluded from safe spaces and the ones who are unable to move out of a homophobic household. If you’re advocating for domestic violence survivors, advocate for all the disabled people who are abused and murdered by loved ones that receive lighter punishments, if at all, for doing so.
Disability intersects with every community, so if you exclude disabled people from your activism, you need to make a change and do better. We deserve a seat at the table and a voice in the conversation.
Make your businesses accessible/call out inaccessibility when you encounter it
No more excuses for not making your business accessible. If you can’t afford to follow the laws in place set by the ADA, then you can’t afford to open that business. Disabled people are not optional. We’re a part of your society. If we’re ready and willing to give you our money, you better be prepared to give us access.
If you see places that are inaccessible, call them out. We shouldn’t be the only ones fighting this fight.
Ask us what we need, and really listen to us when we tell you
Disability is experienced differently by each individual person, so what I need might not be what your loved one needs. If you want to help them, don’t just assume – ask them! Respect their boundaries and be open to their suggestions. Just like the example I mentioned earlier with pushing someone’s wheelchair, you never know when doing someone a favor might end up hurting them in the end.
If you’re reading this, it means you want to help, so thank you! The disabled community, now especially, has a lot on our plate. From fighting to keep our insurance, begging for representation, and a million other instances of ableism. There’s a lot of stress and a lot of bullshit to wade through. Put aside your assumptions, reach out, and learn how you can really make a difference.