6 Things disabled people don’t find helpful
In my experience, people tend to overcomplicate interacting with disabled people. Talking to me shouldn’t be any different than it is talking to anyone else. I’m still just a person! Even with the best of intentions, it’s possible to get things incredibly wrong when it comes to helping, or just talking to, someone with a disability.
Unless you’re disabled yourself, you can never truly understand what life is like for those that are. No one expects you too, either. But the bummer is that there’s usually a disconnect and it can lead to “helpful” behaviours that are actually patronizing, insulting and generally disrespectful.
1. Assuming Disabled Means Incapable
Being disabled doesn’t mean that we are completely incapable of doing things everyone else in the world can. Things like prosthetic legs, wheelchairs, hearing aids, canes, and more, are what give people freedom and independence. They’re something incredibly positive, and many of us live relatively “normal” lives. Because of this, we don’t want people doing things for us without asking. Although we appreciate the help when we need it, when we don’t, it can be frustrating. We’re not children you’re babysitting, so trust that we can just take care of ourselves. Plus, you never know what someone’s disability is and you could injure them if you start helping without checking first.
2. Invading Our Personal Space
I feel like sometimes my wheelchair is like an invitation for unwanted physical contact from strangers. I’ve been hugged, patted, kissed, stroked, etc. People legitimately treat me like a stray dog they need to shower in affection. It’s even worse for those who have service animals that everyone wants to pet or manual wheelchairs everyone wants to push. You might just be trying to be friendly, but we all have a bubble of personal space around us that should be respected, whether we’re abled or not. Unless you’re invited to do so, you shouldn’t invade a disabled person’s space, just like you wouldn’t expect them to with yours. This means no touching tools or equipment, like service dogs or wheelchairs and other mobility tools, either.
3. Asking Inappropriate Personal Questions
When you have a visible disability, you learn real fast that people are going to ask you questions about it. Some people are totally fine with this, but most find it tedious and rude. And for some people, their disability can be a really traumatic and heavy thing that they don’t feel like unpacking every time they’re out in public.
If you feel like asking someone about it, stop and ask yourself two things first. Why do you need to know? Chances are it’s just curiosity and you don’t need to know. The second question to ask yourself is this: how would you feel if strangers constantly stopped you and asked about your medical history and why your body was different? Probably not great. My advice is to just stick to typical small talk if you feel like saying hi.
However, if it’s someone you already know, you should make sure that the person you’re talking to is open to these questions before you bombard them. You should also understand where the line is and not ask anything too personal or inappropriate.
4. Changing How You Talk
Don’t use baby talk, don’t shout, and don’t slow down so it sounds like your batteries are dying. Just face the person you’re speaking to, talk clearly, and treat the interaction the same as you would with anyone else. If they need you to do anything differently, they’ll let you know. Also, don’t bend down to be face to face with someone in a wheelchair unless they ask you too, because it usually just feels demeaning.
5. Taking Pity On Us
The last thing anyone wants is to be pitied. While there are a lot of things that suck and are a little more tricky for disabled people, like figuring out benefits, fighting ableism, or trying to find a very specific kind of specialist to help us like a brain injury lawyer, there’s a lot that’s pretty good too. Every person’s life has good and bad in it, so you don’t need to feel sorry for us because our bad parts are a bit different from yours.
6. Shrugging Off Invisible Disabilities
My disability is incredibly visible, but a ton of disabilities aren’t. Some people look perfectly healthy, but they might be dealing with chronic pain that knocks them out for days at a time. You never know, and honestly? It’s not your business either.
Just because a disability isn’t obvious to you, it doesn’t mean that a person is faking it. There are plenty of illnesses that can’t be seen, and we really need to move past the assumption that disabled = wheelchair user. Instead of writing rude notes for car windows or shouting at people who don’t deserve it, let those you don’t think “look” disabled carry on with their day. Trying to call out fakers helps absolutely no one and only makes those with invisible disabilities unsafe.
If you’ve done any of these things, don’t be too hard on yourself. Trust me, you are one of very many. Going forward, just try to keep them in mind and remember that most disabled people deal with a lot of unsolicited health advice, physical contact, harassment, and generally uncomfortable interactions nearly every time they leave
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