Disabled people are generally viewed with pity in our society, even if that pity comes from a good place. Just because someone has a disability doesn’t mean they’re missing out on life. In fact, many disabled people today are able to live exciting lives thanks to state-of-the-art equipment and more handicap accessibility. If you really want to help a disabled person feel more comfortable and do “normal” things, you have to start by eliminating “oh poor them” from your vocabulary.
Helping others is the best feeling in the world, and the more you give, the more you’ll realize how true that statement is. Feeling good about making society a better place for those who don’t fit into the norm starts with stopping feeling sorry for them.
Actually, helping disabled people is easy with the right mindset. These tips will help you realize what people need and how you can give it to them. Now you can be the altruist you always hoped you would be.
1. Don’t talk louder
A person with disabilities can hear you just fine, most of the time. Just because someone’s in a wheelchair or has another similar disability doesn’t mean that they’re also hearing impaired. A person who has trouble with hearing will usually let you know at the beginning of the conversation, so you don’t have to overthink it.
Talking louder to a person you know isn’t hearing impaired shows that you think they’re daft. We usually raise our voices when we want someone to understand us better, but when the person can understand and hear us just fine, talking louder is a huge insult.
2. Stay calm
There’s no reason to start getting fidgety and uncomfortable when you see a wheelchair. Just because you’re not used to seeing it doesn’t mean you should make an event out of it. When encountering a person in a wheelchair, focus on the person, not the wheelchair.
They’re not really that different from you. They’re just sitting in a wheelchair. Stay calm, breathe, and approach the conversation just like you would if the wheelchair wasn’t there.
3. Talk to the person, not their companion
When people see a person with disabilities, they usually start talking to whoever is accompanying them instead of them. The person with them is not their guardian or parent, so there is really no need to talk to them like the person with disabilities doesn’t exist. This is especially true when the topic of conversation is something related to the person with disabilities.
If you want to know something, ask them, not anyone who may be with them. They’re capable of answering you even better than the person with them because they’re the topic of conversation. Nobody can tell you about their needs and wants better than the person in question.
4. Don’t say how inspiring they are
Someone with disabilities doing a basic task like buying groceries simply isn’t inspirational. It’s normal. This “compliment” is actually a patronizing remark towards people who are just trying to get on with their lives, much like you are. It may be your first time seeing a person with disabilities do something you didn’t know they could do, but the matter of the fact is- they’ve been doing it their whole lives.
By telling a person with disabilities how inspirational they are, all you’re doing is reminding them how different people see them from everyone else. Almost all of the time, those words will just have a negative effect, so avoid them.
5. Always ask if they need help
The most patronizing thing you can do to a person with disabilities is just to start helping them right away without asking them first. Even if the intention comes from a good place, remember that they are not a child just because they have a disability. This isn’t their first day on Earth as a person with disabilities, so it’s more than likely they’ve already figured out the task you want to help them with.
More often than not, helping without asking just results in not helping at all. You’ll probably end up making things awkward and maybe even insulting the person. If you really want to help, just ask the person if they would like any help with anything in a kind and genuine voice. You can also let them know they can talk to you for anything they may need. Keeping your distance but making yourself available shows respect for their autonomy and sentience.
6. Get informed
Being misinformed about how people with disabilities cope with daily life and what their routine looks like it is a sure way to have an awkward encounter with a disabled person. Your ideas and conceptions of what they go through daily are usually very different from the truth. So, if you want to have a meaningful connection and conversation with a person with disabilities, read up on their disability and disabilities in general first. For example, you should know that they probably work closely with a physiotherapist; they don’t just naturally do things that seem impossible for them to do because of their disability.
In fact, they may be working with a whole team of professional disability support workers to help them with their daily routines and responsibilities. In most countries, some organizations offer help and professional care services for disabled people. The professional care scheme NDIS in Australia is well-known throughout the whole country, for example.
Furthermore, they’re probably not lonely and isolated from the rest of society. Disabled people are every bit as social as people without disabilities. In fact, there are many organizations and support groups around the world, which help local people with disabilities to meet friends and improve their skills.
7. Never lean on wheelchairs
Leaning on someone’s wheelchair is extremely disrespectful. Not only that, but it also invades the person’s personal space and can make them very uncomfortable. Just put yourself in their shoes. Do you like it when a random person leans on you? On top of that, leaning on a wheelchair can make the person using it feel more like a coatrack than a person. The biggest show of respect is not treating the person like they’re any less than you because of their wheelchair.
People with disabilities are not a footstep that you can use whenever you start feeling tired. This is especially true for crowded events and parties. If you see others mistreating a person in a wheelchair this way, you can kindly try to point out the issue to them. Always try to give the person in a wheelchair as much space as they need, but never be patronizing about it.
As you can see, helping disabled people is so much more than saying empty words of encouragement and giving them a sympathetic look. Your awareness will help other people around you see those with disabilities as humans, not just as disabilities. It takes one person to start a world of good, and thanks to your dedication to helping others, that one person can be you. With these tips, you’ll surely change the lives of many for the better but will also improve your life along the way.