The majority of people who are not disabled, tend to feel awkward around those, who do have disabilities. Although most would probably not admit it publically, statistics show it to be true. Studies have shown that people panic or try to avoid all contact with those who are disabled. There are many reasons people may feel uncomfortable interacting with those who are differently able.
Lets look at two of the reasons why people, or you, might feel uncomfortable or awkward:
1. Most times, people are afraid that they “will say the wrong thing”.
To people with disabilities though, that’s not a big deal, as they would most likely understand that you don’t have much knowledge about their disability. What’s important is that you respect the person, and treat them like you would anyone else. Disability isn’t who they are, it’s just something that they happen to have. It’s human nature to be curious, and you shouldn’t feel bad about that. If you were to ask a disabled person a question, they wouldn’t mind. They would rather you ask them questions, than encountering awkward silences. Most of those with disibilities don’t mind answering a question or two (or three) about their disability, especially if it lets them defuse the awkwardness in a social situation, or allows them to educate someone. Too many questions though…. could become a bit awkward, as they don’t want to be treated as an information desk. As mentioned before: Having a disability is just one aspect of them, and when you’re talking to them, remember that you are talking to the person, and not their disability.
2. You might not want to draw attention to someone’s disability.
Able-bodied people don’t need to pretend that they don’t see or feel the person’s disability. They don’t want their disabilties to be ignored, but they also don’t want to be interrogated about them either. This is an extremely hard balance, and they understand that, and don’t expect you to be perfect at all. The bottom line is that you see them for who they are, and not only their disability.
The big message is to treat people as people. Deal with who they are, and don’t feel bad. It’s human nature to be awkward. Just see that you’re talking to a person. It doesn’t matter what they’ve got up with them, you’re still talking to a person. And just like all people, they are very different, including being different in how they are with disability issues. Awkwardness, however, isn’t a totally bad thing, as it comes from people wanting to make someone else feel comfortable:)
Here is an awesome Youtube channel called End the Awkward. What’s cool about ‘End the Awkward’, is that it does not only educate those without disabilities, but also educates disabled people about how to interact with those who have different disabilities. Another cool thing about the channel is that it educates people in a very fun, light way, without anything becoming too serious.
These are specific guidelines that could help you when interacting with those about disabilities.
1. Don’t make assumptions about people or their disabilities.
You shouldn’t assume you know what someone wants, what they feel, or what is best for them. If you have a question about what to do, how to do it, or would like to know how you could assist, ask them. The person with the disability should be your first and best resource, unless they are unable to provide you with the information. In this case, you could ask the next best person, such as their guardian, care-giver, sibling, etc.
2. Use normal language including “see” and “look.”
It’s fine to use common phrases such as, “Do you see what I mean?” even to people who are blind, or to say “do you know what I mean”, even though the person might not understand what you mean. When interacting with someone who has autism or down syndrome for example, don’t treat them like they are stupid, or not intelligent. Many people assume that they do not know much, when in reality, they are actually very intelligent, and know alot more than you might think.
Some people have a tendency to talk louder and slower to people with disabilities. Some might also talk down on those with disabilities- like they are talking to little children;don’t. Maybe to a certain extent, when needed, but most times, it’s not really needed.
4. Don’t assume that because a person has one disability, that they are incapable of being good at much.
Although they are disabled in some areas, they are more enabled in others, i.e. emotionally, intellectually, or physically.
5. Remember that people with disabilities have different preferences, just like anybody else.
Just because one person with a disability prefers something one way doesn’t mean that another person with the same disability also prefers it that way.
6. Ask before you help.
Before you help someone, ask if they would like help. In some cases a person with a disability might seem to be struggling, yet they are fine and would prefer to complete the task on their own. Follow the person’s cues and ask if you are not sure what to do. Most times they are fully capable of doing things on their own, although they might do it differently to how you might do it. Don’t be offended if someone declines your offer of assistance.
7. Most times words such as , retarded, deformed, crippled, etc. can be really offensive.
If you are unsure, ask the person with a disability what terminology they prefer.