It is no secret that some people are not comfortable around individuals with disabilities despite the fact that one in five people in the U.S. has a disability. A person with a disability is more like you than they are different. Individuals with disabilities are just typical everyday people who live with various challenges.
At PRIDE Industries, where two out of three employees are people with disabilities, even new employees can feel unsure at first. Here are ten tips on how to be more comfortable while interacting with people with disabilities.
1. Use people-first language
Here’s an easy one; always emphasize the person first in your conversations. Say “person with a disability” rather than “a disabled person.” Avoid terms that disempower people or have negative meanings like “handicapped,” “wheelchair-bound,” “crippled,” etc. Also, avoid the “R” word; there is no need for such use. For specific disabilities saying, “person with Tourette syndrome” or “person who has cerebral palsy” is, usually, safe to say. If you are not sure what words to use, just ask.
2. Communicate with the person
Always speak directly to the person with a disability rather than through a companion or colleague. Additional tip, do not speak louder or slower, be your usual self.
3. Be considerate and patient, don’t patronize
Be patient if a person requires more time to communicate, to walk, or to accomplish various tasks. Do not be patronizing. There is no need to pretend to understand if you did not; instead, repeat what you understood and let the individual respond.
4. Ask before you help
It may be hard to resist, do not automatically help without asking first. Do not assume that people need help simply because they have a disability. If you offer assistance, wait until the offer is accepted. Then listen and ask for instructions.
5. Be sensitive about physical contact
Wheelchairs, walkers, canes, and mobility equipment should be treated as an extension of that person’s personal space. If you are assisting someone, always ask where the best place is to touch him/her or their equipment. Also, do not lean on a wheelchair or any other mobility equipment. Lastly, respect individual’s personal space.
6. Clearly introduce or identify yourself
Give the person with visual disability verbal information about the things that are visually obvious, and let them know you are near, enabling the individual to “see” their surroundings. For a person with a hearing disability, tap the individual on the shoulder or wave your hand to get their attention. Then, look directly at the person and speak clearly and slowly to establish if the person can read lips.
7. Avoid the “you are so inspirational” comments
While some individuals get inspired by people with disabilities, remember they are simply living life – like everyone else. Such comments have a negative effect, reminding individuals with disabilities how differently they are perceived.
Be yourself. Do not be embarrassed if you use common expressions such as “see you later” or “did you hear about this” that seem to relate to the person’s disability. Remember, it is okay to ask questions when you are unsure of what to do.
9. Keep calm
Breathe and keep calm. Individuals with disabilities are just like the rest of us, no need to worry. However, be conscious of how your reactions affect others. Be nice.
10. The golden rule
Lastly, remember the “golden rule” – treat everyone the way you wish to be treated. It is that simple.
Interacting with people with disabilities is only as hard as you make it. Remember these few tips and you should be okay. Hey, you may even have something in common; you’ll never know unless you make an effort.