Want to go beyond “nice” to be an awesome ally for people with disabilities? Consider some of the following moves:
- Dig deep; don’t take news reports of cures for disabilities or technological fixes for disability issues at face value. Sometimes a press release about a cure being just around the corner means the researchers need more money. Recently Facebook trumpeted that they would label pictures with captions describing them. Labels say things like: “may be a person”, “may be outside”. That’s mildly interesting but it might be good to know if it was the Mona Lisa or Adolf Hitler! Ask people with disabilities what they think of the new cure or technological fix before getting too excited.
- Listen to what words you use to describe people with disabilities. You may be a caregiver for a person who has Alzheimer’s, but you are not a caretaker. They are not property! Comments I hear like a recent one from a good liberal exhorting people to do something “unless you’re in a wheelchair and can’t do anything” are not meant but are said. Our language is full of slights like “I’m so blind!”, “That’s really lame” etc. The only way I know to change the stupid things I say is to listen for them. Maybe some kind soul will tell me, but living in the Midwest they may be too polite to do so.
- By all means offer help to anyone whether or not they have a disability, if it seems like they need it. Then listen carefully to their response and act accordingly. “Are you okay?” is not an offer; “May I help?” is.
- Offer to do things with us not for us. The company is appreciated as much as the help.
- Get to know us individually. The initial encounter may well be awkward—push on through. If you just know someone with a disability well enough to call them “inspirational”, you don’t really know them. Just like you, they may be awesome, inspirational or just plain dull at any given moment.
One out of five people, or one half of people over sixty-five has a disability. Do your friends reflect those statistics?
- Work to be accessible yourself. Write a few words describing the picture you tweet or Facebook. Arrange your next party in a wheelchair accessible venue. Get in the habit of thinking “if I had a friend who was blind, deaf, or used a wheelchair how would I accommodate them?” Those aren’t the only disabilities in the world, but they’ll start your thinking. The more you think about that question, the more likely you are to make a friend with a disability.
Our radar tells us when we’re near potential awesome allies. 🙂 (Grinning face icon!.