Raising a child born with a severe disability is challenging but not as challenging as dealing with the attitudes that people exhibit towards your child.
Have you ever seen a group of children mocking the way a person with a disability walks? Have you heard a person call a person with a disability a disparaging or cruel name? Often it is because they don’t understand why a person is different from himself or herself and occasionally it is due to fear of the unknown.
It is important for people to understand disabilities, especially for young children. Children will develop attitudes at a young age and if they aren’t addressed or corrected this attitude will continue into adulthood.
There are appropriate and inappropriate ways to interact with people with disabilities. This begins with using preferred terms. It is preferable to use the term “person with a disability” over the terms of “disabled” or “handicapped.” Originally the term handicapped meant, “cap in hand” referring to beggars and begging. We definitely know that a person that has a disability is not a beggar.
Here are some helpful guidelines to use and to teach other to use when encountering a person who has a disability.
- If you are in conversation with a person who has a disability, it is appropriate to ask about their disabilities. Often they don’t mind having the opportunity to educate someone about the type of disability they might have. However, don’t be offended if they decline to talk about their life.
- Go ahead and offer to help someone, but don’t just assume they need help and then just go ahead and take it upon yourself to do things for them. Offer politely or wait to be asked.
- If someone has a speech problem and you don’t understand something they have said, politely ask them to repeat what their statement.
- Don’t assume that a person in a wheelchair is sick! Most people in a wheelchair are perfectly healthy.
- When a person is blind, you don’t need to speak in a loud voice! They can hear as well as you, maybe even better.
- Never pet or play with Seeing Eye Dogs. They should not be distracted from the job they are doing for their owner.
- Invite friends with disabilities to join you in your everyday activities and on special occasions. It will be good for you to spend time with a person who has a disability and learn more about their lives as well. Be considerate of the availability and convenience of amenities such as using the bathroom or being in a home with stairs.
- Never park in parking spaces reserved for people with disabilities. Teach the importance of this to your children. A person in a wheelchair needs more space to maneuver in and out of their vehicle and the normal parking space usually doesn’t have enough space to accommodate them.
- Don’t lean or hang onto a wheelchair. This is the personal space of the person using the wheelchair and can make them feel very uncomfortable.
- If you are trying to help someone who has a visual impairment, just offer him or her your arm. This will help you to guide, rather than lead the person.
- When talking to someone with a disability, speak directly to that person rather than through a companion or interpreter who may be accompany the person. Personal note: I have a daughter with cerebral palsy and when we go to restaurants the servers will quite often address me rather than speaking to her. I usually just turn to her and then let her give the answer to make a point to the server. After all, my daughter has three college degrees (graduating Suma Cum Laude) and is quite capable of speaking for herself!
- Relax and don’t be embarrassed if you happen to use common everyday expressions, such as “See you later” or “Let’s run” that seems to be related to the person’s disability. They probably didn’t even notice!
- Don’t patronize a person with a disability. If you can’t understand something they are saying, just tell them so and ask them to repeat what they said. Never pretend to understand just to make them feel better.
- If you have a child that is curious about people “who are different,” take the time to educate, as this will be the perfect opportunity to explain the differences and why they are so. Talk about and discuss physical disabilities and the equipment that people who have physical disabilities may be using, like wheelchairs, leg braces, artificial arms or legs, hearing aids, etc. Let them ask questions and do your best to answer and correct any misconceptions they might have.
- Explain to young children that a person having a disability doesn’t mean that they can’t do the same types of things that person without disabilities does. Explain that people with disabilities have jobs, go to school, are moms and dads, and love to do the things everyone else enjoys doing.
- When planning events that will include a person with a disability, consider his or her needs ahead of time. If an insurmountable barrier exists, let them know well ahead of time so they can offer a solution or alternative.
- Be considerate of the extra time it might take a person with a disability to get things done or to be ready. Let the person with the disability set the pace when walking or doing other activities.
- Never exclude a person from an event or activity just because you think they might have physical limitations that will keep them from participating. They will often enjoy just being there.
- Do not stare at a person with a disability. That is unforgivably rude! Don’t be surprised if the person stares back at you!
Develop a “people first” attitude. “People first” recognizes that although a person with a disability may appear different, they are people first and their disability comes second!