How you speak and interact with people says a lot about you as a person and when you take the time to respect the people around you, it profoundly impacts their attitudes. Regardless of whether they have a disability or not, everyone deserves the same level of respect and consideration. When interacting with anyone with a disability, it’s important to treat them how you would want to be treated yourself. Keeping that in mind, we’ve compiled some great ways to support the people you work with, live with, or are friends with who have a disability.
We understand how tempting it can be to help someone without asking, but keep in mind that just like you, people with disabilities don’t always need help and can get offended if you assume without asking first. Instead, ask if there’s anything you can do to help make things easier or more effective whilst remembering to ask for instructions to make sure it’s done the way they want or need.
- Don’t assume, consent is key
- How can I help make the process easier for you?
- They know and understand their needs
- Ask for clarification on how you can best help
- Don’t be offended if they say no
Communication is key
Remember when you were a kid and told to “treat others how you’d like to be treated”? Well, the same goes for when you’re speaking with someone, you want to make sure to speak directly and clearly while listening to what they are saying and maintaining polite eye contact. Many people will inadvertently direct the conversation to a carer or interpreter if they are present, which can make someone feel less than ideal, and we want to avoid this.
- Speak in clear sentences with simple words and solid concepts, keep in mind that people with speech impairments can take a little longer and you’ll need to be patient and not interrupt them or talk for them.
- When speaking with a deaf person, understand that they will be looking at their interpreter as you are talking (unless they don’t have one and read lips) and that you should still focus your attention on them rather than their helper.
- When possible, speak with wheelchair users on their level by sitting down so that they aren’t having to look up and strain their necks.
- If you don’t understand what someone has said, ask for clarification to prevent confusion later in a conversation
Introduce yourself the same way you would with anyone else – Say hello, introduce yourself, don’t mask your facial expressions, ask questions, and engage like you would normally.
Respect personal space
Just like everyone else, people with disabilities need their personal space and for those who use mobility aids – canes, service dogs, walkers, wheelchairs – they are a part of that. It’s important to ask yourself, “how would I feel if someone did that to me” whether it could be someone moving your purse/backpack, moving your bicycle, or even touching you without permission. Remembering that people with disabilities are like everyone else, just with extra tools to make their lives easier can be a great way to understand how to interact.
- Ask for permission before pushing/moving someone’s wheelchair
- If someone has mobility aids, it’s important to not lean on, move, or touch them without being asked
- As tempting as it can be… it’s important to not pat a service dog when it’s on the job without asking. They do very important work and while it may not seem important to you, the distraction you cause could distract them from their very important duties.
Remember this – when mobility aids are left unattended, moving them could seriously impact and compromise someone’s accessibility.
Flexibility is important
Whether you have family, friends, colleagues, or work in an industry where you have regular contact with people with disabilities, it’s important to remember to be flexible. From meeting up at accessible locations to choosing specific time to meet up that match with accessible public transportation, be more flexible with your choices when it comes to interacting with others. Friends who have disabled family members, support workers, or carers may have certain times of the day when they’re not available due to caring for someone at certain times of the day.
- Show understanding when organising events
- Choose places that are easy to access for everyone involved
- Anyone who cares for someone with a disability will face obstacles in their life and need more compassion, patience, and understanding than you may realise.
- When riding on public transportation it is polite to offer your seat to anyone with a disability, the elderly, and pregnant women. They may not always accept but that is okay too.
- Keep in mind that other people have responsibilities too, so don’t get upset if an alternative time or location is suggested when planning an event or outing together.
If you’re wanting to learn more about how to support someone with a disability, or even how to offer support for a carer or parent, we offer training and have a Facts Sheet to assist with the development of daily living and life skills.
A large percentage of venues have accessible entrances, though some still do not due to how the building was built, the location, or some other reason. Fighting for equal access to places has been an ongoing challenge around the world from providing easy access to schools and hospitals, to creating wheelchair friendly picnic tables and disability parking spaces close to entrances and exits of shopping centres and other businesses. As we mentioned above, planning for a meeting or get-together can help by ensuring that a suitable place and time is chosen, plus it gives you time to find out all the information you may need to ensure the place is accessible for everyone involved.
- Everyone makes mistakes – Ask questions and take their lead
- It is natural to avoid things that make us uncomfortable, but by knowing and acknowledging this we can help each other get over this and avoid excluding others.
- Education can help you and others interact with someone with a disability easier, while you can ask about their disability don’t be offended if they don’t want to talk about.
- Don’t park in an accessible car space just to make things more convenient for yourself, similarly, don’t block doors or access ramps either.
- If you have a choice between toilets, leave the accessible ones for someone else who may need the extra space, bars, and rails for assistance, or even hoists for wheelchair users.
Ask first, don’t assume – Access needs vary from individual to individual
Try not to be judgemental, you don’t know what others are going through and while you think you may be being discreet, whispers can carry… staring and pointing can really hurt someone’s feelings as well.
Become a better ally
No matter where you find yourself in the spectrum of someone who interacts with people with disabilities… we’re here to help you become a better ally for those around you. Whether you want to become a carer, volunteer, or just learn how to better support your friends, family, or colleagues, the resources and education we can provide will help you achieve whatever goal you have in mind.
Feel free to reach out to the teams at ConnectAbility Australia to find out more and see how we can help you and the people you know. Our Central Coast team can be reached on (02) 4349 3700, while our Newcastle team can be contacted on (02) 4962 1000. Our website is full of resources as well and for those who would rather send an email, you can contact us through it directly.