The first steps of empowering and respectfully communicating with people with disabilities are making an effort and fine tuning awareness. There’s no absolute formula for compassion, but putting forth the effort — any effort, really — goes miles.
Recognize there are trigger words that often carry a deep connotation of disrespect and disregard for a magnitude of communities. Titles like “cripple,” “retard,” “slow” and “vegetable” carry vulgar consequence, but conversations surrounding people who have disabilities deserve a deeper level of understanding than simply avoiding a handful of hurtful words.
These people are humans, not disabilities.
Build, Don’t Box
Common tongue often highlights a person’s disabilities like the elephant in the room. A more active approach is to acknowledge and applaud one’s abilities. Focus on the person, not the disability. And, just like any of us, we each have our challenges but we don’t go around telling people we “suffer from” one thing or the other. This language would steal any sort of confidence that we might overcome our daily hurdles.
You wouldn’t say, “Joe’s a crippled, paraplegic banker with a handicap van.”
This approach confines Joe and his potential, boxing him into a stigma of predetermined deficiency.
“Joe is a banker with paraplegia who drives a mobility vehicle,” builds Joe as a capable human. Seeing Joe first and foremost as a person instead of a condition shows respect for his ample abilities.
Furthermore, it’s crucial to recognize individuals. Joe is Joe. Joe is not one of “the handicapped,” “the paraplegics” or any other all-inclusive term. Joe is one, able individual who has paraplegia. The condition does not define Joe, and though Joe may be proud and affiliated with communities who engage paraplegia, it’s best to allow Joe the opportunity to define those relations.
Never Stop Learning
Simply put: Don’t be afraid to ask. If you’re concerned you don’t know how to interact with people with disabilities, voicing your innocent naivety may be the wisest approach. Instead of shying away from the conversation and further alienating that person, seek out a respectful opportunity to ask about his or her story.
Take a stand to empower people with disabilities through your awareness, speech and understanding.