The first step to respectfully communicate with a person with a disAbility is simply by making an effort. 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.
Furthermore, it’s crucial to recognize individuals. For example: Jane is Jane/John is John. S/He is not one of “the handicapped,” “the paraplegics” or any other all-inclusive term. S/He is one, able individual who has paraplegia. The condition does not define her/him, and though s/he may be proud and affiliated with communities who engage paraplegia, it’s best to allow s/he 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.