We always hear about the ‘don’ts’ when it comes to talking about living with a disability/impairment and full disclosure I have written something in the past. You’ll see them pop up often enough: “10 things not to say to someone with a disability/impairment”, or “10 things you shouldn’t say to someone in a wheelchair” They include things like “I know someone else who is also disabled. Do you know them/want to meet them?”.
Yes, within reason I couldn’t agree more there are certain things you really shouldn’t say but the majority of really stupid comments, like the one I’ve shared, are just that stupid comments and down to not understanding. And of course we are also not here to educate anyone on what’s right or wrong.
The subject of disability/impairments really isn’t a tough topic to talk about. Even though it can sometimes be made that way It’s especially hard when non-disabled people struggle to fully grasp what’s it’s like to live with one.
When the time comes for talking, the conversations can sometimes feel like it’s already been set in stone with us wishing those stupid questions aren’t spoken, so in a way we’ve shoot ourselves in the wheels (well in my case wheels!) and occasionally this might also happen because the person is so scared to say those stupid comments because of through lists of what people can’t or shouldn’t say to us, rather than what they can or should.
Turning a conversation about disability/impairment into a list of “don’ts” in a way is telling people that it’s best to avoid engaging in anything disability/impairment related, for the fear of offending someone. Think of it this way if you start a new job and the person sitting next to you says “here’s a list of things not to say to me”, by day four you’re not likely to even want to start a conversation let along strike up a meaningful conversation.
In a way, I’m tempted to say we should ditch the whole lists of ‘don’ts and can’t’ altogether. But I love a good list:
“Hey, hello, hi-di-hi, how are you?”
Hey is a perfectly reasonable way to strike up a conversation. Try any of them out on a person with a disability/impairment sometime, we won’t bite, well some of us anyway! Probably don’t say all four at once, though. That’s just weird.
“Tell me about yourself”
This is about getting to know someone as a person and letting them choose the parts of their lives they wish to share. People with a disability/impairments are accountants, writers, runners, parents, business owners, actors. Some of us can’t walk, are visually impaired or can’t hear. All of those things don’t define us a the person we are that’s just one part of who we are.
In any other situation getting to know someone might just flow we discover people by having long, funny and honest conversations – over coffee, wine, hot chocolate the beverage of your choice. Don’t over complicate something that has worked for centuries ‘talking’.
Can you tell me about your circumstances/disability/impairment?”
You will find most of us are very open to having this conversation but it is entirely up to the person with a disability/impairment to decide if they’d like to engage on the issue or not, so as long as you can accept “no” or silence as a reasonable response, it should be okay to ask.
You’ll find the majority of us with a disability/impairment are well-tuned to spot what might be a genuine but clumsily worded question, as opposed to something that’s meant to be insulting. But in the same sentence let’s stop assuming people are going to somehow get a good sense of what we face if we don’t communicate them.
“Would you like a hand with that?”
Now wouldn’t the world be like Disney Land if we all gave each other a bit more of a helping hand – disabled or not – every now and then? I know I don’t mind if you ask but the same goes for us we could all ask fir help once in a while too.
The only way to really change societies perception and bash though the barriers when it comes to confronting people with a disability/impairments, is having a better understanding of us. Yes this will probably mean a few uncomfortable conversations to start with for both sides involved. But let’s face it we have had bigger battles living with a disability/impairment I know I have living with Muscular dystrophy a progressive muscle weakening condition, we can definitely handle the odd slightly uncomfortable conversation.
What are your thoughts? On this matter have you had an uncomfortable conversation or do you avoid at all cost? Feel free to leave me a comment.
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