For many people, hearing the word “inclusion” brings to mind the notion of accepting others of a different race, religious belief system or sexual/gender identity. Many people fail to include the disabled population as one that needs this kind of support. Research has shown over the years that we don’t talk about disability rights as much as we discuss many other areas where we need social change. So, if you’re wondering how you can do a better job of being more inclusive and aware of disability issues on a daily basis, here are a few starter tips!
1. Smile and Say Hello
Being in a wheelchair doesn’t render people deaf, but many people refuse to acknowledge the existence of those who differ physically. Many able-bodied people think if a disabled person is accompanied by an assistant or even just a friend, they cannot speak. Sometimes, this may be true — but until this is known, it’s important to remember not to treat those with disabilities like they’re invisible. A smile and a few kind words cost nothing but can mean the world.
2. Be Aware of the Convo
Relatively few diseases cause complete muteness, but certain disabilities — such as chronic migraine — do impact speech patterns at times. Transient aphasia occurs when injury or illness impacts Broca’s area in the brain, leading to unconsciously transposing certain words or not speaking at all. Other people find it difficult to follow conversations, especially ones where a rambler rapid-fire changes the topic constantly.
This doesn’t mean someone should slow down their speech until they sound like an old-school record set at the wrong RPM. However, maintaining eye contact and enunciating clearly can make it easier for those with difficulty processing language to understand.
3. Just Ask
It’s laudable when well-meaning peeps offer to help the disabled when they see them struggling. However, taking a while to complete a task doesn’t mean a person cannot do it by themselves. Before aiding someone, ask the individual if they need help and respect their wishes.
Don’t toss that willingness to lend a hand to the wind, though. Advocating for the disabled when they may not feel comfortable doing so for themselves is a worthy pursuit. Many disabled people who work hesitate to ask for reasonable accommodations even when required by law — many have suffered job losses due to absenteeism, and they may fear rocking the boat when they find a new gig.
Those who notice workplaces in need of improvement can bring that up to human resources. For example, you can check to make sure your workplace is equipped with wheelchair ramps, or even go a little deeper and make sure the wall-to-wall measurements in your workplace’s restroom stalls meet ADA standards. Once you’ve figured out what needs fixing, have a chat with HR about how your team can do better for disabled employees, visitors and applicants.
4. Know When to Be Quiet
Many disabled people dedicate their lives to finding a cure, and they’ve already heard drinking enough water and practicing yoga will magically heal whatever ails them a thousand times. It’s important to refrain from sharing medical advice unless the disabled person in question is paying you to give it!
Read any online forum about living with a disability and notice how many share this common complaint. Those with disabilities have usually already tried everything, often to no avail. Implying their condition is somehow their fault for not believing in Aunt Edna’s folk wisdom is flat-out rude.
5. Remember, Some Disabilities Can’t Be Seen
Ever cracked wise at someone parking in a disabled spot by stating sarcastically they do not look like they need it? Break that habit, stat. Not everyone with a disability needs a wheelchair to get around, but those with invisible illnesses do need to shop for groceries from time to time.
Look at it this way: Can a boardwalk psychic accurately predict the future or read minds for the low, low price of $5? Nope. So stop assuming that what a person looks like on the outside dictates the pain level they feel on the inside.
6. Raise Awareness and Advocate for Meaningful Change
The United States has become a scary place for many with disabilities. The changes certain political factions want to see would drastically impact many members of this community. Many people falsely assume those with disabilities have an easy life on Social Security, but thousands suffer each year while waiting for a favorable determination.
Due to the high cost of health care in this country, many disabled people struggle financially. Cuts to programs like Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security could result in deaths. To champion disability rights and make life easier for those afflicted, people should support proposed measures intended to expand these lifesaving programs.
Awareness matters, too. Few people have heard of rare disorders such as postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS), which impacts the heart and circulation, for example. Read and share articles on social media to raise awareness of such conditions to help others understand.
Disabled People Are *People*, Too
Living with a disability is hard, but those who care can make coping easier by taking measures toward inclusion. Those with disabilities have the same need for love, acceptance and companionship as everyone else. Remember to follow the Golden Rule and treat others as you’d want to be treated.