Rolling Without Limits

Your mobility may be limited. Your voice, boundless.

 What Not to Say to a Person with Disablilty: 4 Phrases to Avoid
Facebook Tweet Google+ Pinterest Email More Sharing Options

What Not to Say to a Person with Disablilty: 4 Phrases to Avoid

There are currently around 56.7 million Americans who live with a disability. And it's important to have some knowledge of how to engage with these people on a respectful, conversational level. You don’t want to give offense by inadvertently saying the wrong thing in your attempts to be friendly and empathetic, so here are some pointers for the sort of comments you should avoid:

1.) “I will pray for you to be healed.”

One of the most offensive reactions to someone’s disability is to pity and patronize them with this type of comment. Their condition is an inescapable reality that they have to live with, and many say that they would not change their circumstances in any case even if they could. Prayers may be well-intentioned but most people with debilitating health conditions would rather that you focus your positive energy on pushing your elected representatives to fight for practical matters, such as independent living facilities, for enforcing the ADA’s ban of employment discrimination, and safeguards for health insurance coverage.  Many people with disabilities also consider it patronizing to be praised for being so “inspirational.” Although meant as a compliment, this can actually have a negative impact, reminding the recipient exactly how different society views them, when they really want to be treated like anyone else.

2.) “Were you born with that affliction/condition?”

Associate a disability with the whole person. Others often see them solely in terms of  pain and suffering.  Some people can’t imagine a less-than-able-bodied person being happy and see through a victim lens.  Like everyone else, individuals with disabilities are seeking happiness and fulfilment in their lives, despite the extra challenges that they have.  No one wants to be constantly reminded of what they may be missing out on.

3.) “We have two wheelchairs coming through.”

No one wants their personhood reduced to a piece of equipment.  Besides that faux pas, there are plenty of other outdated, dehumanizing terms to be avoided at all costs, such as cripple, retard, invalid, dumb, mute, lame, insane, etc.  The term “handicapped” was popular for around two decades from the 1970's onward, but is now no longer acceptable, as society started to prefer the word “disability”, a term which describes a medical reality but doesn’t imply a permanent societal disadvantage.  Certain more recent terminology like “physically challenged” and “differently abled” are also now considered to be inappropriately over the top, since they are so hypersensitive as to be actually insensitive. For example, someone with a sprained ankle is physically challenged, but that is clearly not the same as being defined as disabled in a cultural and physical sense.  

It is considered best to first recognize someone’s humanity, and then their disability, e.g. say “ a person with epilepsy”, rather than "an epileptic".  To define someone as “disabled” implies that they are flawed or broken.  Naturally, if you are unsure which term someone prefers, asking them directly is the best way to get the right answer.  

4.) “But how do you use the bathroom?”

While it may be okay to ask someone about their condition in a respectful way, asking about the intimate details of their lives is a definite no-no, as if you are treating them as a circus sideshow. There is definitely a need to educate people on disability accessibility issues, but there is a limit as to what needs to be discussed.  If you have manners, you would not question anyone else about their toilet habits, so there is no reason to assume that someone’s disability makes it any more acceptable to ask.

 

Picture courtesy of www.wheelfreedom.com

 

 

Leave a Comment

  1. John Mark
    May I add, "You do not look disabled." Similar comments should not be made to the person, within earshot and just should not be made at all. I can walk some, but when it comes to a shopping mall or a large department store or somewhere that requires a lot of walking, I must resort to a wheelchair or motorized device due to chronic heart failure and pulmonary hypertension. I quickly become short of breath and fatigued. Vote #2 I think. The vote did not show up to begin with, but when I hit the refresh button it had changed to 2.
    Log in to reply.
    1. Broken English
      Broken English
      TY Carolyn! Yes. good point - I would never say to someone "you don't look disabled."! how offe sive! i mean, how can you tell? who are we to judge?
      Log in to reply.
    2. Broken English
      Broken English
      TY Carolyn! Yes. good point - I would never say to someone "you don't look disabled."! how offe sive! i mean, how can you tell? who are we to judge?
      Log in to reply.
  2. Rolling Without Limits Support
    Rolling Without Limits Support
    Thanks for the post!
    Log in to reply.
  3. Bailey
    I suppose there is some merit to articles such as these. However, an automatic "don't list" directed at one sect of people , regarding another sect of people, could actually be counterproductive too. Articles with these themes are often written as if they are speaking for all rather than some. The don'ts appear written in stone rather than being mere suggestions. So, if someone reads this article, but has no known association with anyone who lives with a disability, they might take these themed articles as a stern warning of "do not approach!" Oftentimes, though people may want to interact with us, they have reservations about it. They fear saying the wrong thing, or doing the wrong thing, unintentionally, and fearing how we'll react if they do. An already apprehensive person will likely decide not to take a chance because somewhere along the way, someone gave him a list of don'ts. It's as if we're shutting down possible opportunities before they've even had a chance to start. That said, a person with a disability has their own power to say "don't" when a situation calls for it..particularly adults with disabilities. Since we are not all the same, articles about interacting with us should try to reflect that the "don'ts " don't pertain to us all.
    Log in to reply.
    1. Broken English
      Broken English
      If you read the article properly, Bailey, you would see that that in actual fact it is intended as a positive article, suggesting better ways of communicating with the disabled, than the sort of thing they are used to. These are the kind of remarks disabled people often find offensive, after all. The whole theme of it is the opposite of "Do Not Approach."
      Log in to reply.

Top Posts in Disability Rights

Sign Up to Vote!

10 second sign-up with Facebook or Google

Already a member? Log in to vote.