Rolling Without Limits

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Avoiding Patronizing Conversations with People with Disabilities
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Avoiding Patronizing Conversations with People with Disabilities

One struggle many people with disabilities face is experiencing age-appropriate interactions with others. Patronizing behaviors imply that the person with the disability may not be at the same intellectual level as the non-disabled party during an interaction.

Let me give you some examples. Patronizing behaviors may include being patted on the head, talked down to (even being talked to in ‘baby voice’ in extreme cases), or raising one’s voice when speaking with someone with a disability. Such behaviors go beyond patronizing and can even become barriers to meaningful conversations and perpetuate stereotypes that people with disabilities of average intellectual capacity are intellectually inferior.

Stereotypes of intellectual inferiority that are attached to disability result in societal barriers as well. For example, a child with a physical disability may be placed in special education classes, despite having average intelligence; or an adult with a disability applying for a job with the same qualifications as a non-disabled applicant may be denied the job due to the hiring manager’s assumption that intellectual disability is tied to physical disability.

These types of stigma and inequality that tie intellectual capacity to physical ability happen all the time. But it’s not always intentional. Sometimes someone with a physical disability may also have an intellectual disability, but not always; so how can we help society learn to differentiate between the two and learn skills for appropriate interactions with disabled individuals? Here’s some tips:

Don’t make assumptions. People with disabilities are individuals and first and foremost want to get to know you as an individual and hope that others will want to get to know them as individuals and not for the disability they have. One person’s disability is not the same as another’s; even if two people share the same disability, the consequence of their ability manifests differently from person to person. It’s always best to avoid generalizations.

Avoid making decisions for others. Treat adults with disabilities as adults capable of making their own decisions. Avoid patronizing someone with a disability who is capable of making their own decisions. You know what’s best for yourself, just as someone with a disability knows their disability better than anyone else. Allow them to communicate their own needs rather than making decisions on their behalf.

Speak directly to the person with the disability and not to the person’s aide, friend or family member who may be accompanying them. If the person has difficulty communicating, they will usually let you know. And avoid speaking about the person in the presence of that person. They can hear and understand you.

Are you a person with a disability who has experienced patronizing behavior? Do you have any other tips for creating age-appropriate interactions with people with disability? Share in the comments!

Leave a Comment

  1. Tara Richardson
    Tara Richardson
    How about if you can't say something intelligent don't say anything at all. :)
    Log in to reply.

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