Top ten lists are all the rage, so I threw one together. There is no particular order, though, I just tossed these in in the order that they occured to me.
So, here we go. The top ten things I want you to realize about people living with disabilities.
1. Disabilities tend to fall on spectrums. Not all blind people see absolutely nothing, not all deaf people hear absolutely nothing, not all quadriplegic people cannot move. We’re all a bit different. I can see light from one eye. I’m still blind.
2. The larger bathroom stall is not there for you to have extra room to change/move about/etc. Also, just because there is no one in the bathroom when you arrive does not mean that you should use it. Some of us have difficulty with the regular one, or outright can’t use it. Please don’t, unless it is literally the only free one available and you are in an emergency situation, and then be as quick as you can. Just remember that the stall may be someone else’s literal only choice, and they may also be in an emergency situation.
3. We are not victims, nor are we brave souls just for living a normal life. If you want to admire us for something we have achieved, by all means, go ahead, so long as you do not tack “for a disabled person” onto the end of that admiration. I am a great massage therapist. I am not a great massage therapist for a blind person.
4. Do not pat the service animal. Do not talk to the service animal. Do not make gestures at the service animal. This is dangerous for us, the handler. And I do not just mean that it is dangerous in the short-term, though it is. You are not merely distracting that animal from its job, but you are undermining its training. It isn’t supposed to look for attention while it’s working. Giving it attention while it is on duty teaches it that this is a thing to continue to look for. How do you know if it’s on duty? Easy. If the harness or vest is on, it is working. Even if it is sitting. Even if it is laying at its handlers feet with its eyes closed.
5. Emotional support animals are not the same as service animals. This is probably going to upset someone, but hear me out, please. I do understand the immense benefit that an animal companion can bring to someone facing mental or emotional challenges. They’re great. They have been proven to help. By all means, get one if it will help you. But don’t pass it off as a service animal, okay? Unless your animal has gone through the rigorous training of a service animal, do not take it to restaurants. You are giving trained service animals a bad name and making it more difficult for people who use them. Buying a vest and certification online does not make your dog a service dog.
6. Not all people with disabilities want to talk about it. Now. As it happens, I don’t mind this myself. Seriously, ask me anything about my disability and I’ll probably be happy to answer, but this is not true of everyone. Some people are struggling to accept it. Some people are dealing with additional trauma around whatever caused the disability. Just randomly asking a stranger to explain their disability is bad. Asking a close friend is different, if you’ve gotten a sense of how much they want to talk about it.
7. Not all disabilities are visible. Someone may look perfectly able to you and still have a disability. Please, just believe us if we tell you that we have one, especially if we are currently taking advantage of services meant to make our life a little easier. If you see someone parked in the disabled parking spot, with a placard in place showing that we are allowed to be there, do not challenge us on it. Even if you can’t tell at a glance why we need it. You are not championning the downtrodden by confronting a con. You are most likely challenging someone who needs to use that service to explain themselves to you.
8. Please be patient with us if we seem prickly over things and you don’t understand why, especially if you are offering help. Many of us are told that we can’t do things for our whole lives. Society tells us this, media tells us this, our family and friends tell us this. Often, they tell us this thinking that they are helping. They tell us this out of love. It doesn’t make it any easier to be told you are incapable out of love. If we turn you down, do not press the issue. If we get irritated over continued offers, please realize that there may be a reason. If the help we ask for is not the help you think we need, go with what we ask for.
9. On the flip side, if we tell you we can’t do something, please believe us. Especially if we have been living with our disability for years. While initially, this particular one is not quite so cut and dried, we do eventually learn where our limits are, and unless you are someone who is trained in rehabilitation, trying to get us to push past our limits is probably going to be detrimental and possibly dangerous.
10. Finally, remember that all of us are different. What goes for me may not go for someone with a different disability. It may not even go for someone with the same disability. I crack jokes about being blind all the time, and do not mind if other people do. That doesn’t mean you should make those jokes around anyone else. Someone with a disability could theoretically read this list and disagree with some of it, though likely not all of it. Really, the only certain thing that all disabled people share is that they have some form of disability. Just get to know us as individuals, just like you would with anyone else.
So, hopefully you found that enlightening, or at least interesting.
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