I Feel Awkward Talking to People with Disabilities, How Can I be Better?
A common question I get from abled humans is how to interact naturally with people with disabilities. It’s really common for me to hear, “I feel awkward. I don’t know what to do. How can I be better at socializing with people with disabilities?”
I used to get angry when I heard that. Or think less of people that asked me.
Now I know better. They’re reaching out and trying to connect with what they find unfamiliar. It’s a universal, normal, and admirable human instinct.
You may question my use of the word admirable. People reaching out and finding connection is great and I’m here to celebrate it. Why? Because it beats the heck out of fear.
Fear is what fosters isolation and horror’s like electroshock therapy continuing to be used on children with disabilities.
So I’ll gladly take that necessary awkward first step with this person towards understanding an inclusive society.
My advice for people who are unsure what to do:
First watch this TEDtalk by Ash Beckam. She has some great strategies for talking about difficult topics with people who don’t get it.
Second think about what you have in common with this person. You are both human! You have an almost 50% chance of sharing the same gender. In a culture where we’re trained to observe differences, look instead for the similarities.
Happy fact of the day; did you know that persons blind since birth know how to smile instinctively? Even though they have never before seen a human smiling face?
How do they know to smile? Because they are human.
Third, hangout with a healthcare/support professional. This mom appreciates healthcare workers because they treat her daughter like a person. They’re so familiar with working with people with disabilities that they know the great secret. She’s a human too!
Fourth, don’t get on the Darwinistic bandwagon that we have to discriminate, are born to discriminate or any other version of this theory. This ancient burial site reveals that the humans of long ago respected a young child with Down Syndrome as an equal member of her community. It isn’t written into our DNA to discriminate. It’s taught.
As support professionals how do you answer the questions of people who feel uncomfortable around those with disabilities?
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