Too many people still feel uncomfortable around disability. But don’t feel bad, sometimes even people with a disability feel that way amongst people with a disability different to theirs. We usually feel like we are walking on eggshells, worried about offending by what we might say or not say for that matter! The fear of not being politically correct and its inevitable, immediate and damaging repercussions to one’s reputation might make a lot of us walk away rather than find a way to figure it out.
The real culprits to this awkwardness are a complete lack of exposure to disability, coupled with a blatant and gaping lack of contemporary representation of what it means to live with a disability.
And yet, disability is something that is looming over every single one of us, it’s just a matter of time. We are ALL bound to experience some form of disability or another at one point in our lives (unless, unfortunately, we die before we grow old). So, wouldn’t it be in everyone’s interest to set the record straight in anticipation of how we would like to be treated when it’s our turn to be at that receiving end? Wouldn’t it be the smart thing to do to make sure it’s a nice place to be at when it’s our turn?
It is an undeniable fact: disability is where we are all inexorably drifting towards, at different speed. It doesn’t just mean using a wheelchair.
What about when we can’t hear or see very well anymore, when our wits start failing us, when we can’t move around so nimbly? What about when we will need help? Because needing help is the tipping point that suddenly teleports us to the OTHER side, that moment when we become VULNERABLE and are at the mercy of the benevolence of those who are still able. How would we like to be treated then? And how about we start treating vulnerable people (the elderly, those with a physical disability, those with a cognitive disability, visible or not, those who are way off the norm) the way they deserve to be treated? The way WE would be treated ultimately?
And rather than leaving it to chance or good fortune, I don’t know about you but I would rather make sure it’s a given! We could certainly start by reframing the semantic structure through which we interact with disability, a narrative that will keep us safe, dignified and equally valued. A first step would mean a complete yet ever so simple make-over but one that would only require goodwill and won’t cost a penny: disability-friendly or disability-accessible means of communication.
Let’s consider it a risk-free investment with a huge ROI (return on investment) for our latter years that will benefit all and anybody with a disability from now!
Here are a few very simple pointers: (“me” in the text below refers to anyone with a disability)
If you’re gonna say something to me, make sure to TALK TO me and not TALK AT me!
If you’re gonna listen, make sure to HEAR me OUT, not just HEAR me.
There’s absolutely no point in you looking at me if you can’t see ME.
Can you please ASK , preferably sensitively (me or someone who can speak for me) instead of ASSUMING or SPECULATING?
If you’re gonna STARE, make sure to get the angle right and LOOK UP to me, not STARE me DOWN!
How about acknowledging me instead of ignoring me?
How about suggesting instead of ordering me about?
You see, semantics are not just a few letters thrown together; they show you up, for better or worse…Let’s make sure that from now on it’s for the better!
And if you really care about me (which you should), then strive to make things ACCESSIBLE to me (whether by using large prints, easy read, pictograms, sign language, Braille, ramps, and so many other options for different disabilities) instead of inevitably KEEPING FROM me by using exclusively mainstream ways of access or communication? Put yourself in my shoes (your next pair too), and think outside the box.
And of course, we can start supporting those who are campaigning for equal rights for people with disabilities, the rights we hope are in place when we need them…
When you think about it, whether you choose to call it anticipation or being proactive, I like to just see it as mindfulness and future self-care.
All 3 photos credit: http://angeharper.com