5 tips when meeting disabled people for the first time
You may read this and think, erm why the bloody ‘ell would you need tips for meeting someone for the first time – surely you just… meet them? Trust me, I wish that was the case – but if you’ve read my blog for a while you know, it’s not quite that smooth. You’ll know that I’m met with a number of reactions such as hesitation to say hello, avoidance and even negative comments. So I thought I’d share the basics around communicating with disabled people in order to hopefully be as welcoming as possible…
Do – talk to them, not to the person they’re with
A lot of the time when non-disabled people meet disabled people, they gravitate to the next non-disabled person there. Don’t ask me why, but it happens. And when it does it’s frustrating not only for disabled people but their friends too. I always ask my friends what they think and they say things like “why are you asking me?” “Ask Gem she’s the one talking to you” etc. For me personally, I like my friends to call it out too but I know that’s not everyone’s preference. But yes, if we start the convo, make sure you finish it with us too
Don’t – tell them about that one disabled person you know
I’ve mentioned this in another post I did years ago but the fact that people think I know someone’s cousin’s dad’s uncle because he once had to use a wheelchair is both hilarious and baffling. Even better is when I officially announce “I don’t think I do” they will proceed to tell me all about their disability because you know – common ground. I know that’s cruel and I’m giggling as I write it but honestly, it happens most days.
Do – ask if you want to change up speaking position
What I mean by this is everyone has their preferences, some like to sit down as you speak when you’re a wheelchair user so you’re on the same level. For me, I have tall family so I’m used to looking up. What I don’t like is when someone assumes they can hold my chair and get in my grill. My chair is a part of me so if you lean on it, you’re essentially leaning on me too. We can all gather – disabled people don’t want to be treated like a table or shelf. So before you assume, just ask “shall I get a chair?” or “Are you okay with me standing?” Simple.
Don’t – ask them intrusive questions
An obvious one that doesn’t need to much reasoning, but you would be surprised at how many personal questions I still get asked by strangers. “Can you walk at all then?” “was you born like that?” “are your family… normal?”. All of these questions are a constant reminder that the world doesn’t see me as a regular person in society. I always say the intention of a question doesn’t outweigh the negative and dangerous consequences for a disabled person. For me, comments like this chip away at me and I have to do so much work after to keep my self esteem afloat. So before you ask, think – do I really need to ask this? Is it needed for what is happening right now? If no, don’t.
Do – get to know their authentic self
And finally, not to blow my own trumpet or anything but I like to think I’ve actually got good chat. So do get to know disabled people properly! Don’t just stick to the weather or asking them what their disability is. Get to know their deep thoughts, if they’ve watched the latest Netflix series out or what their hobbies are. You never know, you might find your next work/life bessie…
Is there anything else you would add? Let me know!
You are brave and lovely.
Always sensible and considerate.
As a disabled woman myself and fellow wheelchair user I can certainly relate to a lot of these situations. Thank you for mentioning about not assuming they can lean on our wheelchairs! It’s so intrusive and limits freedom to move around and get away from them if we need to! 😂 Also, most of time I don’t mind if someone ask about my disability but if don’t feel comfortable with that specific person I just look them in the eye, smile and say“ You Don’t Need to Know That.” Anyway… I really enjoy reading your blog! ❤️
As a tall person I’ve always wondered the best way to approach the height difference when speaking to someone in a wheel chair. I don’t want to make it awkward! Thanks for providing some language for the future!
Thanks for the insight, I must admit that I learned a lot from the tips.