The Do’s and Don’ts When Talking About Disability

The do's and don't when talking about disability

When I talk to people, and they find out that I love to chat all things disability – one of the first things people say is “you just don’t know what to say anymore do you”. And I get it, but I think we all need to be open to learning more and not just stop at that first reaction. So in this post I thought I’d give you a head start on the “do’s and don’ts” when talking about disability…

DO: Say the word “Disabled”

I’ve said it before in this blog, but I think first and foremost, we need to learn that disabled is not a bad word. Saying things like “differently abled” just skirts around something that’s actually not shameful to say. If you’re not disabled and don’t feel comfortable saying ‘disabled’ – I would think about why that is and ask yourself is your own prejudice coming through? Obviously we have to take into consideration cultural differences, but ‘disabled’ is globally known, and lots of people are proud of that identity.

DON’T: Sympathise

Something I get regularly, I’ll be in town shopping and I will hear “aww bless her”. I will look round and think, what’s happened. Then I’ll realise someone is feeling sorry for me. I find it so weird that not only is this someone’s first reaction, but they audibly announce this to the person/people they’re with. The sad thing is they don’t know anything about me. The addition of wheels makes them think I have a bad life… which makes me feel sorry for them really. But, yeah, top tip – unless someone has a real reason to need sympathy – don’t instantly feel sorry for them.

DON’T: Ask personal questions

This may seem obvious to most, but disabled people get the WEIRDEST questions asked – just take a look at my old blog all about it. I think there are many reasons why that my academic friends could answer to do with the media and how we’re perceived. I mean I am quite open but asking how I go to the toilet or if my family is “normal” is pushing it a bit. Just remember, no one really needs to know the ins and outs of someone’s disability/impairment – it’s their choice to choose to talk about it.

DO: Encourage development

Quite often, people would applaud me for having a job (and still do). They would tell me how great it is that I’m ‘getting out’ (they want to see me on a friday night). When you’re constantly told this as a disabled person, it almost reinforces the idea that that’s it, life achieved. Really, we all have the opportunity to develop. I’m not saying we want to change the world but don’t think that someone doesn’t want to acheive more because they’re disabled. If I didn’t have the cheerleaders that my friends and family are, I’d definitely not be where I am today.

DO: Talk to us about other stuff

I’m going to end on this important one. I know I talk about disability a lot, but sometimes, I just want to talk about netflix and what I’m having for dinner too. Not all disabled people want to talk about disability. When people meet me, they instantly want to tell me about all of the disabled people they’ve ever met but sometimes I just want to talk about Line of Duty (omg did you see that ending!?)


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11 thoughts on “The Do’s and Don’ts When Talking About Disability

  1. 👏🏻👏🏻 Yes! I 100% agree with all points, especially sympathy and that people talk to the people who I am with instead of me – that drives me up the wall!

    1. Thank you for visiting! I’m glad you enjoyed this post. Yes I totally agree, that’s something that ALWAYS happens to me too. Now I just keep talking back until they look at me, ha ha!

      1. I wish I had more confidence to say something though, oh another thing – touching! It really riles me when I don’t even know that person and they think it’s acceptable to put their hand on me, rub my arm or leg, or pat me like I’m a good little dog 🙄

      2. Thanks Gem, I’m heading into town tomorrow with my fiance so if anyone does touch me then I will say something 🙂 you’re awesome Gem!

  2. So, with regards to the word disabled, I have a question: How do you feel about the term “special needs”? I know people in the disability community who prefer “special needs” but it seems like not everyone has that preference, by any means.

    1. Hi Brendan, thanks for your comment. To me Special Needs is very much used in primary school settings, which is why it is heavily used. Unfortunately for me, I don’t think it’s a phrase I like to use as an adult (to describe myself anyway) and would like to think in years to come we will all shift toward “disability/disabled”. What’s your thoughts?

      1. Ah. Okay then.

        I was curious because a good friend of mine–who has a learning disability and is hoping to go into special needs education one day–strongly prefers the term “special needs” (and I know others who are that way too).

        In terms of my thoughts, as an able-bodied person I think that I should ask when in doubt (as to whether special needs or disabled or some other term is preferred). I’ve learned that different people have different preferences, so I just go with the preferences of others.

  3. Hi Gem. I saw you on tv this morning talking about limited access to shops and then the next thing I know, you pop up on Facebook feed.

    I’m not physically disabled mobility wise but I am deaf and that brings it’s own challenges. I’ve just been diagnosed with Mitochondrial disease and that’s really going to town on me now. I can physically notice how in a short time I’m unable to do many out things I once took for granted.

    Best wishes
    Mick x

    1. Hi Mick, thanks for your comment! That wasn’t actually me on BBC but sounds like my good friend Sam Renke! Thanks for sharing your experiences and all the best to you. Hoping you have more good days than the rough ones as you mentioned. There’s a lovely community on here and online if you want to speak to people who have similar experiences and barriers.
      Gem x

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