International Disability Awareness Day
For many people, the word “disability” means people who are in a wheelchair or have to be aided by a walker or use their hands to communicate. The reality is that there is far more
to disability than meets the eye. The world has over one billion people living with all sorts of disabilities, yet 96% remain unseen. Disability Awareness Day aims to put an end to this. Disability is a complex identity and can take both visible and invisible forms.
Visible vs Invisible Disability
Visible disabilities are often easily noticeable with the naked eye. There may be a few indicators of a disability like an assistive device, a particular set of actions, a physical feature or something else. Common examples of physical disabilities are hearing and visual impairments, cerebral palsy, missing limbs or paraplegia and down syndrome.
Invisible disabilities on the other hand are not so easy to spot as some show up as chronic conditions. There are plenty of assumptions made of what disability looks like and part of the
issue is that invisible disabilities are exactly that, invisible. It’s hard to tell who has or hasn’t got an invisible illness just by looking at them. Some examples of invisible disabilities include autism spectrum disorder, depression, diabetes as well as learning and thinking differences such as ADHD and dyslexia.
Being mindful of people living with disabilities
Talking about disability can be tough. People living with disabilities face many challenges that they may not be able to communicate because of the fear of stigma and discrimination. There are simple everyday things we could be doing to play our part in being human by actively making choices in how we interact with people living with both visible and invisible disabilities. Disability Awareness Day aims to educate people on the difficulties and how to behave around those living with disabilities.
Be Aware of How You Talk
Your words should be the first starting point in being actively aware of your treatment towards people living with disabilities. Refrain from using words that are cruel and inappropriate, or even over-praising ordinary accomplishments like getting out of bed with comments like “I’m so inspired by you”. Over-praise can lead to objectification. We never know how our word choices affect others without our knowledge, so be mindful of what you say to anyone. Don’t expect people to disclose their disability or how it affects them to you
It’s always better to let people tell you about their struggles, their triumphs or to disclose their invisible illnesses to you by themselves. People have reported feeling stigmatised or discriminated against when disclosing or wishing to open up about a disability. Negative comments and actions can deeply affect someone who is living with a disability, discouraging them from opening up in the future.
Ask first then follow the lead
Don’t assume people need help. People living with disabilities are more in tune about their needs than you are, so always ask before offering to help. Some may consider it an infringement of their personal space if you suddenly start pushing their wheelchair, so always ask for specific instructions on how you can help.
Speak clearly and directly and listen well
People with speech impairments might need a bit more patience in the conversational interactions. Speak clearly and directly, allow them to finish their own sentences without
interruptions or interjections of help. When speaking to a person in a wheelchair, sit down so that they don’t have to strain their neck when talking to you. When someone is disclosing their invisible illness, listen well and don’t use words such as ”you look normal to me”. Instead listen with intention and understanding.
You might have a friend taking care of a family member with a disability. Be flexible when making plans with them as they might have to leave in an emergency or they may not be able to honour an appointment because of a sudden illness or complication. When inviting a friend who is in a wheelchair or uses special aids, always check the places of appointment in advance for wheelchair accessibility and facilities that are user-friendly.
Remember to be patient, treat others with kindness and to stand up for others when they may need your help. Whether the disability is visible or invisible it’s important to be kind to everyone. In the end, disability awareness is about creating a safe and comfortable environment for everyone, without making people feel singled out or “less than”.
Sources: Disability Awareness