A general rule of thumb when engaging with any individual should be to know and understand that different people interpret and experience things differently. While there are some disabilities that are more common than others, and we may find ourselves to be more familiar with, we must acknowledge that regardless of people having the same diagnosis, individuals are all still affected differently, and have their own struggles and triumphs. People who may have never interacted with an individual diagnosed with a mental or physical disability, may feel intimidated or nervous when doing so; and a common mistake many of us make is forgetting that people’s disabilities do not define them, rather are a fraction of what makes them who they are. The key to interacting with someone who has a disability, is to treat them based on who they are, rather than what their diagnosis is.
While this may be easier said than done for some, here is a list of do’s and don’ts when interacting with someone diagnosed with a disability:
- Do find common ground rather than addressing your differences: Finding common ground, such as similar interests, taste in music, movies, sports, etc. is the foundation for developing human connection. Rather than focusing on how different you and the other individual are, focus on your similarities;
- Don’t assume they see their disability as a tragic event or treat them as a victim: Many individuals with disabilities are strong minded individuals that have faced adversity yet prevented it from consuming their life. Many have accepted this part of their lives and adjusted accordingly. If people do not see themselves as victims, then neither should you;
- Do ask for permission to aid before providing it: Do not assume that an individual with a disability is inferior or incapable of doing the same things that you are. In any event, always ask if someone wants assistance, rather than assuming;
- Don’t speak to people’s caregiver rather than speaking with them directly: Always acknowledge the person diagnosed with a disability, rather than assuming that all interactions are done through their caregiver, should they have one. And when you do so, always try and adjust your posture to be at eye-level;
- Do ask an individual about their disability rather than assuming you know it all: We are all notorious for believing everything we see on the internet and getting sucked into what WebMD has to offer. Rather than assuming what you may have read is all there is to someone’s diagnosis, ask the individual, should you have any questions. This allows people to be understood as individuals rather than as part of a collective, and it allows you to better interact with them knowing how they feel and are affected by different things.
The most important thing to remember is that when dealing with anyone, always treat people how you want to be treated. Respect one another, and be kind to one another, and recognize that you will find a lot more meaning in life and gain a lot more perspective, if you do not judge a book by its cover.