Understanding disability is more than an act of kindness. Just like some actions may help people with disabilities, some can hinder their condition even if you had the best intentions in mind.
The first way to properly help disabled people is to treat them as equals and always ask before you try to help. Never stare at them and allow them to have privacy so don’t assume someone has a disability or not, but allow them to share their story with you. So here are some things to know before you try helping a person with a disability that will allow you to handle the situation with dignity and respect.
Visually impaired persons
Visually impaired people have complete or partial loss of sight and have to use aids like walking sticks to move around and some of them also use guide dogs. If the latter is the case, never feed, play, pet and even talk to the dog while they are helping their owner. In case the visually impaired person appears disoriented, approach them and offer your assistance. Don’t insist on helping them if they say they are okay since independence is very important for people with disabilities.
However, if a person accepts your help, give them your arm for support and don’t take theirs. But probably the most important thing to do is to identify yourself as well as your company when you approach visually impaired people. This will make the person more comfortable especially if they need your help.
Usually, people who are hearing impaired can read lips so speak clearly and directly in their line of sight to understand you. Look the person you are talking to in their eyes and not their sign language interpreter. This way you are having a conversation with the person you are talking too and not excluding them from the narrative.
If the hearing impaired person doesn’t know sign language, has an interpreter or can read lips, you can still communicate with them in writing. Simply, write down your message but nor before you ask them if that is the way they would like to converse with you. They may not have a complete hearing loss and use an aid or have an implant, so asking them how they would like to conduct a conversation is courteous and respectful.
A person with speech impairment
When talking to a person with speech impairment, always have patience and allow them to finish their sentences. Don’t do it for them or interrupt them since that will disrespect their independence and is rude. However, there may be a case when you can’t understand them so ask them to repeat what they said which shows effort to communicate on your part.
If you understood the most of what they are saying but are not sure if you got it right, repeat it to them to confirm. In the end, if you experience complete failure to communicate verbally, ask them to write it down.
A person with a developmental disability
A person with a developmental disability usually has a daily routine that makes them feel more comfortable. Any disruption of this will be stressful so make sure to understand their routine and, if any change occurs, prepare them slowly for it. Never talk down to a person with a disability but rather adjust your speech so they can better understand you.
Use the vocabulary that is appropriate for a person’s level of understanding and under no circumstances don’t use “baby talk.” Always allow them to finish what they are saying and if you didn’t understand them to ask them politely to repeat it. Don’t just nod and disregard them, but listen carefully and consider their opinion.
A person in a wheelchair
The first thing to remember is to respect the personal space of a person in a wheelchair. This means not to push, lean or sit in their wheelchair regardless of your relationship with them. A wheelchair is an important piece of equipment for a person with a walking disability and you need to respect that. You can kneel or sit to be at the same eye level when talking since it’s important to treat them equally and help them feel socially included.
Organizations like NDIS disability support and care provide psychological and nursing help so don’t hesitate to contact them for assistance until you get your bearings. It will make a person with a disability more comfortable and taken care of while you both learn how to deal with the situation appropriately.
A person with a social disability
When you interact with a person with a social disability, know that you have to respect their personal space. Some people don’t like to be touched or approached too closely, so avoid physical contact before you ask them if they would feel comfortable about it.
A person with a social disability can easily get overwhelmed by their environment so give them words of encouragement. Use a calming voice when talking to them and assure them that everything will be alright. A few kind words can mean a lot so don’t panic and let your presence be a soothing factor that will help them adjust to their surroundings.
An effort to properly help disabled people is not only a way to help them feel more included, but also to show the community how to be better. With understanding disability, we can all learn to function together without emphasizing impairment but on the improvement in communication. That way their quality of life will increase, as well as psychological factors that usually follow this type of interaction.