Disability Etiquette: Easy Tips for the Able-bodied Community

By Jessica Niziolek

We all know what etiquette is. We were all taught to say please, thank you, no thank you, etc.

But, how well do we all know about disability etiquette? For me, there have been experiences where I couldn't help but think, "Was that actually just said to me out loud?" or "Did this really just happen?" The instances range widely from being stepped over simply because the person didn't say, "Excuse me, can you move over just a little bit," to the questioning of my intelligence and so on. Please, don't get me wrong, I don't mind people asking me questions because they are curious. However, I believe that there is a very thin line between curiosity and downright ignorance and rudeness.

Disability Etiquette

There is a way to approach someone with a disability and it all comes down to common sense. If we express that we would like to be included in a conversation when it's pretty obvious that we are the topic of discussion, or we simply ask that you ask us before moving our equipment or assist us in some way, then it's a pretty safe bet that we would appreciate the same respect in the way you approach us overall, no matter the situation or scenario.

Interactions Must be Grounded in Sensitivity and Decency

I realize that this issue can be hard for someone who does not have a disability to understand simply because he/she does not live with the same daily challenges. Nevertheless, if a person attempts to understand and learn from the person(s) with the disability or disabilities, I believe that is the first step in the right direction. Even if the abled-bodied person still doesn't truly understand but shows compassion instead of impatience or rudeness, then that is another step in the right direction. Etiquette, in my opinion, is a verb. Simply put, start putting in a conscious effort in showing and treating the disability community with dignity and respect.

No matter how different we are, we are all human beings. Whether our disability is visible or not, we all want to be treated as equals in this world. I strongly believe that the disability community gets the short end of the stick because society thinks that, because we look or learn differently, it is acceptable to assume we can't possibly be "normal." Of course, we all know this is the furthest thing from the truth.

The disability community is forced to fight for so many things in this world; common decency and respect should not be on that list. But there is hope. This issue is an easy one to solve, in my opinion. We just have to be more willing and open to making more of a conscious effort in how we approach one another. Think to yourself, "Would I want someone to treat me this way?" Always ask, "Would I want someone to ask me that question if I was in their same situation?" (It's the good 'ole Golden Rule, people!) All it really takes is a moment of pause and thought for this to change for the better. After all, it only takes one drop of water to begin an ocean, right?

Institutional Reinforcement Can Further Relationships with Disability Community

It is also my hope that schools, colleges and universities will implement mandatory disability etiquette classes so that people have a better understanding of the our community. This will serve the dual purpose of fostering better relationships between the disability community and those in the higher education and employment fields, two areas of interest where the most adaptations and adjustments are needed to be more accessible.

If we are better together and if we all have the same goal in our sights, then why is society so hesitant to work together to improve the outlook for everyone involved? We are all pointed in the same direction so why not come together more? If we move and work together to get to the end of the line, success waits for all.

About the Author:

Jessica Niziolek is a disability activist and freelance writer. She is passionate about helping people and has made it her mission to make the silent and dismissed are seen and heard. She believes these voices are what the world needs to hear, especially in today's climate. She loves coffee and the written word, and believes in the power of music to heal. Read more from Jessica at her new blog, Abler: Equality for the Disabled.


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