As parents, we highly value respectful behavior in our children. Since kids are quick to take their cues from us, it’s important to model respectful language and behaviors. This is especially true regarding people with disabilities, who only too recently have been recognized as equals to be treated with dignity.
Here are ten things to know and teach about being respectful toward people with disabilities:
- People with disabilities are people first. Use person-first language when talking about a person with a disability. For example, “a child with autism” vs. “an autistic child” or “a person who uses a wheelchair” versus “a handicapped person or disabled person.” Often you’ll find you don’t need a label at all.
- Extend the same courtesies to a person with a disability that you would extend to anyone. If you don’t make a habit of leaning or hanging on people, why would you lean or hang on a person’s wheelchair?
- Treat adults as adults and children as children. Adults with intellectual disabilities are NOT big kids. Talk with them as you would with other adults.
- Speak directly to a person with a disability, not their companion. For example, if a person with a hearing impairment uses an interpreter, keep eye contact with the person you are talking with, not the interpreter.
- If you can’t understand someone with a disability who is speaking to you, kindly ask them to repeat themselves. Never pretend to understand if you aren’t able to do so. If you still cannot understand them, state “I’m sorry, I can’t understand what you are saying/asking.” See if they can write something for you to read or point to something they may need.
- When talking for more than a minute or two with someone who uses a wheelchair, place yourself at their eye level. This will spare both of you a stiff neck!
- When greeting someone with a significant vision loss, always identify yourself and others who may be with you. Use directional descriptors, such as “I’m here with Jon, who is standing on my right.” Use a normal tone of voice and volume for the situation.
- If you would like to help someone with a disability, ask if he or she needs help before you act. Listen to any instructions that he or she may give you.
- Be patient and considerate of the extra time it might take a person with a disability to get things done or said. Let the person set the pace.
- Don’t be afraid. If a person with a disability exhibits sounds or behaviors that make you uncomfortable, that’s okay, but it’s not okay to stare, to be exclusionary, or to place judgement upon the person or their caregiver.
With modeling and a few well-used teaching moments under their belts, your child will do you proud, growing into an adult who treats others with dignity and respect.
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