How do you ask a disabled person about their disability?

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Sometimes when you are out in public, you may see a wheelchair user or someone on crutches that is clearly disabled and you may be wondering what is their disability? Is it appropriate to go up to a total stranger and just ask them what their disability is? The answer is no it’s not! Some people will not mind opening up about their disability, but other people do and get extremely offended when you ask. If you know someone who is disabled and want to ask about their disability but don’t know how to approach it here are a few tips.

Be friendly- When you a first meet a disabled person you should never start the conversation with what is your disability? Disabled people will be more inclined to open up to other disabled people than they will be with other abled people. Abled people may have to work harder to get disabled people to open up so if you know someone with a disability become friends with them first and then if you think they wouldn’t mind then politely ask.

Just don’t- Talking about someone’s disability is a sensitive subject for some and nine times out of ten if it’s not brought up in a conversation there is probably a reason for it!  Unless you are really good friends with a disabled person and think they wouldn’t mind then don’t ask! Some disabled people will openly talk about their disability, but others may not feel comfortable discussing it either way if you have any respect for the individual you should respect their decision and not ask questions.

Look them in the eye- It’s common courtesy to look someone in the eye when they are talking to you whether they are abled or disabled. Unfortunately, most people do not talk to disabled people, but they talk to their caregivers because they think disabled people are incapable of speaking for themselves. Never assume a disabled person cannot speak for themselves. If you are abled and are talking to a wheelchair user that is a little short bend down a little bit so you can see them at eye level and have a more engaging conversation!

Things to avoid

  • Staring- Having you ever seen a wheelchair or a pair of crutches pair before? I’m guessing you probably have so, stop staring at these devices like it’s a new product that’s just been released and look at the individual in the eye just like you would your abled friends. If you have questions you can always ask because disabled people would much rather have you ask than stare at their assistive devices.
  • Avoid certain words– Some words are considered very offensive towards disabled people and although disabled people may call themselves certain things that does not make it okay for you to call them that. Words like wheelchair-bound, confined to a wheelchair or crippled should not be used to describe a disabled person. Most people who are in wheelchairs prefer to be called wheelchair users and not referred to as confined to a wheelchair or wheelchair bound. Some disabled people may refer to themselves as crippled but unless they have told you otherwise, then do not refer to a disabled person in that way. Always be mindful of the language you use around a disabled person to avoid offending anyone!
  •  Entitlement- Some people will openly talk about their disabilities others will get very angry when you ask them what their disability is. There is nothing wrong with asking a disabled person about their disability if it’s done correctly. Disability is a sensitive subject for some so even though you may have a lot of unanswered questions you are not entitled to answers to those answers. It’s up to the individual on whether on not they want to open up about their disability and if they don’t then drop it and move on to a different topic.
  • Avoid personal questions- When you first meet a disabled person you may be curious about a lot of things like how does that person go to the bathroom? How do they complete certain tasks? Although you may be curious about some things asking someone for their medical history will never make them want to open up to you! As you get to know them some disabled people may be more inclined to open up about some things but as for most things that will probably remain private.
  • Speaking loudly- Most disabled people have average intelligence and can carry on a conversation just like an abled person can. Talking really loud and extra slow is just annoying and in most cases not necessary! Talk to a disabled person like you would talk to your abled friends and if someone needs you to slow down they will tell you otherwise it’s probably not necessary!

If you are unsure on how to ask a disabled person about their disability asking a disabled person how they would approach the situation or not asking at all will be your safest option. Asking someone about their disability is a sensitive matter for a lot of people and although some people may not mind it, other people do and will get extremely offended so unless you know that person really well and are positive they will not mind do not ask! If you have any questions about how to ask a disabled person about their disability please leave them in the comments below!

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