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Blog: Ways to support people with disabilities

QUESTION: What are the best ways to support someone with a disability as a nondisabled individual? Blog by Karah Youtsey (she/her)


Even though I have been disabled my whole life, I didn’t know until recently. This gives me the vantage point of both roles: supportive and supported.

Let’s talk about friendship. You may think it will be the most awkward thing to have someone disabled as a friend, and if it’s your first disabled friend, there will be a learning period. But really, it’s more like a very tall person learning to take pictures with a very short person; it just takes practice. For many of us, our doctors and caretakers become the people we see the most. It gets very lonely.

And sure, our idea of a great time may be very different from the norm. However, if you are willing to ask ahead of time what accommodations we need and if and how we would like you to help, you will be surprised at how fun we are! Also, if you ask us our diagnosis and we tell you what it is, look it up and do research on it before seeing us the next time. That shows that you care for our wellbeing and are on our team instead of pretending it doesn’t exist. This will gain our trust and your knowledge will make you more caring. You will gain a new quality of friends built for difficult times.

What about supporting someone who is disabled in passing like grocery stores, in transit, farmers’ markets, and the like?

While we do much to try our best doing things as independently as possible, this world was not built for any one disability type.

Try not going to either extreme, but keep questions on how to help in the hands of the disabled individual. For example: ‘are you managing ok?’ Or ‘hi I’m [your name here], you seem like you’ve got this down, is there something I can do for you now to help?’

One of the biggest ways to support disabled people is not in words at all, but preventive actions. Disabled parking is not just for those with wheelchairs. Plus, some wheelchair users can drive and can unload a compact chair from the backseat. Thus the need for disabled parking spots: all four doors to be free of other cars, shopping carts or anything else. Some places don’t have enough handicapped parking, so still be mindful of bringing the cart somewhere proper instead of blocking a parking spot with it. This is the same for inside the stores. Try not to block the floors and keep the accessible bathroom available.

Now, if you are a parent, I implore you to teach your kids that it is ok to ask questions about disabled people, to say hello to us, and to teach them not to be surprised or to laugh at us. I had to use a walker one time and a little girl asked her dad what it was and he directly said, ‘It’s a walker, something to help her walk, she’s ok’. And if I hadn’t been leaving out the door, I would have turned and thanked him for saying that instead of ‘ It’s nothing’. It’s not nothing. it’s real and I am glad I have it to be able to walk.

So in summary, the best ways a nondisabled person can help those of us who are disabled? Ask. Communicate. Take Action. Be a human to us humans.

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