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How to Help

Updated: Jul 27, 2023

by Anna

We are animals—we can’t help it.

We can’t escape the instinctual desire to be a part of a tribe; to belong and to be accepted. That is why social slights hurt; our brain perceives a threat when we are insulted or ignored, while being part of the tribe signals safety. We are ever-evolving, yet we are not immune to primitive inclinations.

The diversity of our species includes people facing unique challenges—those that may work twice as hard to meet social, physical, and capitalist standards. Those labeled disabled.

A label has the power to help or hurt. Stigma drives many disabled people to attempt to mask their disability to avoid the pain that comes with the word. Masking can lead to an array of issues including burn-out, illness, loneliness, and unemployment.

So, how can you help disabled people?

Start by considering how you view the word disability. Consider harmful narratives and stereotypes. Attribute positive qualities to disabled people. I know what it is like to be treated with respect and warmth on a good day when my autoimmune disease is not flaring and I am able to mask my autistic traits. I know what it is like to be treated with disdain on a bad day, when I am pale with dark, sunken eyes, hunched over and unable to suppress stimming. On both of these days I am the same honest, loyal, loving, funny person.

Listen to the lived experience of disabled people. Believe what we tell you. Understand that while some disabilities are visible, others are invisible or dynamic—and this affects how people show up on a daily basis. I have invisible, dynamic disabilities and know what it is like to experience bullying, accusations, and alienation because people could not readily see or believe what I was dealing with. These same people have regarded me with esteem on good days. I am the same hard-working, intelligent, trustworthy person.

Consider how economic forces have shaped us and our environment. How have capitalistic standards informed our internalized biases and our views on disability?

Ask questions, consult us or an ally on what educational resources we trust. Use five minutes of the time you would spend on social media to research our disability.

Stop stressing eye contact. It is not possible for some and unbearable for others. It isn’t consistently polite across cultures. It doesn’t fundamentally indicate trustworthiness or connection.

We are human— we can’t help it. We are subject to mistakes.

And we keep evolving and adapting. Let’s keep evolving and expanding our perspectives on the disability paradigm. We are equals with unique experiences and needs.

How can you help disabled people? Start by treating us with dignity. This will allow us to feel safer. To show you who we are and what we need. From there, you can figure out how best to show up for us in a way that includes and honors our diversity.

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