How many times do we realise we cannot manage and become breathless at what life throws at us, viewing this as something negative? We should look up and stop thinking about ourselves for a minute.
In this minute, we should try looking further, at what surrounds us, and learn to ask for help, rather than just look, because defeat lies not in asking, but in being ashamed to do so.
My aim today is not to provide information or explanations, but to provide a few simple guidelines which everyone should adopt before communicating with people with disabilities. This is necessary, because we are used to treating all people with disabilities in the same way, acting as if we are at a crossroads: the disabled person as a “good person”, a person genetically designed to be meek and cheerful and always polite, who is happy to survive in life with a pat on the back or a pat on the head. Or we could have the misfortune to meet the “avenger”, the disabled person who is constantly angry at the world, who blames the authorities, God and the universe for their condition. Someone who is always negative and caged in their own body.
These are the two stereotypes of a disabled person usually present in the collective imagination, so we need to take great care in our approach to people with disabilities. A handbook on good manners is not necessary, but people do need to be made aware of this if our mission is to succeed.
I will tell you the 5 basic rules to follow to succeed and avoid looking bad.
CONTACT: we apply what we learned in childhood, in the hopes that we had good parents who taught us to include rather than to notice differences. Good manners should never be abandoned when speaking to a differently abled person, such as being too “familiar” even when we have never met them before. The difference in height between a person in a wheelchair and an able-bodied person does not necessarily mean that a friendship is going to blossom or a relationship be created. Never pat someone on the head when speaking to them. Some people already hate being touched on the hands or legs, so touching their head is a sign of submission which nobody should be displaying.
NO CHARITY: dealing with a differently abled person is not a feather in your cap or a conquest, but a chance to discover a new world. Do not act as if you are somehow their saviour, as if you are offering them charity or gracing them with your presence. We are differently abled, not stupid.
SEEING versus LOOKING: words are always important. Watch out for synonyms: seeing is different to looking, even though both use the same sense, sight. Avoid staring when you meet someone who, in your opinion, is “different”. You are not special envoys there to satisfy your curiosity by firing off impolite questions. As with anyone else, if a relationship blossoms, step by step, you will end up talking to each other about how, why and when life changed.
HEAVENLY BEINGS: angels only exist for people with certain beliefs. People are always just people, for everyone. Differently abled people are not heavenly beings, we are not automatically saints, we do not necessarily believe in miracles or in religion as a way of coming to terms with the hand life has dealt us.
NORMALITY: learn to deal with all situations, even those which are not part of your normal routine. Just act normally, put your brain in gear before you speak and be comfortable, listening and leaving people their freedom. Leave the mummies in Egypt, do not become stiff and uncommunicative. Breathe in air and breathe out life.
These 5 points are not meant to be a one-way street. They are simply a starting point.
The people mentioned have not been harmed in writing this article.