Disability 101

Disability etiquette focuses on the understanding that we are all unique and our differences should be embraced.

There's something new to be learned every day.  And whether we learn through practice, observation or reading, new information tranforms our behavior and our actions. When learning how to behave around people with disabilities, there's no need for an overhaul of our previous social knowledge. Just as we would interact with any human being, interaction with people with disabilities involves, for example, simply respecting their inherent dignity, laughing at their joke, or giving them appropriate time when they reach out to us. 

There often is a feeling that it is a challenge to interact with a person with disability in a workplace or social setting, but this is not the case. While not prescriptive, disability etiquette is critical in the sense that it reinforces how we interact with persons with disabilities respectfully, as we would other people without disabilities.

It starts with being cognizant of the existence of persons with disabilities. There are people who stare in shock and disbelief when they encounter someone with disability. Others ask the person with disability what is wrong with them.  It is critical to acknowledge that everyone is unique and that those with a disability are no exception. 

It also important to eb aware of the appropriate terms to use when interacting with people with disabilities. Informing oneself about the correct lingo may make interactions seem less daunting for fear of saying the wrong thing. Where you are not sure how to refer to someone, simply ask.

In workplaces, it is important to understand that persons with disabilities contribute in creating a diverse workforce and that this ensures different outlooks to resolving company goals. Supervisors might often be unsure of how to issue tasks or responsibilities to people with disabilities. But it is important to understand that as long as the environment is accessible and the person with disabilities is receiving the supports and reasonable accommodation that they require, they are and should be treated as the rest of the employees. It is often unfortunate when some supervisors opt to ‘go easy’ or forgo issuing duties to a person with disabilities for fear that they are bothering ‘a sick person’.

Disability etiquette, therefore, focuses on the understanding that we are all diverse and different and our differences should not be reason to be stripped of dignity or rights. It can be as simple as what terms we use to refer to people, to how we interact with them, or even to how we include or exclude them in society. Although it is a gradual process, disability etiquette can be learnt and exercised for a more inclusive and respectful society.

Denis Ngure

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