Showing Acceptance and Respect for Those with Disabilities

International Day of Persons with Disabilities

December 3 is International Day of People with Disabilities. This year’s theme is “Not All Disabilities Are Visible.” In the U.S., 1 in 4 adults faces some form of disability. And during the COVID-19 pandemic, isolation, disconnect, disrupted routines and diminished services have greatly impacted the lives and mental well-being of people facing all types of disabilities within the U.S. and worldwide.

Of the 1 billion worldwide population living with disabilities, about 15% of the total population, or almost 450 million, have neurological or mental disabilities not clearly apparent to others. Two-thirds facing invisible disabilities don’t seek medical help because they feel stigma, discrimination or neglect.

Another 69 million individuals are estimated to sustain traumatic brain injuries worldwide each year, while 1 in 160 children are identified as on the autism spectrum.

Other examples of invisible disabilities experienced by millions worldwide include:

  • mental illness
  • chronic pain
  • chronic fatigue
  • sight impairments
  • hearing impairments
  • diabetes
  • brain injuries
  • neurological disorders
  • learning differences
  • and cognitive dysfunctions, among others.

Removing barriers for all people living with disability, both visible and invisible, is an important goal shared by all countries around the globe.

Your local Capital Women’s Care team would like to share important information about how to make social interactions and life less stressful and more comfortable for those facing visible and invisible disabilities through proper etiquette demonstrating acceptance and respect to those facing any form of disability.

Disability Etiquette

There are several steps we can take to make those with disabilities comfortable and at ease. The following tips can help kids and adults demonstrate acceptance, respect and friendship:

  • Don't make assumptions about the person -- or their disability.  Don't automatically assume you know what they want or feel and know what’s best.  If you have a question about what to do, how to do it, what language or terminology to use, or what assistance to offer, just ask. They can guide you with their response. Remember that people with disabilities have different preferences. Just because one person with a disability prefers something one way doesn't mean another person with the same disability also prefers it.
  • Ask before you help. A person with a disability might seem to be struggling, yet they are fine and would prefer to complete the task unaided. Follow their cues and ask them directly if you aren’t sure what to do. Don't be offended if someone declines your offer of help.
  • Talk directly to the user, not to the interpreter, attendant, or friend. You don't need to ignore the others entirely; just make sure to focus your interaction on the individual. When someone who is deaf has an interpreter, the user will look at the interpreter as you are talking. Remember to face the user rather than the interpreter. If you are speaking for some time with a person in a wheelchair, sit down so you are both at eye-level.
  • Make eye contact; never avoid someone with a disability. People who fear they could do or say something unintentionally disrespectful toward a person with a disability will sometimes default to ignoring the person altogether. Staring is another behavior which should be avoided.  A genuine smile and friendly greeting toward all people you meet not only brightens your day but also brightens their day, too.
  • Speak normally. Don't assume because a person has a singular disability that they also have a cognitive disability or are hard of hearing. Use normal language. For example, a person with cerebral palsy might use a wheelchair, have uncontrolled upper body movements, have difficulty speaking; yet they also have very good hearing, cognitive abilities and intelligence.
  • Use "people-first" language when referring to people with disabilities, unless they prefer different wording. People-first language means to put the person first and the disability second. For example, say "a man who is blind" rather than "a blind man," and "a woman who uses a wheelchair" instead of "a wheelchair-bound woman." As a default, use people-first language when speaking with people with disabilities, and when speaking and writing about people with disabilities. Note that some people may prefer different phrasing. Ask what phrasing and terminology the person prefers.
  • Educate yourself. If you have a loved one or close friend with a disability, research the disability to better understand triggers and characteristic behaviors so you both can enjoy activities and gatherings. Being aware of potential issues ahead of time makes everyone comfortable and at ease.
  • Avoid potentially offensive terms or euphemisms. Commonly accepted terminology includes "people with disabilities" and "a person with a visual/hearing/physical/speech/cognitive impairment." Note accepted terminology may be different in varying regions. For example, in Europe "handicapped" is an accepted term, whereas many in the U.S. don't like it. "Cognitive disabilities" are also called "intellectual disabilities.” For appropriate terminology in your area, contact a local disability association.
  • Be aware of personal space. Some people using a mobility aid, like a wheelchair, walker or cane see these aids as part of their personal space. Don't touch, move or lean on mobility aids. This is also important for safety.
  • Don’t victimize people with disabilities. Referring to someone as a “spinal cord injury victim,” or “cerebral palsy victim,” takes away that person’s power. It takes away their strength and ability to overcome because the emphasis is on what happened to them, as opposed to what they did about it. It would be more appropriate to refer to someone having a disability as a “survivor.”
  • Don’t assume they view their disability as a tragedy. Many people with disabilities have worked through the tough emotions to be happy and content with their lives. A seemingly harmless statement like, “I’m so sorry that happened to you,” or something similarly stated can make a person with a disability feel sad and sorry.
  • Don't interact with guide dogs or other service animals. Don't ask if you can pet the animal and don't talk to the animal. When guide dogs are wearing their harness, they are working to guide and protect their owners. It's important not to distract the dog in any way.
  • Don’t underestimate the abilities of someone having a disability. Many people with disabilities are fully capable for caring for themselves without any assistance. They’ve spent a long time adjusting to a different way of life – be it purchasing wheelchair accessible vehicles for transportation, calling ahead to make sure a restaurant is wheelchair accessible, installing tile in their homes to avoid wheelchair friction on carpet, among others. They understand what they are capable of and what their limitations are.

The most important thing to realize when interacting with people with disabilities is that they are people. And just like all people, they are very different, including differences in how they react and relate to disability issues.

Enriching Lives of Those with Disabilities

Achieving a community that embraces individuals living with disabilities enriches not only communities at large, but also the individual lives of those within.

Businesses and organizations can make doors and hallways wheelchair accessible. Having a plan or space for sensory-sensitive kids such as sensory-sensitive tables in restaurants or quiet rooms to allow an individual space to decompress are great examples of creating public disability- accessible settings.  Employment opportunities, disability-friendly programs and activities are all ways to enrich everyone’s lives.

Whether you have a loved one or a close friend facing disability or know someone within your community with a disability, initiating patience, understanding, empathy, acceptance and other altruistic, mindful behaviors unite to create a powerfully welcoming, all-inclusive community where everyone flourishes and contributes.

Your local Capital Women’s Care team is here for you and your family should you have any questions relating to your health. Our goal is to offer compassionate, comprehensive healthcare.


Our Mission

The providers of Capital Women's Care seek the highest quality medical and ethical standard in an environment that nurtures the spirit of caring for every woman.


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