Many people fail to consider how their words and actions affect people with disabilities—whether they have a mental disability, physical disability, or both. It’s important to include all minorities in your activism. Often, activists forget to include all individuals with disabilities. If you want to make your activism more inclusive, educate yourself with these tips for becoming a better ally for people with disabilities and become a role model in your community.
Don’t Talk Down
When you meet someone with a disability, talk to them on an equal level. Though praise such as, “You’re an inspiration for pushing through that,” or “I could never live like that,” may sound nice, they have unintended meanings.
Praising someone for their disability and saying that they’re an inspiration for their day-to-day life takes power away from any other achievements they may have. Compliment them based on the things they do—especially if they had difficulty with the activity—but save the praise if you’re just talking about things they do every day.
As for saying that you could never live as they do, consider the implication of the alternative. Such a backhanded compliment implies that you would prefer death over having their disability, which may depress and demotivate them. Instead, communicate as though you were talking to anyone else—you may need to alter the way you communicate by signing, speaking more clearly, or writing.
Step Up, Even When No One Is Watching
Some of the biggest changes in society can happen when you exercise empathy in your everyday actions. Consider things in public that would cause frustration or difficulties for people with disabilities. Here are some things you might consider while in public.
People Abusing Accessible Parking Spaces
Handicap-accessible parking abuse is a real issue faced in public parking lots all over the world. People without accessible parking permits may carelessly park in a spot that isn’t meant for them—or may even borrow a permit without the permit owner in the vehicle. Report accessible parking abusers to the authorities or confront them—just remember that some people’s disabilities are harder to identify and may qualify them for a parking pass.
Businesses Not Following ADA
Educate yourself on some of the basic principles of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), particularly how businesses must treat people with disabilities without discrimination along with the accessible design standards. If you notice any mistreatment or unfriendly design, bring it up with the manager—especially if they’re ignoring people with disabilities bringing it up.
Always Listen and Educate Yourself
The final and most important tip for becoming a better ally for people with disabilities is to listen to people with disabilities and educate yourself on disability issues whenever possible. You may find that people ignore or talk over peers with disabilities—do your best to hear them and raise your voice to have theirs heard if they have something they want to say.
Remember that disability rights are civil rights and are worth fighting for—they’re one of the key beliefs of feminism. Fight unfair treatment when you see it and always try to educate yourself on how you can be a better activist.