Friday, November 1, 2013

DO's and DON'Ts for Able-Bodied People

If you are able-bodied and you come across a disabled person (particularly in public), here's a handy list of how (and how NOT) to act. Each one of these is something that I personally or friends of mine have experienced from total strangers.

1. DO NOT ask to "try out" or "play with" my assistive device and do not get angry or upset if you do ask and I say no. This includes walkers, wheelchairs, service dogs, braces, canes, crutches, glasses, and anything else that I may be using to help me. They are not toys, they are expensive to replace, and it's incredibly rude and demeaning. I actually need this to function.

2. DO NOT pet, approach, or talk to my service dog. He is working. If you distract him from doing his job, I could get seriously injured.

3. DO NOT ask what my assistive device or service animal does for me. It's incredibly rude and none of your business.

4. DO NOT ask me "what's wrong with you?" It's incredibly rude and none of your business, and the answer is always going to be, "There's nothing wrong with me. What's wrong with YOU?"

5. DO NOT walk through an automatic handicapped door when I have just pressed the button to open it. It only stays open for just so long, and I need to get myself and my assistive device through it before it closes. You can either wait until I go through or use a non-automatic door to enter/exit the building.

6. DO NOT walk right on top of me. This applies ALL the time, but especially on ramps. Going up a ramp with an assistive device can be difficult and takes more effort than going down it unless I am in a motorized wheelchair. Going down the ramp, I have to hold the brakes on my walker or grip the wheels of my manual wheelchair tightly to make sure I don't go flying down and injure myself. If you are walking right behind me and forcing me to go faster than is comfortable and safe for me, it not only makes me nervous but could lead to me getting hurt. Use the steps or wait until I have cleared the ramp to use it. I NEED the ramp; you do not.

7. DO NOT push past me to get in an elevator. The elevator is not going to leave without you if you allow me to get on it before you. However, there is a good chance that if I am prevented from getting on the elevator until the last minute, that the doors will close on me and/or my assistive device and can, again, cause me to get injured or even break my assistive device or hurt my service dog.

8. DO NOT stare at me. I am not a sideshow attraction and I am positive this is not the first time you have seen someone using an assistive device or with a service dog. Either way I am not here to entertain you. I'm sure you don't like to be stared at, so don't do it to other people.

9. DO hold the door! You should do this with able-bodied people as well; it's just the polite thing to do.

10. DO offer to help if you see me struggling to get my assistive device into a car or through a doorway.

11. DO NOT get angry if your help is (politely) refused. It's appreciated that you offered, but I may not need your help.

12. DO treat me with respect. I am a human being and I have feelings.

13. DO NOT tell me what you think will cure/help/"fix" me. If it's a legitimate treatment for an ailment of mine I have probably already tried it. My doctor knows how to help me better than you do.

14. DO NOT tell me stories about your aunt/third cousin/penpal who had "something similar" and just "pushed through it" without whatever assistive device I am using. They probably didn't REALLY have what I do and even if they did it doesn't mean they were in the same condition medically that I am. What you are really saying is, "I just don't think you're trying hard enough. You must like being disabled."

15. DO NOT be insulted if I don't wish to discuss my medical history with you. It's incredibly rude and none of your business. I have things to do and am not required to take time out of my day to discuss my personal issues with you.

That's my list! What dos or don'ts would YOU add to this list?

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