Tips for Parents
When Meeting Someone with a Disability or Special Need
Your student will be interacting with a variety of folks during his time on campus, including people with disabilities and special needs. This can sometimes makes folks nervous because they worry they are going to say the wrong thing or use an incorrect term. Or, they may be anxious because they have never met someone with a particular special need. The following "dos" and "don'ts" can help increase your student's comfort level:
- Be yourself! Talk about the same things you would with anyone else.
- Remember that people with disabilities are people first.
- Acquaint yourself with the basics of common disabilities.
- Ask if the person needs help, if you think that may be the case, before assuming so. Some people with disabilities like to do things for themselves while others appreciate the kind gesture of offering assistance. Your offer of help may be accepted or rejected. When accepted, be sure to ask what type of help is needed. When rejected, try not to take it personally.
- Be considerate with your questions. Don't let your curiosity get the best of you. Respect the person's privacy. If she wants to share information with you, it'll happen.
- Be patient. Some disabilities make people walk, talk or think at a different pace.
- Keep in mind the level of accessibility available at events you are helping to organize. Some things to consider are the level of distractions and background noises in an area; the availability of an interpreter or closed captioning; and physical obstacles such as the width of doorways, height of counters, and presence of curbs or stairs.
- Make assumptions or pass judgments about a person's capabilities or interests.
- Stare at a person who has a disability with which you are unfamiliar.
- Assume that all people with a similar disability have the same limitations. Disabilities are broad in scope and may impact folks differently, depending on their age, personality, experience and comfort level, as well as the environment in which they are operating.
- Be overprotective, oversolicitous or oversensitive. Offering pity or charity to someone simply because he has a disability is disrespectful and patronizing, no matter what the intention. People with disabilities may not be able to do everything you can do (sometimes they can do it better!), but that doesn't mean they are less than, inferior to or more unfortunate than you.
- Share information about a person's disability if it was told to you in confidence. When the person is comfortable sharing with others, she will do so. It is not your place to discuss someone's disability with others, no matter how visible or invisible the disability may be.
People First Language
People First Language focuses on the ability rather than the disability and on people instead of conditions. For instance:
- Instead of "the blind," refer to "people who have visual impairments." This emphasizes the importance of the person involved rather than equating him with his condition.
- Instead of saying someone is "wheelchair bound," refer to her as a "person who uses a wheelchair." This demonstrates that the wheelchair is not a confining device but a helpful apparatus being used by a capable human being.
- Referring to someone with a disability as a "sufferer" or a "victim" tends to impose value judgments that are often untrue. These terms can be disempowering to a person with a disability who doesn't want to be considered helpless and at the mercy of uncontrollable forces. People First Language is intended to do just that — put the people involved at the forefront rather than focusing on their disabilities.
Source: Journal of College and University Student Housing, Volume 24, Number 1, Summer 1994
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