When interacting with people who are disabled, the first thing to remember is to respect their person-hood and dignity. It begins with language by putting the person before the disability. For example, do not refer to "that blind person." He is Greg who is blind or Aubrey who is deaf. She is Karen who has cerebral palsy and Martin who has bipolar disorder. Do not denigrate the person by saying he "suffers from," simply state that he or she has a certain condition. Also, do not define the person by speaking of him as a victim. A man is not "wheelchair-bound," he uses a wheelchair. A woman is not "stricken with," paralysis. She uses a personal assistant. Through your speech, you and those who hear you will begin to think of the person first, not their disability.
People who are disabled require special considerations to participate in activities, so think of "accessibility." Is your activity in a place that is accessible to people who have mobility challenges? If not on the ground floor, is there an elevator? Is there a ramp to get into the building? Can people using wheelchairs easily use the restrooms and water fountains? What about seating? Is there space for wheelchairs, railings along the stairs and walls? Laws mandate that most public buildings be accessible to people who have mobility issues. But when using a private space, you will need to evaluate how accessible the space is to your program participants and guests.
People who are deaf or hard of hearing are often fluent in sign language. If presenting to a group that includes people who are deaf, arrange to have a sign language interpreter. Remember that many people who are deaf can read lips. Make sure the faces of all speakers are clearly visible to those in your audience or group who have difficulty hearing. Exercise patience when listening to people who have difficulty with speech, which includes many people who are deaf.
If a person uses a service dog, remember that the dog is on duty. Do not pet, play with, or otherwise distract this important worker unless its owner invites you to. You may, of course, comment on how cute and well-behaved the dog is. The owner does not expect a service dog to be invisible just that you respect their need for the dog to do its job without interference.
"Assistive devices" is a broad term that includes specialized equipment to help compensate for a disability. Obvious assistive devices are canes and hearing aids. Technology has come a long way in helping people with disabilities merge into mainstream society. Speech-enabled computers open the electronic world to people who are blind as well as people with mobility challenges. People who are deaf use alarms that vibrate and "doorbells" that flash bright lights instead of making noise. You can help people with disabilities by finding out where assistive devices may be available for free or for a lower cost. Government agencies often provide special equipment that allow people with disabilities to work. NGOs often supply assistive devices. Find out what a person needs, and then research how they can acquire special equipment.
Most of all, remember that a person who is disabled is first a person. Get to know the person, find out what you have in common, and work on ways you can include your friends who are disabled in activities.
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