Encountering someone with a disability may be quite hard for some people. They become anxious about what they say, how they behave, or what they do. On the other hand, other people can be extremely ignorant and insensitive – and that’s sadly inevitable. Strangers might start approaching an amputee and ask “what happened to your leg?” without considering what the person might feel about the question. Others might step far out the boundary and ask even crazier questions. As a result, these seemingly “innocent” and “harmless” questions become offensive, even if it’s not.
Hence, it is extremely important to know which words to say and what NOT to say to a disabled person. And keep this in mind before you read on: disability is just a part of that person’s identity and not the entire identity. So the next time you’ll meet a person with a disability, you’ll be able to keep a relaxed and comfortable atmosphere!
So, without further ado, let’s start with number one:
1. You’re Brave
While it’s a very great compliment to hear, it’s not necessarily appropriate to say to a disabled person. There’s nothing ‘heroic’ about being disabled, and a person does not become an inspiration just by simply having a disability. Praise them for their achievements in life. But telling them they’re ‘brave’ for simply shopping, eating, or doing chores on their own isn’t really necessary. They’re just like everybody else trying to get on with life, you know.
Let me end it with a quote from Anne Strike: ““You must be so brave.” I find this phrase very patronizing. Don’t say this to me unless I have wrestled a tiger or a crocodile or done something extraordinary like fly to the moon and back. I don’t see how I can be inspiring by getting on with life.“
2. If I was like you, I don’t think I could carry on with this life.
It’s a euphemism for “your life isn’t worth living”. Never tell this to a disabled person because it’s not flattering, it’s an insult. This gives the PWD an idea that their life seems too hard and too challenging to take on. Sure, it may not be as easy as yours, but their lives aren’t always about the hardships and battles – it’s got sunny days and butterflies, too.
3. You’re too young/pretty/intelligent to be disabled.
Stop associating disability with ‘ugliness’. It’s a common stigma where people believe disability denotes unpleasantry – which is false. Having a disability shouldn’t dictate a person’s value and beauty. PWD’s can still be fabulously stunning despite having disabilities and saying “You are so pretty but you are in a wheelchair” is just so belittling.
4. The only disability in life is a bad attitude.
This is very rude because it’s as if you’re accusing a disabled person that they have a bad attitude when they can’t control the fact that they’re disabled. Some PWDs may complain a lot, but that’s because they’re probably inconvenienced and dissatisfied with something. You can’t just expect a wheelchair-user to smile and be thankful for the staircase that doesn’t have a ramp. Treat them like normal people, alright, but never disregard the fact that they have special needs.
5. You are reaping your past life deeds.
It’s oversimplifying a largely complex subject and totally misleading. Look, just because you’re normal, doesn’t mean you’re completely innocent in your past life (if there is such a thing). I understand we all have different beliefs and culture, but this is just outlandish and stupid. Unless you’re actually the appointed one who records people’s good and bad deeds (Santa?).
6. My friend/family member/work colleague is disabled so I totally understand.
No, you don’t. Disability comes in different forms, and simply having an experience with a particular condition doesn’t mean you already know all about the other disabilities. Different factors may play in this situation as well, such as socioeconomic status, the individual’s attitude, and so forth. Not every disabled person has the same perspective in their conditions – they may be optimistic, others are not. Others have their illnesses more severe, others do not. It’s important to know that each disability is unique and the only people who truly understand what it’s like being disabled are disabled people themselves.
7. I don’t see you as disabled, I see you as a person.
Again, good intentions, but looking deeper into it, it may not be as harmless as you think. By saying such a thing, does that mean being disabled does not make someone a person? They can always be disabled and a person at the same time, right?
8. Let me help you with that!
At this point, you might think this list is just being ridiculous now. I admit, this is totally fine to say to a disabled person. Just don’t always assume that they need help unless they asked for it or if they’re obviously struggling. Because sometimes, it can be quite frustrating on the PWD’s part to not be able to do things on their own without other people’s help. It can decrease their self-esteem. Trust me, disabled people adapt to meet their needs and they’re as strong and independent as able-bodied people are!
9. I’m so sorry you’re disabled
Don’t be! It’s not something to be sorry about because just like what I have mentioned earlier, we should stop associating disability with something unpleasant. Especially if the disabled person is already very open about his/her disability, then that means they’ve already accepted who they are and there’s no need to feel remorseful about it!
10. At least it’s not (insert a deadlier condition)
Don’t discredit someone’s disability just because it’s not as serious as the other ones. People vary from strengths and weaknesses and should never be compared with others with disabilities. Don’t assume as if a wheelchair-user isn’t going through a hard time especially if you haven’t walked a mile on their shoes!
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