March is Disability Awareness Month. This is the 29th year of celebrating Disability Awareness Month. In Indiana, this event is led by the Indiana Governor's Council for People with Disabilities (GCPD). Adults and children with disabilities represent more than 19% of Indiana's population. The goal of Disability Awareness Month is to promote the independence, integration, and inclusion of all people with disabilities.
The 2019 campaign theme is "Be Cool. We Are." This theme is about being comfortable with who you are and making the conscious decision to accept and be yourself. Acting different around someone who has a disability is not cool, as the GCPD says. As a society, we are teeming with different races, cultures, personalities, and lifestyles. Treating others the way you want to be treated will go a long way in removing discrimination and stigma. This is especially true when interacting with friends, co-workers, and other Hoosiers who have disabilities.
For people with disabilities, inaccurate perceptions and negative attitudes can be some of the greatest barriers to overcome. When we use hurtful words in conversation, online, or in the media, we feed the stigma surrounding disabilities. Fight the stigma by showing respect to everyone with a disability. Although having a disability is a significant part of some people’s lives, it isn’t the most significant part of their identity. We need to value the person, not focus on their disability.
Here are ten ways from the GCPD you can show more respect to people with disabilities:
Relax. It's okay to ask questions and don’t be embarrassed if you use common phrases, such as “See you later” or “Did you hear about that?”, that seem to relate to a person’s disability.
Offer to shake hands. People with limited hand use or who wear an artificial limb usually can shake hands.
When meeting a person who is blind, always identify yourself and others who may be with you. When talking in a group, try to remember to identify the person to whom you are speaking.
When talking with a person with a disability, use eye contact and speak directly to that person rather than through a companion or sign language interpreter.
If you offer to help, wait until the offer is accepted. Then, listen or ask for instructions.
Treat adults as adults. Address people who have disabilities by their first names only when extending the same familiarity to all others. Never patronize people who use wheelchairs by patting them on the head or shoulder.
Wheelchairs and other assistive devices are part of the personal body space of the people who use them. Leaning on a person’s wheelchair is similar to leaning on a person and is generally considered inappropriate.
Listen attentively when you’re talking with a person who has difficulty speaking. Be patient and wait for the person to finish, rather than correcting or speaking for the person. If necessary, ask short questions that require short answers, a nod or shake of the head.
When speaking with a person who uses a wheelchair, try to place yourself at eye level in front of the person to facilitate the conversation.
To get the attention of a person who is Deaf, tap the person on the shoulder or wave your hand. Look directly at the person and speak clearly and slowly to determine if the person can read your lips.
By following these tips and remembering to be respectful, you can help raise awareness for people with disabilities and remove the stigma they face.