The World Bank estimates that close to 15% of the world’s population suffers a disability of some kind either physical, intellectual or mental. It, therefore, comes as a surprise when disabled people are treated as a minority group when it is quite evident that their numbers are quite significant. Disabilities often come in many shapes and sizes. There are invisible disabilities and visible disabilities.
As the name suggests, visible disabilities refer to the kind of disability that is apparent and easily seen by the naked eye. You might notice an unusual facial expression, body movement or other physical indications that point to a disability such as an amputation. Conditions that are referred to as visible disabilities include; Autism, Down Syndrome, cerebral palsy, and paralysis.
Invisible disabilities, on the other hand, are conditions that are not immediately apparent, these are the kind that you only come to know about if you spend a considerable amount of time with the person of if they disclose their disabilities to you. These conditions affect the way the individual thinks, hears, speaks or interacts with others. It can be challenging to know when someone has an invisible disability. They include; bipolar disorder, depression, OCD, and anxiety.
With all this in mind, there is certainly a need for society to embrace people with disabilities, understand them and accommodate their needs to ensure that they feel included. A small percentage of our society is aware of this need and in the spirit of inclusion, they do everything within their means to be allies to the PWDs. The other percentage, which is, unfortunately, bigger, is totally oblivious. Insensitivity towards pwds is a common trend and I am here to tell you about the five things that you should avoid saying to a disabled person.
- Your disability does not define you
We live in a society that views any disability as the worst thing that could ever happen to a person. PWDs are seen as the saddest and most broken people and therefore, in need of constant motivation and uplifting. Being told not to let your disability define you is a common phrase that is used to “encourage” PWDs. How is something so life-changing not supposed to define you? The experience can teach you so many things; to be strong, resilient, confident, adaptive…telling a pwd not to be defined by their disability is telling them to act like they don’t have a disability, which is counterproductive.
- Don’t call yourself disabled
Being a PWD myself, I have taken an active role in voicing the issues of my community. I have encountered lots of able people who have taken offence in me referring to myself as a disabled person. I find it humourous because they go to the extent of getting angry. They say that by doing so, I appear to have lost hope. To me, disabled is not a bad word, it’s a word I like to use when talking about myself because when I use it, I feel like am a part of a huge community of strong individuals. I take a lot of pride being a part of the club and I will not allow anyone to dictate how I chose to identify as.
- You are so inspirational for even getting out of bed
Going back to my earlier point of disabled people being treated like we are the most disadvantaged people in the world, we are undermined, and expectations are often lowered when it comes to PWDs. Ordinary things shouldn’t be labelled as inspirational because we slowly begin to believe that we don’t have to do more. If ordinary is inspirational, why would we strive to do anything more? What we need is to be challenged to get out of our comfort zones so that we can get the necessary strength to overcome the barriers that stand before us.
- You are so lucky you can skip lines and get free parking spaces
If asked, we would all want to live in a world that is equal and fair to all. But equality is determined by a lot of variables. Different people have different needs, there is no universal solution to equality. It has to be tailored to fit in with everybody. Having free parking spaces is prescribed for in the law, to suggest that it is a form of favouritism is to be ignorant of the true realities.
- Try walking, you can do anything you set your mind to
Personally, this has been said to me more times than I can count. Like most of the insensitive comments, it can be attributed to a lack of information. Most people don’t have any interest in learning or understanding the disability that you have. We are all put in the same basket, someone will tell you that they once saw a man on a wheelchair get up one day and walk. They will insist that if that person could do it, you can do it also, “Just believe you can!”. But you can’t alter biology, if you broke your arm today, telling you to believe that it will get healed in two days would be misleading. How then, can you tell a bipolar person to believe that they will be okay if they have zero control over their own thoughts.