Whoops! You were just trying help a person in the wheelchair. Now he’s frowning at you. What gives? You were just trying to be nice, right?
Well, if that’s the #StoryOfYourLife, you should check out this list of 10 times you were accidentally rude to a person with a disability.
1. When you spoke to the interpreter instead of the person they’re interpreting for
That would be like having a conversation with someone in front of you, but they are staring at the space next to you. It’s a little weird, right? Remember that you’re having the conversation with the deaf person, and not their interpreter. Talk to them as you would with anyone, by facing them, and making appropriate eye contact. Interpreters don’t feel offended if you do not engage them during the conversation, though of course you might want to say hi at the beginning, and thank them at the end of the chat!
2. When you hung your packet of kopi-c on the handlebar of your friend’s wheelchair
Major faux pas! A wheelchair is an extension of a person’s space – just like you’d feel a little offended if someone hooks their bag of groceries on your backpack without asking. Always check with the person before touching, leaning on or putting anything on their wheelchair.
3. When, without asking, you pushed the lady in the wheelchair up the ramp and through the doors
Woah, woah, woah. This is almost the equivalent of you suddenly getting shoved through the door – I mean, you’re perfectly capable of getting through yourself, aren’t you? Most people in wheelchairs are pretty independent and have already learnt how to move around in public spaces. Always ask if they need help before actually putting your hands on the wheelchair.
4. When you constantly finish the sentence for someone with speech impairment
Okay, you might think that suggesting the words you think someone is trying to say, will make it easier for them. But consider that this might make them feel frustrated from being unable to express their thoughts fully. Also, it’s just plain rude! Imagine yourself being constantly interrupted with guesses on what you were going to say. When conversing with a person with a speech impairment, exercise patience – let them to finish their sentences on their own. If you don’t understand what was said, don’t pretend that you do. Repeat back to the person as much as you do understand, to try and clarify the message. If you’re still unclear after several tries, ask the person if it is okay to write it down on paper or type the message out on a phone.
5. When you had a deep 20-minute conversation with a person in a wheelchair… while you’re standing up
Um, neck cramps! It’s great when you’re going past small talk with the individual, but just be mindful of the height difference between a person who is standing and a person who is sitting. If you’re going to speak for more than a few minutes, come down to the eye level of the person you’re speaking to. Grab a chair, maybe?
6. When you grabbed the blind person’s arm to help them across the road
Firstly, being grabbed with no warning is really startling – also, maybe they didn’t need help crossing the road? Many pedestrian crossings now emit beeping sounds that help a visually-impaired person know when it’s time to cross. If necessary though, stand beside them and tap them lightly on the arm or shoulder first and then tell them that the lights have changed. Ask if they want you to lead them across the road, then hold out your arm for them to hold on to (instead of holding their arm).
7. When you used baby talk with an adult who has learning or cognitive disabilities
You were probably trying to be encouraging but these people are aware of being talked down to, even if they are not able to provide a response that shows their displeasure. Converse with them as you would with any other adult. While people with learning or cognitive disabilities may struggle to express themselves, they can hear and understand you. Do speak slowly (but not exaggeratedly so), use simple words, and explain things in concrete examples (rather than abstract ones).
8. When you went all ninja and silently entered a room where a blind person was waiting in
It can be startling for a blind person to suddenly find out someone was in the room. Also, two words: awkward silence. If you enter a space where a blind person is, announce yourself to have entered the room as soon as you do – even if you were just going in and out. Let them know as well, when you leave – we all know how embarrassing it is to find out we’d been talking to ourselves because our friend has walked off without us knowing. If someone else is in the room, be sure to address that person by name each time you’re talking to him/her, so you don’t leave the blind person wondering if he/she is the one you’re talking to.
9. When you rattled on about your day to an adult who has learning or cognitive disabilities
People with learning or cognitive disabilities may not be able to respond appropriately to your question, or they take some time to come up with a response. When having a conversation with them, be sure to pause frequently to give them time to respond. If they don’t, there’s no need to feel awkward. Try rephrasing your question for simpler answers (for example, changing it to a yes/no question), and if you still do not get a response after giving the person some time, you may gently move on to another topic – don’t walk away abruptly assuming that the person does not understand you.
10. When your face said “AWKWARD” after your offer to help was rejected
Say you witness an executive carrying what appears to be a big, bulky bag in Raffles Place – you ask if she needs help and she tells you she’s alright. You probably wouldn’t think much of it. But if we asked a person with a disability if they needed help and they turn us down, we get a bit embarrassed. Perhaps it’s because we think we had embarrassed them by implying they needed help?
Disabilities are a part of the diversity of our society. Having a disability doesn’t make us any less of a human being, but it does mean we need help sometimes–and all of us do, at one time or other. So don’t let a visible disability stop you from offering assistance. And if someone doesn’t need your help, it’s cool! Keep chivalry alive.