There is sometimes an awkward gap in the social interaction between able-bodied and disabled people. This gap may be caused by many different emotional and psychological factors. Some able-bodied people have difficulty facing a disabled person because it puts a clear reminder in their face that they could become disabled one day. This is a fact most of us would rather not face. Other able-bodied people fear that the disabled person may somehow be contagious and a risk to their health. Still, others dread doing or saying “the wrong thing” and creating hurt feelings. They fear they will be perceived as insensitive or, worse yet, somehow prejudiced against disabled persons. There are also other intricate emotional and psychological factors that can make an able-bodied person feel uncomfortable around a disabled individual such as past experiences that are best left to professional therapists.
On the other hand, some disabled people have great difficulty accepting their plight, especially the newly disabled. They may be riddled with fear, anger, frustration and an array of other negative emotions that manifest huge chips upon their shoulders. They may blame, resent, envy or have other issues with the able-bodied people they encounter. The attitude accompanying this frame of mind can be frightening to an able-bodied person. Sometimes, a disabled person’s pride can also make him or her adamant against accepting help from others.
Luckily, there are solutions to these sensitive issues. Unfortunately, people hesitate to discuss them openly for fear of creating hurt feelings. So, let’s take a look at some of the possible solutions now with open minds attuned to the fact that this article has no intention of insulting anyone. Rather, it strives to be a small girder in the expansive bridge needed to span the gap between able-bodied and disabled people.
Suggestions for Able-Bodied People
Do not fall prey to the accusatory frame of mind that disabled people are somehow faking and seeking sympathy, money and freebies. Though, this happens in some cases, it is the minority. Many people are truly disabled, cannot work, and must receive social services. Some are able to work on a limited basis but the United States Government makes it financially impossible for them to live. So, if you want to blame someone for wasting taxpayer dollars blame the politicians. The negative outlook that disabled people are faking is detrimental to narrowing the gap between able-bodied and disabled persons.
Do not shy away from or shun disabled people because you feel uncomfortable. Do not hesitate to look them in the eye, shake their hands and so forth. If you retreat you will give them the impression that you think they are somehow less than you, or that you fear you may “catch” something from them and they will be highly insulted. Be as direct with a disabled person as you would be with anyone else. If you have difficulty doing this, practice. If you lack social contact with disabled people in your life, make an effort to intentionally associate with one. Find one in your workplace, neighborhood, or whatever venues you frequent. Volunteer your services at a rehabilitation, veterans, or disabled center. We must face our fears to overcome them. If you do not, then you must ask yourself, “Whose fault is it that I have such difficulty dealing with the disabled?”
Do not ask disabled people personal questions. Just because their disability may be obvious does not give you the right to ask about it. In polite society, we do not ask people about their incomes, sex lives, and so forth. A disability may be just as personal to the person living with it as these issues, if not more. I once heard an able-bodied woman in a crowded place loudly ask a disabled woman, “Ew! What’s wrong with you?” This type of behavior is atrocious. Luckily, it was a confident disabled woman who replied, “Not as much as what is wrong with you for asking.”
Do not go overboard trying to do too much for a disabled person. A fuss or hoopla, no matter how well-intended, can be attention-causing and belittling. If the person should ask you for a hand, fine. Otherwise, do not take it upon yourself to “push” your help.
Do not over compliment a disabled person. It comes off as very insincere. Disabled people, just like able-bodied people, know the extent of their attributes. They also know when smoke is being blown up their asses.
Do not shower disabled people with sympathy. Avoid such phrases as, “Oh, you poor thing.” Overt displays of sympathy can be embarrassing and belittling.
Never assume or behave as though a disabled person is totally unable and incapable of doing everything. For instance, do not speak slowly to physically disabled persons as though they have a mental impairment which prevents them from understanding. Do not overlook them and fail to invite them to social functions assuming they cannot attend. Do not assume anything more about them than you would about anyone else.
Do treat disabled people the same way you treat everyone else. Do treat them the way you hope to be treated. Have consideration for their moods as you would anyone else. Joke around with them if they are receptive. If they make a mistake or upset you in some way, tell them outright, honestly and openly. They will appreciate your candor and respect you for not treating them as though they are “different.”
Suggestions for Disabled People
Handle yourself and your dilemma well. If you have a chip on your shoulder, get the help you need to chip away at it until it is gone.
Do not blame able-bodied people for your circumstances. Your disability is not their fault, so do not take it out on them.
Do not allow yourself to be overly sensitive. Every time someone is rude or grumpy do not jump to the conclusion that is has something to do with your disability. Perhaps, they are just having a bad day? Perhaps they are rude to everyone? Try to be fair and open-minded and give people the benefit of the doubt.
Do your best to put able-bodied people at ease. Smile, joke, and express yourself in ways that allow them to see that you are so much more than your obvious disability.
Remember that there is really only one way for an able-bodied person to truly know how you feel. God forbid! If you have a shred of decency in you, you would never want that.
Together, if we only put in the effort, we can construct a bridge of tolerance and understanding that will span the gap between the able-bodied and disabled and extend unity throughout the world.