It’d be a real shame to let a little thing like awkwardness get in the way of new friendships.
We know it’s not always easy to chat to someone new and that when it comes to disability, people tend to feel a little apprehensive, usually because they don’t want to say the wrong thing and accidentally offend anyone.
The term ‘disability’ encompasses a wide range of illnesses, conditions, physical impairments and disorders, many of which are not visible to the naked eye.It’s actually highly unlikely that you’ll even be able to recognise a disability in another person. But to help you be cool, calm and collected in any social situation, we’ve made a list of five common and cringe-worthy reactions people have when meeting someone with a disability and simple tips to tone down the awkward.
1. The avoider
You know those really, unbelievably interesting spots in the clouds? Neither do we. Instead of taking an interest in the lighting fixtures when you see someone with a disability, why not smile as you walk past and say hello? You might feel hesitant about striking up a conversation with someone who has a disability, maybe you think you’ll say something unintentionally offensive, but don’t let awkwardness get in the way of meeting some truly awesome people around campus! It’s important to remember that people living with disabilities are just that: people, like you and I, who happen to be living with a disability.
Act towards them in the way you would want others to approach you.
2. The investigator
It’s great that you want to learn and understand your new friend’s disability, but quizzing them about how they get dressed and go to the toilet is uncool. Get to know them as a person first and let them talk to you about their disability if and when they want to. It’s also important to understand what is and is not appropriate to ask.
And NEVER suggest that a person is faking, exaggerating or inventing a disability... #RUDE
3. The space invader
While you might mean well, there’s really no need to get up in the grill of someone with a hearing disability and use your outside voice. Always start by using a normal, friendly tone of voice and make sure you’re facing them when you’re speaking. Adjust your communication style as you go and, if need be, use pen and paper to get your message across.
There’s no need to be awkward, all it takes is a little time to figure out what will work and you’ll be off and running with a great conversation.
4. The assumer
But don’t people with tourettes swear all the time? Many people mistakenly assume that all people with the same disability will present in the same way. Television and the media play a big part in shaping people’s assumptions about disability and it’s easy to stereotype. But it’s important to understand that disabilities present differently in each and every person they affect. Regardless of the type of disability, it’s important not to make assumptions about how a person should behave or what their symptoms should be.
No two people are the same, even if they happen to have the same disability.
5. The over-helper
Wondering how on earth that guy in the wheelchair will ever make it into his car without your help? We really hate to break it to you, but chances are he manages just fine whenever you’re not around. Try not to assume that people with disabilities always need help. There’s nothing wrong with asking someone if they need a hand, but never take hold of a person’s wheelchair, body or mobility aide without asking first.
People with disabilities have personal space bubbles too!
These are just a few of the many tips and tricks that can help you end the awkwardness when it comes to socialising on-campus. If in doubt, the easiest approach to take is always to treat others the way you’d like to be treated.
- Are you a student with a disability who’s had some awkward encounters you’d like to share?
- Want to set the record straight about disability etiquette?
- We’d love to hear from you!