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Things People With Visible or Invisible Disabilities Want You to Know

There are some very important things people with visible or invisible disabilities want you to know. This is a list of “don’ts”. These 21 items should get you off on the right foot, or at least help you know more about which one’s the wrong foot. Manners are important. How we conduct ourselves reflects what kind of person we choose to be. Kindness is critical. We all live on this planet together!

  1. Please be polite. We want to be treated like anyone else. Please don’t draw attention to what makes us different — and understand that we may have invisible disabilities. Maybe instead focus on what makes us all similar.
  2. Don’t rule me out. Please don’t overlook me as a friend or date because I have a medical assistance device or dog with me. I may want to go have coffee with you if you ask nicely, or possibly even dinner. Who knows? I’m a person too!
  3. Nope, no secret club. Having a disability doesn’t mean that we’re in a secret club. There are no secrets, we just might not wish to share information about our medical situation or needs. Please don’t ask us questions that you wouldn’t want to answer yourself.
  4. Having a disability is not the best thing ever. While it’s admirable of you to try to cheer us up, there are no “Pep Talks” needed. It’s just how we are, and we have to live with it daily. It’s a challenge, and it’s hard sometimes. It’s not something wished upon anyone else. It just is.
  5. This is not a contest. Please don’t try to compare two people’s disabilities, or life experiences. Everyone’s struggle is different. It’s apples and oranges, even if both people have the same disabilities exactly. Instead, understand that everyone is different and no one really knows everything about anyone else.
  6. Please don’t talk about us behind our back. We’re people with feelings, and we heard or saw that. Remember Mom’s words, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” Sometimes just don’t say anything anyway.
  7. I am not a medical doctor. Please don’t ask me if I think you need a Service Dog, or even how to get one. I am the only expert on me, just like you’re the only expert on you. Googling programs for Service Dogs, and getting in contact with them is probably your best bet.
  8. Don’t walk up to anyone and ask, “What’s wrong with you?”. You may not like the answer. It is also not acceptable to ask how we do things, the more personal, the less acceptable.
  9. Please do not ask me how you can get a Service Dog. Asking diminishes my disability. If you are disabled and feel you could benefit from a Service Dog, it’s important to understand that Training a Service Dog can be a valuable and rewarding experience, but it is not easy. We also recommend you look into USSDR’s voluntary training and behavior standards.
  10. Medical Equipment is very expensive. Please don’t risk doing damage to mine with your actions. Please think first about how what you do can impact my life safety.
  11. Please don’t touch me. I may be low vision and you’re trying to guide me, don’t do it unless I ask you to. I may be Autistic or have PTSD. From Startle Reflexes to personal boundaries, it’s not a great idea.
  12. Please don’t stare at us. We don’t appreciate the look of pity in your eyes when you notice that we’re missing a limb. Same goes if we are struggling that day with another disability.
  13. Do not misuse ADA Parking Spaces (AKA: The blue spaces) or the lined off portion of the parking lot next to them. The spaces are for permit only parking for Handicapped people and the lined off spaces are there so that they can exit and enter their vehicles safely (and in some cases without damaging your car in the process).

    According to the 2002 US Census, 96 percent of Americans have an invisible disability. That means we look just like everyone else.

  14. Don’t assume that I need your help. I will ask if I need assistance. An example would be someone assuming I have low vision because I am in a store with my service dog and happened to forget to take off my sunglasses. It’s a simple error.
  15. We don’t like to be treated like public property. (For the record, pregnant women hate it too) Please think of our personal space, and privacy when you are deciding how to interact with us. Try simply saying, “Hi”.
  16. Don’t test our skills at mitigating our disabilities. Please be kind. Throwing a piece of food on the floor and telling my dog it’s ok to eat it is not acceptable behavior for anyone, much less an educated adult. It challenges my relationship with my dog. It can ruin years of training, or even endanger my life. I rely on my dog’s focus on me to survive.
  17. Don’t yell or “baby talk” at me because you think I might be hard of hearing. I may or may not be able to hear you, but please don’t draw attention to me by yelling at me. If I read lips, please don’t exaggerate what your mouth should be doing while you talk, just talk. It makes my job easier to have you speak normally. Further, if you suspect that I’m deaf, please make sure that I can see your face when you speak to me, also, don’t cover your mouth.
  18. As John Q. Public, please don’t single us out. We know that when we’ve got visible disabilities we stand out. We try very hard not to, so walking up to us while we’re out with friends, family or worse, on a blind date, and asking lots of questions doesn’t help us, no matter how curious you might be about us and our way of life. Likewise, If you are afraid of dogs, please don’t run screaming, or worse, be mean to me because my dog makes you uneasy. You’re scaring my dog.
  19. We also know that you can’t see all of our disabilities, so again, be kind. Autism isn’t always visible. PTSD is an invisible disability. A person with chronic pain, or a chronic ailment can need days to rest sometimes. Even those with hearing impairments can appear just like anyone else. We can “Run out of Spoons” and then get called names when we have to go home and rest. Being called “lazy” and “flaky” are two great examples. If someone with a visible disability needed a day, that would be acceptable. “Don’t judge a book by it’s cover”.
  20. Please ignore my medical equipment, be it my wheelchair, Service Dog, oxygen tank or whatever. These items or dog are here for a purpose. I need my equipment. They are my lifeline. It’s best to pretend that they’re invisible, within reason, if you would like to interact with me.
  21. Please don’t make up ASL hand signs. It’s an actual language that you can study in college and get foreign language credit for. If you want to learn it, please take an American Sign Language course. It’s also very insulting to make up signs, and if that’s not enough, you would look pretty silly making odd unintelligible gestures.

I may or may not “Look Disabled”, but that’s not the point. The key is to try to be kind, and to be respectful when asking questions of people you don’t know. Those of us with disabilities are just like you; people, with feelings. We also understand that you have feelings too, and lots of questions. Most of us are happy to answer RESPECTFUL questions, but there are days when we’re struggling more than usual, or we just want to get the ice cream from the freezer at the store all the way home to our freezer before it melts. Sometimes that’s tough for everyone, people without disabilities too, so give us a break. Please try to see past our disabilities and get to know us for the amazing people that we are. We’re all in this together.

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