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5 Do’s and Don’ts When Talking to a Person with a Disability

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at St Edward's chapter.

People with special needs are just like you and I, but society tends to treat them otherwise. Here are 5 things not to do when it comes to hanging out with someone with a disability!  

  1. Do not call a person with a disability a “special needs person,” a “disabled person,” or by their disability i.e “that Downs kid.” People with disabilities are not their disability, they are a PERSON. They are a person that happens to have a special need(s). Their disability does not define who they are by any means, so please when referring to a person with a disability remember that first and foremost- they are a person.  
  2. Treating them as a child. Do not tell a person with a disability how “cute” or “precious” they are. Yes, that is appropriate when they are a child, but as a teen and adult not so much. As a fully functioning 21 year old, I hate when my peers use those terms to describe me, so what makes a teen or adult with a disability any different? Also, their disability is not “cute”. Secondly, treat the teen or adult with respect and how you would treat any other teen or adult their age. They want to be treated just like everyone else! How would you feel to be in your twenties and your peers talking down to you as if you were 10 years old?
  3. Never assume. Never assume their cognative level or their abilities. This is beyond unfair to a person with disabilities. Get to know the person first! If you have questions, ask their parent or caretaker as to what their disabilities and abilities are. If the person with disabilities is able to communicate with you, ask them what the can do and what they may need help with! This comes into play with helping to. Before you help a person with disabilities, ask them if they need help or wait until they ask you for help. People with disabilities are just like us, they want to be independent too! Never underestimate a person just because they have special needs!  
  4. Speak to them as if you were speaking to another one of your friends. This goes back to treating people with disabilities as children. Do not talk to a person with a disability any differently than how you would speak to someone who is their age, but fully functioning. Also, do not just automatically speak loudly. Just because a person has a disability, does not mean they are hard of hearing as well. If they do need assistance with hearing or understanding your speech they will let you know! Thirdly, do not speak slowly. Speak at your normal speed! If they need you to slow down, they will tell you. By speaking slower, you are assuming their cognitive level and hearing abilities. Like I said, never assume!
  5. Do not compare them to your other friends and/or relatives with disabilities. Every disability is different and every person with a disability is different. Like fully functioning people, every person with a disability is an individual. Every disability treats every person a different way, so get to know the person and learn about their disability and how it affects them!

Expand and diversify your friend group! Befriend someone with a disability! Learn about the special needs community! Get involved with your local Best Buddies chapter, Special Olympics chapter, local Easter Seals, or special needs program at school! You will meet some pretty amazing people and you will make lifelong bonds and friendships! 

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Elizabeth Gonzales

St Edward's '18

John Mayer lover, coffee enthusiast, and avid concert goer. Best Buddies and Young Life   Ecclesiastes 3:11  
Hannah Saada

St Edward's '18

Hannah is passionate about gender equity and is a Marketing major at St. Edward's University. She's currently the President for HC at her university. Friends can attest she's a serious Netflix addict and 80s movies are close to her heart. When she's not binge watching a new show, you'll either catch her reading or laughing at terrible puns. [S]he's a righteous dude. Follow Hannah on Instagram at @han_saada