By : Andrew Pulrang, Forbes
April is Autism Acceptance Month. It’s a good time to rethink not only how non-autistic or “neurotypical” people can best support autistic people –– but also how non-disabled people in general can do better in supporting people with any kind of mental, developmental, or physical disability. There’s no shortage of good intentions. Most people if asked would say that they at least want to do right by people with disabilities. But being a good disability ally requires more than goodwill.
The disabled community is well past the point of being satisfied with simple recognition or mere shows of support, as we might have been 30 years ago. We’re not even looking for advocacy, if it means non-disabled people speaking for us, defending their perception of our rights without our full participation or consent. It’s always important to do the right thing when you can, and to be counted on the side of disabled people and our needs. But it’s even more important to discover and center disabled people’s concerns, priorities, and preferences, even if you don’t always understand or agree with them. We need allies fighting with us, not just advocates fighting for us. Fortunately, we seem to be gaining more genuine allies every year. That’s worth celebrating.
Still, as more people learn about disability issues, it’s important to be alert for ways that disability allies can lose their way. The following are three of the most common ways that even the best, most committed disability allies can go wrong.
1. Listening to disability awareness seminars instead of disabled people.
Articles and training on disability issues and etiquette are certainly valuable. They can be especially useful for people just starting to learn disability issues. Formal training can teach the basics of how to behave towards disabled people in social situations. You can learn a bit about how everyday accessibility problems affect disabled people. And you can start to get some rough guidelines on common questions, like whether or not to ask disabled people about their disabilities, or what terminology to use and what to avoid.
But disability awareness seminars and webinars are no substitute for listening to actual disabled people. Our individual views and preferences don’t always match the standardized rules of “disability awareness.” Some of us want to be left alone; others crave interaction. Some of us invite questions and are happy to explain our experiences. Others of us feel besieged with people’s curiosity and want to choose when and how we will “educate” people about disability. Practical accessibility affects each disabled person differently too. Some of us are more bothered and confrontational about it than others. And we have different opinions on disability terms. Some, like the “R-word” for intellectual disability, are clearly off-limits. Others, like whether to say “person with a disability” or “disabled person,” are still open to debate and personal taste. Rules and philosophies learned in advance can help, but they will only get you so far.
The worst thing you can do is lecture disabled people you meet in real life on how we should process our own experiences. Yet, this happens, a lot. It’s entirely possible, even common, to meet disabled people whose views on disability are different from what you’ve been taught. Regardless, never tell or imply to a disabled person that you understand disability issues better than they do – even if you have reason to believe that might really be true. If you find yourself thinking that a disabled person’s views on disability issues are wrongheaded or uninformed, and that it’s your job to enlighten them – stop yourself. Think about it carefully, and proceed only with great caution. Or, leave it alone, and respect the opinions and choices of the disabled person you are talking to.
Read the full article at Forbes.com