It’s a little weird, but we never covered this in my “Family Book of Manners” course in elementary school. You would think we would have. Pretty much all I learned about this subject was learned after becoming one of the disabled myself, and therefore it’s possible that some of my thoughts might apply more to me than to the disabled people you know best; but we’ll just call this my ideas. . . .
1. Treat disabled people according to their apparent biological age, not their apparent shoe size. I know the shoe-size thing is tempting, and we might seem like that would be more accurate: We might have funny voices, we might be unable to walk (or to walk well), we might laugh too much or at weird times, and we might have a million other weird features. But we often still know how old we really are; and if you treat us too much younger than that, we’re likely to feel just a little slighted. Always remember the Golden Rule: “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” How would you feel if someone always treated you like a young child?
2. Know that it might take us a wee bit more time to eat our food. So if everyone else is finished or just about finished and we still have half or more than half of our food/drink, and if we suddenly start wolfing it down; there’s one thing we won’t want as soon as we finish. That one thing would be a sweet, charitable smile with the words, “Can I get you some more of X?” Naturally, we’ll say “no” every time. J
3. Be a little sensitive about bathroom conversations. A long time ago, I was not only totally unable to control myself. I was also literally and completely unaware of what happened in this respect. So next time you feel like reacting in any way or making any comment, please take a moment to consider how you would feel about people doing those same things toward you.
4. If someone really can’t help doing/not doing something, is it really fair to get upset with them? You tell me. The next time you are unable to achieve something or to avoid speeding/saying something/eating more than you should have, just imagine someone reacting condemningly. How that makes you feel might be similar to how we feel when we, let’s say, involuntarily laugh at the wrong time and that makes you mad.
5. Please give us an extra dose of understanding in general. We might have poor memories, we might have low inhibitions causing us to do/say things you would never do/say, we might have low mental processing speed and take a minute (or more!) to “get” stuff, etc. We might take extra time to do everything – sometimes the amount of time it takes us might really make you wonder!
6. Realize that we do know we’re not completely normal and that there are differences; so if we look like we need help, it wouldn’t hurt our feelings to have you offer. It could be that we’re doing therapy or pushing ourselves just a little bit and that therefore we’ll say no; but it could also be that we would really appreciate the offer. One time I was riding public transportation and we were at a standstill, in a traffic jam; I tried to get my book out of my walker basket, which was just beyond my reach, and the able-bodied man sitting behind me said, “Do you need something?” I told him I wanted my book, and he stood up and handed it to me; and I greatly appreciated his help!
7. Realize that although I have just told you a few ways we might be somewhat different from you, a lot of us are not that different! And we – like you – do not really enjoy having those differences highlighted. I appreciate when people treat me as more normal than I am more than I appreciate it when they treat me as less normal than I am. That said, I do understand people not having been around disabled people much and not knowing quite how to act. I used to be one of those people. So you try to understand me and I try to understand you, maybe we’ll both be smarter and better for it. J
8. Don’t be afraid to tell us what you think we need to know. That would be highlighting a difference you think is there, and we want to be as normal as possible. We can take a little advice/reproof. In that vein of thought – if you have a problem with this list, tell me! I want to hear it, and I can take it!