Guest post from Zoe Lloyd, a disability awareness trainer with Enhance the UK.
Well, this is awkward. As a wheelchair user, I have been in this kind of situation many times. Personally I don’t find it awkward,
but I’m pretty sure the person who says it wants the ground to swallow them up.
When trying to talk to a disabled person, lots of people feel hyper-aware about the words they are using, and worry about saying the wrong thing.
It really doesn’t have to be this way – most disabled people I know don’t have a massive chip on their shoulder about language and terminology and can laugh about things. (Obviously offensive language and derogatory remarks are another matter).
I’ve also experienced the ‘does she take sugar?’ scenario. I had been going to the same hairdresser for years. But when I became a wheelchair user, suddenly one of the workers couldn’t look at me and had to ask my mum how I liked my tea!
To think she had known me before, yet the fact I was sitting in a wheelchair made her act differently towards me, was quite hard to understand.
No wonder, then, that some strangers in the street find it hard to meet your eyes.
I am a trainer for Enhance the UK, a charity which – among other things – delivers disability awareness training to schools and workplaces. All of our trainers are disabled, and we are successful, fun, positive people. We make our training fun and interactive – and as honest as possible. We can give candid answers from our own personal experience and help people challenge their fears, concerns and awkwardness around disability.
Most fear is a product of ignorance, and we hope our training helps people to look past their colleagues/pupils/clients’ disability and see them for who they are as a person.
Honest, open communication with disabled colleagues is far better than making assumptions. That way we can get over any awkwardness within minutes, rather than worry about it for months.
And stumbling over those everyday phrases usually makes things more awkward rather than less. For example, people have said to us that they’ve felt bad after saying things like ‘Do you see what I mean?’ to a blind person.
Maybe over time, you might end up avoiding such phrases automatically with your blind colleague – but if you forget, it’s fine!
The greater inclusion of disabled people on TV over the past few years has helped show people that disability isn’t something to be scared of. Channel 4’s The Last Leg is a perfect example. Barriers are being broken down, and long may that continue.
Now, I’m just going to take my dog for a wheel – sorry, a walk.