Best Disability Etiquette Advice

Real Social Skills - March 18, 2014
Via The Lame Dame.

The title of this linked Tumblr piece really should be something like, “A More Useful Disability Etiquette”. The problem is that it came in the middle of a conversation about the social pressure on disabled people to keep things that bother us to ourselves … to “protect” non-disabled people we meet socially from having to know about the physical barriers and ableism we face every day. Someone had then said that he or she didn’t want to be shielded, but wanted to make real, respectful connections with disabled people, and how should they do that?

The list of suggestions from the Real Social Skills blogger is the answer to that question.

There is a complete disability etiquette seminar in there, and much better than the usual boilerplate, obvious stuff that usually passes for disability etiquette / awareness content. I wonder if anyone has ever done a comprehensive study of “disability awareness” content. I have felt for a long time that disability awareness guides, curricula, and exercises need to be overhauled, but have never figured out how or exactly why. This list seems to me like a great start, in part because it addresses what people really want to know … what really makes them anxious: How do I talk to a disabled person without putting my foot in my mouth?

I would only add one item the list:

Just as a surprising change of pace, if you want to connect with a disabled person, instead of asking about their disability, which can often be intrusive, ask them whether they experience barriers or discrimination. For most disabled people, the subject of our actual disability and how we become disabled is boring old news. What continues to engage us every day are the barriers and discrimination we face, and talking about them is kind of taboo on us, as noted above, because we don’t want to be seen as whiners. Inviting us to vent can be most welcomed, and at the same time will give you a glimpse into what life with a disability is like.

Be prepared to listen though, not argue. Don’t invite the conversation only so you can engage in some kind of “devils advocate” debate, or to expound your theory that accessibility is a waste of money, or that there are too many handicapped parking spaces. “Reasoned debate” is incredibly valuable on these topics, but there is a difference between discussions designed to hash out truths, and sharing to increase understanding and intimacy.


I just noticed that Real Social Skills posted my original Tumblr reply, which incorporates some of what I have said here. I suggest just going to the Real Social Skills blog and browsing all of the responses on this thread. They contain a lot more good suggestions from others.