5 Simple Ways You Can Become An Ally To The Disabled Community

Treat others how you would like to be treated
Being a disability ally is essential
Still My Revolution: Being an Ally

"There is no greater disability in society, than the inability to see a person as more." – Robert M. Hensel

Out of the eight billion people living on this earth, one and a half billion live with disabilities. That's a quarter of the entire population. If disabilities are so common, then why is our community so often forgotten or dismissed altogether? 

This avoidance stems from the lack of relationships non-disabled people hold with people who have disabilities. Due to the absence of interaction, non-disabled people tend to act awkward or uncomfortable around those living with a disability. This is entirely unnecessary. It's easy to become an ally to the disabled community. 

What is a disability ally?

An ally is someone who supports the cause of a marginalized group of people. They acknowledge people living with disabilities, women, people of color, and LGBTQ+ groups by recognizing their privilege in society. They amplify our voices by turning down their own as they listen and learn directly from us. 

Here are five simple ways you can become a disability ally if you're new to the conversation:

1. Respect

The language and action used while engaging a person with a disability directly reflect the amount of respect you have for them. Remember that we are just people. Our disability doesn't define us. It's only one characteristic of who we are. Avoid personal questions about our disabilities and instead focus on our abilities. We may do things differently, but the outcome is the same. We're unique individuals with a broad spectrum of interests and talents. 

I remember being taught about respect in grade school through the golden rule; treat others how you would like to be treated. If you became disabled tomorrow, would you want people asking you a million intrusive questions regarding the incident? Or suggesting things like yoga or a healthy diet to cure you? Definitely not. We don't need to be fixed, and we don't need your pity. We aren't strong or brave for living a life that we've adapted to. Instead, we need more accessible opportunities and for our voices to be heard to make that adaptation a bit easier. 

"Disability is a matter of perception. If you can do just one thing well, you're needed by someone." –Martina Navratilova

2. Ask before you help!

Every person with a disability is different. Just because we may require assistance doesn't mean you have the right to touch us without permission. You could hurt us or endanger us in ways that you're unaware of.

Personally, I love asking my friends and family for support. I've held my friend's arms as we go down escalators, I've held their hands while we dance at bars, and some have even carried me to the car after a long day of walking! In my experience, openly asking for help has shifted my perspective from feeling like a burden to feeling a sense of relief. 

However, I've had many friends or family members force their helping hands onto me. They've grabbed my arm in an attempt to secure my balance but ended up throwing me off instead. So ask before you help, and don't repeatedly ask follow-up questions like "are you sure?" We're sure, and we appreciate you looking out for us, but we don't always require help, even if it may look that way. 

3. Consider accessibility everywhere you go

When you go to a restaurant, do you consider the absence of a ramp as you climb a few stairs? When you shop in the mall, do you take the escalators and forget about the elevator tucked in the back of a Macy's? Does the vacancy of a railing prohibit you from using a staircase? 

Accessibility, amongst many other things, is a privilege that not all have. Most non-disabled people are unaware of these forms of accessibility because they don't require them for themselves. On the other hand, people living with disabilities demand these assets in order to go anywhere. 

Every environment should be intended for all bodies to access. 

One of my friends had a staircase leading up to her house when I was in high school. It was seven steps without a railing. I can remember leaving and having to scoot down the steps on my rear end. It felt so embarrassing as a teenager. It stole my independence and ridiculed me. After that, I avoided going to her house as much as possible, but avoiding non-accessible environments is impractical. They're everywhere. 

As an ally, you can make accessibility and inclusion a priority of yours as well as it's ours. You must recognize your privilege through certain advantages or opportunities you've acquired with little to no effort. 

So, ask the manager at a restaurant why they don't have a ramp. Ask yourself why the elevators are always so far away from the escalators at the mall. Consider how much of an inconvenience it would be for you if you were the one who needed it. 

“My disability exists not because I use a wheelchair, but because the broader environment isn't accessible.” – Stella Young

4. Support disabled activists and public figures on social media

People of all ages all over the world use social media. It can be used to stay in touch with family and friends, to watch cute animal videos, or just to speak your mind. Regardless of why you've joined social media, you can follow disabled influencers to broaden your understanding of our community. 

Following disabled activists and public figures is the simplest way to become a more vital ally to disabled people. You can amplify our voices by sharing our content and spreading them to others who can learn more.

You'll also learn about various rare and common diseases directly from those who live with them. These advocates are transforming the word "normal" by tuning their followers into their day-to-day lives. 

The spread of information on this topic will promote disability awareness, which will lead to more inclusion. This ultimately allows us to live more independent and fulfilling lives. 

5. Educate yourself

Above all, educate yourselves. Although many of us enjoy spreading awareness, it's not our responsibility to educate you or teach you how to be an ally. It can be tempting to ask us about our experiences or diagnosis. Still, it takes an unfair emotional toll on us. 

I'm an open book, so I have no problem telling strangers about my disorder, Charcot-Marie-Tooth. Most people listen and take note of how they can be better. But, unfortunately, some respond with ableist comments like "you don't look disabled" or "you're too young to be disabled." These people have made me shy away from being upfront about my disorder. 

If you choose to ask a marginalized group member about their experience, make sure you ask for permission first. This allows for the person to prepare and decide if they want to face the emotional labor. 

Before you ask us any questions, you should make an effort to do some research of your own. It's unfortunate when I discuss my disability with loved ones, and they respond with ableist comments or display a lack of understanding of how my symptoms affect me daily.

Learn about what ableism is and how to detect it in your own behaviors and those around you. There are millions of podcasts, articles, books, and documentaries created by disabled people to inform you!

Come ready to learn and thrive on your journey to becoming a disabled ally!

Charcot-Marie-Tooth type 1a! Let's talk about it.

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