Each day, I hope that through my words and actions, I make the day a brighter place for someone. Of course, as Occupational Therapists, we aspire to this as part of our work, but I am encouraging you to take it beyond the job today. In honor of Disability Awareness Month, I’d like you to try to find a way to make it a brighter day for someone with a disability. Think random acts of kindness with a purpose!
For those of you who don’t have a lot of experience with persons with disabilities, or if you just want to inform family and friends, here are some tips.
Don’t assume! Don’t assume someone with a physical disability also has an intellectual disability. Treat them as your equal and they may delight you with their wit or insight.
Don’t be afraid. Fear stifles interaction and can make you hesitant to make that kind gesture or start a conversation.
Make eye contact. Make sure each person you speak to can comfortably see you. Come around the counter or kneel so that they can see you more easily.
Ask first. If you think someone may need some assistance with a door or package, ask first. They may be very capable of completing the task in their own way and time, so be respectful of their ability
Aside from what you can do today, consider the ways you can make a long-term impact in your community.
Use your social media accounts to spread positive stories of accomplishment by persons with a disability.
If you are an employer, consider hiring someone with a disability. As a first step, contact organizations in your community that help people with barriers to employment.
Check out the neighborhood playground. Does it have inclusive play equipment? If not, how could you help make that a reality?
Recent stats show that nearly 50% of persons shot by police have been diagnosed with a disability, Contact your local police department and see if they are receiving specialized training, like the Crisis Intervention Team Model. Such training helps officers to recognize mental health or disability-related symptoms so they are not misinterpreted.
Patronize businesses that go the extra mile to serve folks with a disability and let them know that you appreciate their efforts. For example some stores are using technology to create zones where patrons with hearing aids can filter out background noise and converse with staff. Some movie theaters have special showings for kids on the spectrum. Some big box retailers are making special shopping carts available for shoppers with special needs. And some companies are working hard to make their websites accessible to persons with disabilities.
A disability is not the only thing that defines someone – each person living with a disability has friends and family, hopes and dreams, likes and dislikes and they can be impacted by your kindness just like anyone else in this world. Remember the golden rule and treat them just as you would want to be treated.
Pass it on!