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HOW DISABILITY–AWARE ARE YOU? “You don’t have to deal with my disability. I already have.” — A 28-year-old law student with a disability

School. Home life. The social scene. The office. These are some of the places where awareness not only makes the ­atmosphere more pleasant, but is vital for advancement and peace. The rules of etiquette you should use on the job, at the dining-room table, in the classroom, anywhere and ­every  day,  make no judgment on disability. All people are treated the same. But we occasionally become sidetracked when disability enters the etiquette mix. Our manners can change; we can become awkward. We can become insensitive — without even realizing it.

SOUL-SEARCHING Awareness is not something you learn in a college course. Nor is it a requirement to graduate from high school. You won’t



be tested on sensitivity, and it won’t influence your SAT scores. Sensitivity is usually first learned at home. Some of the ways you behave as an adult might be unconscious and ­instinctive, a throwback to lessons learned years ago at a ­parent’s knee. In fact, the way you treat a person with a dis­ ability might be something passed down from generation to generation. You and your family might be the victims of soci­ ety’s prejudices, keeping alive myths that you hadn’t even ­realized were just that: myths. In order to separate your myths from facts, discover pos­ sible prejudices, and determine how you might be more sen­ sitive, we’ve created a disability awareness questionnaire. We’ve divided 40 statements into four categories: school, home, on the job, and social situations. Each statement ­reflects a situation that needs a change in attitude, a change in behavior, or a change in manner. As you read over the questionnaire, see if you agree with each statement or not. Be honest. This questionnaire is not designed to stump you or  judge you. Think of it as a jumping-off point to get you thinking about your own attitudes and actions. One note before we start: These statements are deliber­ ately brief. They are designed only to get you thinking, to get  you looking at your behavior in a new light. Once you ­recognize your actions, you can begin to understand them and, ultimately, change them. To further that understanding, we’ll be going over the themes they represent later, within each chapter, in much more depth. For now, look around, ­observe, and see if you recognize yourself in the question­ naire on the following pages.




I. In the Home Learning begins in the home — and manners are no excep­ tion. But family life can be fraught with confusion, guilt, and worry, which can be compounded by a family member with a disability. There’s a lot more to a good family life than love. Do you feel the following statements, although valid and understandable, allow room for growth? Do you agree with them?

▶▶I want to help my brother get around in his wheelchair. I’ll grab it and move him before he gets his hands on the wheel.

▶▶I’m such a neatnik. I move my son’s belongings when­ ever I see something lying around. After all, he’s so helpless.

▶▶I just can’t let my daughter out on her own. I know I’m ­being over-protective, but she’s blind.

▶▶I know it’s selfish of me, but I feel like I’m being ignored. My parents are so busy with my sister, who is disabled. They are always fluttering around her. I don’t exist.

▶▶My father used to be so strong and able. But now he’s

in a wheelchair and depressed all the time. He’s cranky and finds fault with everything I do. I know it’s cruel, but I ignore him. He’s so mean.

▶▶We try to be very sensitive to our blind mother. ▶



We don’t use words like “see.” We don’t say that ­someone on television is beautiful. In fact, we don’t watch television at all when Mom’s in the room.

▶▶My son doesn’t seem to have the ability to pay attention and I’m at my wit’s end. We end up having screaming matches. What’s the matter with him?

▶▶We always talk louder and more slowly when my brother is around. He is brain-injured and doesn’t understand anything.

▶▶I know my son is too old for this, but I can’t help but cut

his food for him and help him eat. After all, his coordina­ tion is so bad, he spills everything.

▶▶We don’t want to hurt our sister’s feelings. When her

lipstick is all screwy or she has on a blouse that doesn’t match her skirt, we don’t say anything. No one will laugh outside the house. They’ll understand that she has problems.

II. On the Job The corporate climate is similar to the family circle. Criticisms, praise, and encouragement are all found around the water cooler. But there is one crucial difference: The way you treat your co-workers can mean the difference between ­getting a raise — or getting fired. The bottom line? Minding your manners is a vital part of earning a living. Do you agree with the actions in the following situations?

▶▶When I’m interviewing someone with a disability for a job, I always go out of my way to ask about his prob­ lem. I don’t want to appear rude or insensitive.


but I’m afraid the restaurant isn’t handicap-accessible, and it will become a big deal.

▶▶Whenever there’s a meeting I always grab the back of

my co-worker’s wheelchair to help speed his way down the hall.

▶▶It’s not that I don’t like Jane. But I find talking to her dif­ ficult. We can’t talk about music, and I don’t know sign language. It’s better just to avoid her.

▶▶A friend at work always uses a handicap parking space. I know he has to use a cane to get to work, but it doesn’t seem that bad to me. Sometimes I wish I could get one of those handicap parking cards. It would sure make my life easier!

▶▶I want to offer my disabled co-worker a ride to work, but I don’t want to appear condescending. Better to say nothing.

▶▶At meetings our boss never looks at Tim, who’s in a

wheelchair. It’s as if he doesn’t acknowledge his exis­ tence, as if Tim has some kind of contagious disease.

▶▶I want to hire the hearing-impaired person I just inter­

viewed, but I’m concerned about what happens if it doesn’t work out. The disability laws are so complicated, and I don’t want to be saddled with a lawsuit!

▶▶When Joe, a disabled co-worker, comes over to the cof­

fee machine, we always include him. In fact, we’ll stop our conversation, in mid-sentence, if necessary, and talk loudly and clearly: “How are you, Joe? Great, ▶



▶▶I want to ask my disabled co-worker to join us for lunch,


great.” It’s not like we’re killing him with kindness; we’re just being polite.

▶▶If the handicap-accessible stall in the bathroom is free,▶ I’ll always go in. After all, the mothers who bring in▶ their babies and strollers are allowed to use them, why▶ not me?

III. Social Engagements People say that first impressions are crucial; they stick with you. And no where do you show your “character” better than with an introduction — to anyone, an able-bodied person or a person with a disability. The way you act and the words you use can make all the difference between giving a good, lasting impression — or creating an indelible image of being rude. Even worse: You might lose an opportunity to meet someone exciting and fun (who just happens to have a disability)! Have you found yourself in any of these situations?

▶▶I always make sure I tell people with disabilities whom I meet how courageous they are. They are so special. What examples they set for us all!

▶▶It never fails. When I’m on a crowded bus and I finally

get a seat, a person with a disability stands right over me, waiting for me to give him the seat. I ignore him. After all, I’ve had a hard day at work, too.

▶▶When I’m introduced to someone with a disability, I

­ lways make sure to raise my voice, saying my name a very loudly and slowly so he can understand me.


a wheelchair. Maybe it’s not charitable, but it’s the way I feel.

▶▶I love dogs. I’ll even stoop down and pet a Seeing Eye dog when I see one belonging to a visually impaired ­person walking down the street.

▶▶When I meet someone in a wheelchair, I immediately try to make him feel at home. I’ll lean on the bars, pat his hand, and stand close to him so he’ll know I’m not put off by his disability.

▶▶I get so impatient when I’m talking to someone with a

speech impairment. I find myself interrupting and finish­ ing her sentences.

▶▶I can kick myself. Whenever I meet someone who is

blind, I always find myself saying stupid things like, “I saw a great movie yesterday” or “See what I mean?” I try to cover up my choice of words, but I feel so bad!

▶▶I always shake hands with people I meet — except for those with a disability. What if they are paralyzed or have tremors or something? I’d be so embarrassed!

▶▶I always take care of my best friend when we’re out to ­ inner. He’s in a wheelchair, paralyzed from the waist d down, and needs constant help. When we are in a ­restaurant, I’ll put the napkin on his lap. I’ll order for him. I’ll even tell him what he would like best on the menu. It’s the least I can do for someone I love!



▶▶I don’t know what I’d do if my blind date showed up in


IV. In the Classroom A lot of what you learn in school has nothing to do with the ABCs. School is one of the first places people learn about ­others. It’s the place where attitudes are either cemented in place or questioned. The classroom is a place where preju­ dice can flourish — or flounder. Do you agree with the way these situations were handled?

▶▶We always have to wait for the kid with a learning dis­

ability to finish his assignment. I know it’s the right thing to do, but I can’t help but feel resentful — especially when it’s time for football practice!

▶▶As a teacher, I always try to be patient with all my stu­

dents, including those who are disabled. But I’m only human, and sometimes I just want them to hurry up and sit down!

▶▶I dread fire drills. It means that I have to help the stu­

dent in our class who is visually impaired get to the cor­ ridor. Why is it always my job?

▶▶I always try to get the best seat in the auditorium for my friend. He’s in a wheelchair and needs a lot of room. If anyone wants to move closer and take his place, I give him a dirty look.

▶▶I’m so close to my friend who is visually impaired that I

sometimes nod or shake my head instead of using my voice. I forget — and then I get angry when she doesn’t understand what I mean.

▶▶Whenever a new school year starts and I have a child in

a wheelchair in my classroom, my heart goes out to her. I can’t help it. I’ll put her right in front. I’ll only ask her ▶


for the easy answers. Hey, life is hard enough for her! our table in the cafeteria, we ignore him. It might not be nice, but we’re afraid of him. What if he attacks us?

▶▶I’m a good person. When someone in my school is in a

wheelchair, I’ll be right there, ready to open a door, grab onto the chair, and take the student wherever he needs to go. He doesn’t even need to ask!

▶▶The handicap-access ramps outside our school are

great for bike riding. Of course, I always make sure no one is using them before going for a spin.

▶▶I know the student with the mental impairment doesn’t

mind it when me and the other kids and I laugh at him. He laughs, too!

EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW IS IN THIS BOOK Congratulations! You’ve finished the HealthSouth Disability Awareness Questionnaire. How to determine your attitude barometer? If you agree with any of the statements, you might need to re-examine your disability awareness. You need to become more sensitive to the way you act when you meet and interact with someone who is disabled. Remember: A lot of the things we say and do are learned; we do them without thinking. We are not always aware that we’ve done something hurtful or insensitive. But ignorance is not always bliss. To avoid hurting some­ one you know or someone you love, read through the insights  and hints in the following chapters — then read



▶▶Whenever the guy who has a brain injury comes over to


over the questionnaire again. You just might find yourself ­disagreeing with most of the statements — and learning ­never to make a disability awareness mistake again. Better yet: You might make a difference. You might make your world — and the world of the persons with disabilities you know — a better place to be. Read on...

Polite Conversations The pen can be mightier than the sword. The words we use can be powerful stuff. “Emotionally disabled” sounds better than “crazy.” “Physically disabled” sounds better than “crippled.” The more you use pos­ itive phrases, the more you will believe them — and change your attitude. The result? You will begin to treat people equally, the way you want to be treated yourself. Actions speak as loudly as words — and both can go far in promoting dignity, respect, and peace among all people.


Beyond Please & Thank You - Chapter 1  

SOUL-SEARCHING “You don’t have to deal with my disability. I already have.” — A 28-year-old law student with a disability Awareness is not s...