5 Ways to Be A Better Ally to People with Disabilities

The CDC estimates that one in four Americans—about 61 million of us— has a disability that impacts their everyday lives.

Even though many individuals live with one or more disabilities, our world is still extremely inaccessible. Inaccessibility can look like a building that doesn't have a wheelchair ramp, social media videos without captions, schools that don't accommodate those with learning disabilities or restaurants that refuse to give straws when a customer requires one.

Although people with disabilities face challenges, allies to people with disabilities can help make the world more accessible and friendly. When we talk about people with disabilities, we use an umbrella term that encompasses many different types of disabilities. It can include visual impairment, deaf or hard of hearing, learning disabilities, neurological disabilities or physical disabilities. Here are five tips that cover a variety of these disabilities.

Make Your Social Media Accessible

Most of us use social media every day, and it's a great way to connect to other people. However, social media isn't accessible to people with disabilities unless you take the time to make it accessible. Captioning your Instagram and TikTok videos will help people who are deaf or hard of hearing. You can also try the app Cliptomatic, which will add captions for you. For people who are visually impaired, you can make your social media more inclusive by adding image descriptions. All you have to do is fill in a brief description of the image so that screen-readers will be able to describe the image to those who can't see it or see it well.

Shutterstock: woman on phone

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Respect Their Aids

Some people with disabilities have various aids such as guide dogs, canes, wheelchairs, prosthetics and interpreters. It's important to respect their space and not interfere with their aids. For example, if someone is out with their guide dog, do not pet it. Yes, dogs are cute, but guide dogs are working and you shouldn't distract them. Another way to show respect is by not questioning how or why they use an aid. Some people use wheelchairs, but they don't need them all the time. It is never okay to ask why they use a wheelchair when they can stand or insinuate that they don't need a specific tool. Disabilities are incredibly complicated and personal, so you can't know what a person needs by looking at them and they are of no obligation to explain it to you. Some people with disabilities are open to well-intentioned and non-offensive questions. Still, other people are more private, so let them lead the conversation and respect their boundaries.

Shutterstock: woman walking across the street with a guide dog and a cane

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Research

Instead of relying on people with disabilities to educate you, it's helpful to do your research. You can stay up to date on policies that impact people with disabilities, find ways to help in your everyday life, look for organizations to donate to and research the culture and history of people with disabilities to gain a better contextual understanding. A good website to get you started is Disability Scoop. A great way to stay up to date on accessibility and learn about issues affecting people with disabilities is by diversifying your feed is by following influencers who have disabilities.

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Create Safe and Welcoming Spaces with Your Language and Actions

Not only do people with disabilities have to live in an inaccessible world, but they also have to face ableism. Ableism is the discrimination of and social prejudice against individuals with disabilities, visual or not. As an ally, it is essential to create spaces, whether physical or online, welcoming and safe for people who have disabilities. If you're planning an event (post-COVID), make sure it's an accessible building. While watching movies with others, ask if people want subtitles. Learn basic American Sign Language to make it easier to communicate with people who are hard of hearing or deaf. Don't use stigmatizing language, like using mental illnesses as adjectives. Include trigger warnings (TW) in content that could trigger people with PTSD. Don't offer assistance to a person with disabilities unless you ask first or they specifically ask for it. Believe people when they tell you they are disabled, even if you can't see it.

Shutterstock: two people using ASL

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Listen When They Speak About Issues

Unless you have a disability, you won't know what it is like to be in their position. You need to listen to people with disabilities when they share their experiences, feelings and thoughts. You will never learn how to be a better ally unless you learn from people with disabilities. Instead of solely reading this article, written by an able-bodied person, let this be a starting point to follow more people with disabilities and listen to them. It would be helpful to listen to people with various disabilities, so you learn as much as possible. The critical thing to remember is that the disability does not define the person, but it is an essential aspect of their life. That is to say that you should not focus on the disability nor ignore it. There are so many incredible people with disabilities who have their voices silenced. Being a good ally always starts by listening and amplifying their voices.

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