top of page
  • Writer's pictureJudy Lee

Learning to Be a Better Ally for People with Disabilities

Illustration of people with various disabilities.

I recently took a workshop on Disability Etiquette and How to Be a Better Ally with Elizabeth Ralston, a consultant who helps organizations integrate comprehensive accessibility practices. In our work for racial justice, we recognize many people experience multiple forms of marginalization. It is therefore important for us to learn how to better create accessibility through universal design and inclusive practices.

Here are some takeaways from the workshop:

  • Use people first language. This means putting people before their disability. An example is a "person who uses wheelchair" instead of "handicapped person" or "wheelchair bound." and "person who is deaf" instead of "hearing impaired." While these are generally accepted guidelines, some disability activists prefer to acknowledge it is our systems that disable them, not personal attributes. In this case, they refer to themselves as "disabled" by circumstances or environments where full access is not provided. It is always a good idea to ask the person how they prefer to be identified.

  • Be mindful of abelist language. Our negative attitudes toward disabilities are reflected in our everyday language. Be mindful about using harmful phrases like "falling on deaf ears" or "be blind to."

  • Ask first before trying to be helpful. Trying to be helpful to someone with a disability can sometimes feel infantilizing and, at worst, be harmful. For example, trying to hold the door for someone with a physical disability might make them fall if they were using the door for leverage. Be sure to always ask before assuming someone needs help.

  • Educate yourself on how to better interact with people with disabilities. Some examples of better etiquette practices when engaging with people with disabilities are: looking at the person who is deaf when speaking to them rather than the interpreter or being mindful of the needs of people with apparent and non-apparent disabilities when planning events ("non-apparent" is preferred over the term "invisible").

Elizabeth recommends we watch two videos to help us understand common practices that are harmful to people with disabilities.

This Ted Talk by Stella Young, "I'm not your inspiration, thank you very much," invites us to think about ways our society tends to objectify people with disabilities for the benefit of feeling inspired.

The following is a Disability Sensitivity Training video that shows us common ways we disable people and how to change the way we interact with them.

You can also read our interview with Eric Matthes from Arc of King County that we did in honor of Disability Pride Month to learn more about disability advocacy.

We are having conversations about what we're learning at Cultures Connecting. While we might not get everything right and stumble along the way, we will continue to educate ourselves and see this as a wonderful opportunity to grow and contribute to creating a more just society.


bottom of page