12 Things Not To Say Or Do To People With Disabilities

Making the world more accessible for people with disabilities starts with understanding things from their perspective.

Madeline Delp’s life changed forever when she suffered a spinal cord injury in a car crash when she was 10. She began using a wheelchair and hasn’t let anything get in the way of her thirst for life! Her many achievements include BASE jumping, rock climbing, swimming with sharks, driving across the U.S., winning the title of Ms. Wheelchair USA, and founding the nonprofit Live Boundless!

She recently wrote an article about her experiences, and her advice is something everyone should know!

By sharing her perspective, Madeline hopes to promote inclusion and challenge some of the hurtful assumptions many of us make without realizing they are offensive. Prepare to absorb some wisdom as she shares 12 things we should not say or do to people with disabilities.

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1. “Doing what you wouldn’t normally say or do.”

“Don’t get awkward or weird just because someone looks, acts, or talks differently. The second you start changing your behavior is when you open the door to being offensive.”

2. “Say something is accessible when it’s really not.”

“Think of what life would be like in every aspect, getting around in a wheelchair or otherwise — and ask plenty of questions about what accessibility means to your friends, coworkers, or family before giving your stamp of approval.”

3. “Use the word ‘crippled.'”

4. “Park in the lines of a wheelchair accessible parking spot — and the obvious, parking in an accessible spot if you don’t need it!”

5. “Avoid ever asking about their disability because you feel uncomfortable about it.”

“If you are becoming friends with someone, make sure you open the door for them to share their experience with you. For most people, it will mean a lot that you care enough to see the world from their perspective.”

6. “Rush ahead or cut in front when they are moving a little slower.”

“Don’t let impatience get the best of you. It might even be good for you to see life’s not all about the rat race.”

7. “Ask if they are able to have sex.”

“First of all, this is really offensive after just meeting someone. Second, sex looks different from person to person. The body is quite an amazing and inventive machine.”

8. “Say the ever-popular, ‘You are inspirational,’ when they are doing something simple, like going grocery shopping.”

“If and when you are genuinely inspired by me or something I’ve done that motivates you — like maybe, I don’t know, the fact that I’ve driven across the entire country by myself or continue to deliver wheelchairs to people in need worldwide [through Live Boundless] — then call me inspirational.”

9. “Use the accessible stall in the bathroom if others are open.”

10. “Not invite them to things because you think they can’t do them.”

“There are many creative ways you can do things with a mobility disability. And, even if they can’t participate, extending the invitation will make them feel like you care enough to find ways to include them.”

11. “Push their wheelchair without asking first.”

“If you don’t know someone well, it’s a good practice to get permission before totally invading their personal space and shoving them forward.”

12. “And finally, underestimate what they are able to do.”

“In an unexpected and interesting way, people with disabilities often venture out to do seemingly miraculous things!”

Thank you, Madeline, for sharing these needed tips with us! We can all make the world a more welcoming, inclusive place by taking her wise words to heart.

Share this story to spread her message.

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