What constitutes as a person with a disability? Someone who is blind? Someone in a wheelchair? Someone born with cognitive limitations? There are so many types, that many are unaware of. On this International Day of Persons with Disabilities, we aim to educate and share our knowledge on how you can aid a person with a disability.
There is the recognisable blindness, where a person walks around with a cane and a guide dog. Then there are the more subtle versions. Someone is squinting at the menu of the restaurant, or can’t seem to locate the item you are pointing at.
How to help: Ask if the person needs help identifying something or if you may assist reading something for them. If you are going to lead someone by the arm, announce your intent first, so you don’t startle them.
Molly Burke, a popular blind YouTuber said, “Perfect English can be as foreign as Mandarin to a blind person, if you use words they can’t associate”.
Instead of asking a blind person “what is that?” or telling them to “go there”, use descriptive language to help them understand. Rather ask, “what are you holding?” or tell them to “please move two steps to your right, and then move through the access gate ahead of you”.
Deaf or hard of hearing
Many people who are deaf or hard of hearing rely on reading lips to fill in the gaps of communication. With the current pandemic, this makes it so much harder, as everyone is wearing masks that not only blocks sound, but actively hides the mouth from anyone trying to lipread. The added Perspex screens block some sound as well.
How to help: If someone has difficulty understanding you, look to see if they are wearing hearing-aids. Keep in mind that not all persons with hearing loss or deafness wear them. Use a notepad / cell phone and write / type out the message. This will save them the frustration of having to decipher what you are trying to say.
As with a blind person, try not to sneak up on them, make them aware of your presence.
Try to minimise background noise when conversing with them, and keep eye contact so that they know you are addressing them.
Mental health conditions
People with mental health disorders are on a wide spectrum, some are high-functioning whereas others are in need of special care.
Examples of conditions include but are not limited to anxiety disorder, depression, bi-polar disorder, schizophrenia and autism.
How you can help: Every person with a mental health condition is different. One can have vastly different reactions as apposed to the next, even if they are diagnosed with the same condition. If someone is having a particularly bad day or an episode, ask them what they need from you. Some will ask for space and privacy, another might need someone to talk to.
If the experience at any stage makes you feel that they might be a danger to themselves or others, refer to someone that can assist. If it is in the workplace, notify HR or your boss. If it is in school, report this to a teacher. If it is a family member, speak to your parent. In dire cases where you are the one that needs to make the decision, consult a social worker, the police or a psychologist for guidance going forward.
Acquired Brain Injury (ABI) or other cognitive limits
An ABI happens when there is a trauma that occurs to the head or brain, after birth, causing the brain to bleed, be deprived of oxygen or infection/disease. Some babies have complications during the birthing process, or it may simply be an accidental occurrence like a car crash.
This type of damage can have short or long-term repercussions. It can affect all aspects of the person’s life, depending on where and how the brain was damaged; their senses, their ability to speak, small motor functions, mobility and ability to learn and retain memory.
A cognitive limitation due to a condition such as Down Syndrome is a birth defect. It does not mean that they are broken or less than. Those with these types of disabilities are some of the most positive, inspiring people you will ever meet! They too may suffer some of the same limitations as someone with an ABI, as their brains are developed differently.
How to help: Try various mediums when instructing them on how to do something, to find out which one they are most comfortable with. Some prefer speaking where others do better with written instructions, illustrations or demonstration.
Allow more time for them to complete tasks. Ask if they need help, don’t assume that they do; this will allow them more independence.
This might be the most recognisable, and yet, the least distinct one. We have parking bays and wheelchair access freely available for those moving about with all their tools that help them. However, there are some who experience hidden disabilities that need to be taken into consideration.
There are people with heart and lung conditions, cancer, nutritional issues and chronic pain. They experience fatigue, weight fluctuations (they can be overweight or underweight), feeling out of breath, nauseated, needing to visit the bathroom frequently or experiencing chronic pain.
How you can help: If you see someone parking in the disabled bay and they are NOT in a wheelchair, simply report it to the authority in charge. Do not confront the person directly as this may embarrass them in having to explain their medical condition to you.
If you see someone having a tough time in a shop or at school, ask if you can carry their things for them.
If they appear to need a minute to recuperate, ask if there is anything that they might need to help them feel better.
If you offer aid in anyway and they reject the offer, don’t take it personally. Some people with disabilities need space, privacy and independence. Others may very well appreciate the help offered.
Always ask if you may pet a service animal, do not distract them if they are working. Their job is to keep their owner safe. If the owner says no, respect this and move on.
Read more: ADHD – what you need to know
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