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Living and Communicating with a Person with a Disability

  • Published: 2012-10-08 (Revised/Updated 2013-06-14) : Author: Wendy Taormina-Weiss
  • Synopsis: Common reactions to a permanent form of disability whether the person experiencing it is you or a loved one can include fear anger shock and grief.

Main Document

"Communicating with a family member, friend, or associate with a disability is very much like communicating with a person who does not experience a form of disability."

Common reactions to a permanent form of disability, whether the person experiencing it is you or a loved one, can include fear, anger, shock, and grief. The extent to which a person feels these emotions depends mostly on how much the disability will affect their life. It is most important to remember that is alright to feel these emotions. It is even better to talk about them with people who experience similar forms of disabilities, or with a professional counselor. Bear in mind that everyone reacts to a disability in their own way. There is no right or wrong way to respond. Do your best to concentrate on what everyone can do and how to adapt to the change.

It is important to recognize that people with new forms of disabilities and family members pass through stages of adjustment from the moment they learn of a person's disability. These stages include not only the initial shock, but disbelief and denial, anger and resentment, depression and discouragement, bargaining, and then - acceptance. Each person with a disability has to change where they live or work, how they travel and spend their free time, and making these changes is not always the easiest thing to accomplish. It is important to focus on what the person with a disability is able to do. There are some various things to remember and pursue that can make the lives of people with disabilities and family members easier.

If a person's mobility has been affected, ask a doctor to recommend assistive devices such as a cane, crutches, braces, a walker, a scooter, or a wheelchair.

A disability might affect one or more of a person's daily activities. Many times, it is helpful to make a list of any needs the person has so they can be addressed.

Assistive devices exist that might help a person with a disability to complete some of their tasks. A number of these devices are fairly low-cost and some insurance plans will help to cover the costs of these items.

A person with a disability may take longer to complete some activities. Having a level of understanding while planning for the extra time can be particularly frustrating for a person with a disability who finds themselves forced to make extra time in their daily schedule. A person with a disability might wish to handle the activities they consider to be more important first, and then include other activities as they feel they are able to do so.

Arrangements may be made in advance to make traveling more enjoyable. The arrangements may include asking an airline for a seat in the front of the plane, requesting a chair in the aisle, assistance with baggage, reserving a rental car with hand controls, checking with restaurants to make sure they fit the needs of a person with disabilities, or making sure a hotel is accessible.

Devices to assist with daily living activities can make life easier. These devices may include items such as:

"We are not here to change minds or to be politically correct. Today we want to ask you to give yourself permission to look at disability in a different light." - Don Brandon, Northwest ADA Center Director

Communicating Effectively with People with Disabilities

What does it mean to achieve, 'effective communication' To be plain, 'effective communication,' means that whatever a person speaks or writes needs to be as clear and understandable to a person with a disability as it is for a person who does not experience a form of disability. The definition is important because some people with disabilities have forms of disabilities that affect the ways they communicate with others.

The question then arises: 'How is communicating with people with disabilities different from communicating with those who do not have a form of disability' For the majority of people with disabilities there is no difference at all. There are people with disabilities that affect their hearing, vision, speech, their ability to write, read, or understand. People with forms of disabilities that affect these areas of communication might use different ways to communicate with others than people who do not experience these forms of disabilities. The following are some communication points to bear in mind:

Communicating with a family member, friend, or associate with a disability is very much like communicating with a person who does not experience a form of disability. In general, it is okay to talk about the form of disability a person experiences if the topic arises. As with anyone else, relaxed conversations about mutual interests are always appreciated.

Citations and Resources:

Enhancing Your Interactions With People With Disabilities

Language influences perceptions and behavior. Words in popular use mirror prevailing attitudes in society. Oftentimes, societal attitudes create barriers for people with disabilities.

Invisible Disabilities Association

The Invisible Disabilities Association (IDA) encourages, educates and connects people and organizations touched by illness, pain and disability around the globe.

What Family Characteristics and Stressors Impact Participation in Children's Education

Many factors influence the relationship of parents and professionals in their children's schools. These factors include the effect of the disability on the family, the type and severity of the disability and its impact on the school, and the effect of culture on attitudes about disabilities.

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