We talk about being Allies in the world today to different populations. Allies to those more vulnerable than you or I might be, which include those in the disability world. It is a big world with variation in ability, but we can ally with all of them.
Be aware: Open your eyes and try to see it through the lens of someone with a disability. When you arrange for a meeting somewhere, is it accessible to someone who cannot use stairs? Would attendees become overwhelmed by its location? Is there parking close by? When you’re in a shopping center, do you understand why someone could become overwhelmed by the lights or sounds? That awareness can lead to more inclusive decisions and involvement.
Don’t judge: how many times do you find yourself in a store where a child is having a tantrum and the parents appear to be doing nothing about it. You don’t know the whole story – perhaps the child has autism and is overstimulated and the parent knows to leave them be for a few minutes? Instead of tsk-tsking in the other aisle, give them the room to handle it or better yet, ask if they need some help. Most people will say no thanks, but may appreciate knowing you are not judging them but allying with them.
Don’t assume: there are many invisible disabilities and people receive accommodations at times to help with their needs. If you see someone parking in a handicapped-reserved parking spot with a handicapped plate or placard on their car, and walking away seemingly fine, don’t jump to conclusions and start to yell at them. They may have a heart condition, multiple sclerosis, and any other of the myriad diagnoses that allowed them to receive accommodations. If they have the designations, leave them be. They don’t need to justify those accommodations to you or anyone else.
Be supportive: Sometimes people don’t need help but look like they could use some support. Let the caregivers in your life know that you appreciate what they do, that they do a great job for their loved one, that they are great advocates for their family. Be someone that they can rely on to help advocate for their needs. Help create a positive environment where if they ask for help, they are not embarrassed or made to feel bad about that request.
Have patience: You would never knock an older adult to the side if they were too slow in a crosswalk. Give that same patience to someone younger with a disability or to families caring for someone with a disability. Take a breath and give them a minute. That moment won’t make the biggest difference to you but can mean the world to the people that you are not rushing along.
Increase public awareness: Learn more about life with disabilities, whether through reading, websites, discussions, or some other method. Be part of the conversation but don’t dominate it. It is not about you – it is about how you can help. Contact a local organization that advocates and works with people with disabilities and learn more from them. And support these organizations through your donation of time or funds – I guarantee you, your help is needed and appreciated.