How To Respectfully Interact With Adults That Have Developmental Disabilities
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Politics and Activism

How To Respectfully Interact With Adults That Have Developmental Disabilities

How To Respectfully Interact With Adults That Have Developmental Disabilities

According to a recent report published by the federal agency, there are 56.7 million Americans with a disability in the United Sates. It found that from this number, there were 1.2 million adults with an intellectual disability and another 944,000 that had other developmental disabilities. Adults and people with developmental disabilities have a long history that is marked by exclusion, isolation, oppression, institutionalization and neglect. Over the past decade advocates have continually spoken out on disabled peoples limited rights and continue to push bills in Senate such as The Disability Integration Act of 2015 in order to integrate these folks better in our communities.

However, the fight for inclusion is not simply a political one. As a society we must shift our viewpoint on adults with developmental disabilities. We must include them in conversations, leisure outings, social circles and provide opportunities to engage them in the vitality of our community. In order to do this we must first learn how to respectfully interact with one another.

1. Speak to them as you would any other adult

First and foremost, when interacting with an adult that has an intellectual or developmental disability, do not slow down your speaking pace or talk in a derogatory tone with them as though you are talking to an infant. Unless told otherwise, the individual you are speaking with is a comprehensive and independent adult. Speak to the person as you would any other individual but simply be mindful of your language. Gage the person’s vocabulary usage and if it is limited, accommodate to them by keeping your language simple, straightforward and clear. If an individuals speaking ability is limited, that does not necessarily mean that the person does not understanding what you are saying. Feel free to still engage in meaningful conversations and small talk, as you would do with anybody else. Most importantly, if the person has a care provider or adult support professional by their side, do not speak to that individual’s supporter but directly to the person. It is not respectful to neglect a person and speak to their provider on their behalf.

If it is difficult for you to understand what the person replied, do not pretend you understood what they said. Instead, give the person your full attention and respectfully let them know, “I didn’t understand or hear what you said, could you please repeat it?” It is important to be patient and attentive with the individual you are speaking with. It is not respectful to pretend you are interested in a conversation or act as if you understood what the person said.

If the conversation is no longer stimulating or you do not know how to end it, do not simply stare at the care provider to help you end the conversation. Instead you can be honest and say, “thank you for speaking with me but I’m going to have to cut this conversation short because I have somewhere to be.”

2. Be mindful of personal space

If the individual you are interacting with has a wheelchair or another mobility device, do not touch their equipment assuming you are helping them. Always ask permission before assisting an individual. Be mindful of the physical limitations of the person you are interacting with. If they have trouble walking long distances, think about the shortest route to get to a location. If the person has a wheel chair then make sure there is a clear and empty space for them. On the bus always give an individual with a wheel chair space, and again, do not assume you are helping them by touching their equipment without permission. You are not. Please ask first.

3. Do not show pity or act out of pity

People with disabilities can live fruitful and fulfilling lives and do not need your pity. Yes they have a disability but this does not define their entire being and they are not victims. Do not pat a person with a disability on the head or talk in a child-like tone. Do not act as though you are better than them. Do not feel sorry for them. Instead, be positive, respectful, inclusive and patient.

When you first meet a person with a developmental disability and they approach you with a hug, do not engage in the hug if you do not feel comfortable with it. It is okay to stop the interaction and shift it into a handshake. You can tell the person, “We are not close enough to hug yet so let’s shake hands first.” Do not feel the need to engage in a disabled persons behavior out of pity for their disability. If something a person does offends you, comes off too strong, makes you uncomfortable, or is not appropriate, do not dismiss it. It is respectful to let them know, “please respect my personal space because we are not close yet, but once we get to know each other better we can hug.” Just like how you would not want a stranger you newly met to come off too strong, you can expect the same from an adult with a developmental disability. Do not let your “pity” for their disability dismiss actions you would hold another person accountable for. Treat and interact with every individual you speak with equally.

4. Do not shy away from building friendships

Do not shy away from a person because they have a disability but be open to engaging them in your community of friends. These folks are interesting, fun, and passionate people who are not solely defined by their disability. Disabled adults deserve to be validated and included in our society and treated with respect and dignity.

When you meet a disabled person, focus on the person’s abilities and other qualities. Get to know the person as an individual, such as their interests, skill-sets, talents, hobbies, likes, dislikes and so forth. Do not be hesitant to include them in your friend’s circle. You are not acting charitably by being friends with a person with a disability; it is a very honorable thing to be included in a person’s circle of support. Companionship and maintaining friendships are critical to an individual’s social participation and building shared experiences. Adults with developmental disabilities deserve to engage in these experiences and can contribute their creative energy, personality, diversity, resourcefulness, and skills to your circle. Don’t be afraid to break the barrier and initiate an interaction!

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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