The Disabilities Interest Group of Mead & Hunt’s Employee Resource Group (ERG) is celebrating Disability Pride Month this July! As a firm, we believe in putting people first. A big part of this is creating a more inclusive, welcoming environment for all people—whether at work, out in our communities, or in the digital realm.
When you encounter people with disabilities out in the world—whether it’s a fellow traveler at the airport or the potential client you’re presenting to in an interview—it’s important to know how to be a great ally. These basic guidelines are a starting point!
Use people-first language. Try to use language that describes a person’s disability without making it their defining characteristic. For example, you might say “people who are blind or visually impaired” as opposed to “the blind,” and “people with disabilities,” not “the disabled.” It’s also now preferred to say “accessible” rather than “handicapped” when describing parking, restrooms, entrances, etc.
Of course, it’s important to listen to individual preferences as well—some people with disabilities may identify with a certain label, and it’s their choice to do so. If you’re not sure what a specific person prefers, just ask!
Speak directly to the person with a disability. If a person with a disability has a friend, colleague, or caregiver, do not speak to them through their companion. Remember to make eye contact and, if possible, adjust your position so that you are at eye level with them.
Ask before giving assistance. Simply asking, “how can I help?” is more respectful than making assumptions about what a person can or can’t do. If the person says they do not need help, don’t insist. If they do want assistance, listen carefully to their needs before stepping in.
Keep in mind that many people—as many as 20 percent of Americans—have invisible disabilities. For this reason, it’s important to treat everyone we encounter with respect and understanding, not just those with a visible disability. In the end, all of these tips boil down to treating everyone with humanity and kindness—we cannot know another person’s reality.