Deep down inside, we’re all just people

This past week, we made our first rather unofficial trip to the Dorothy Hopkin Centre for the Disabled. For the veterans among us, they walked in and felt like they were right at home. But for those of us visiting for the first time, there was obviously some trepidation and nervousness.

I mean, we know how to act around other adults, and we even know how to act around kids. But how do you act around people with disabilities? How do you communicate? How do you make your time there fun for them? And more importantly, how do you open your mouth without feeling you just put your foot in it?

The answer was much simpler than we had realized. We weren’t spending time with the disabled — we were spending time with people. And that’s it.

In fact, the Illinois Department of Human Services shared some guidelines in how to overcome that trepidation, that uncomfortable feeling, of not knowing what to say or do. The primary step? Remember that when you interact with people with disabilities, they are people.

“There disability is just one of the many characteristics they have,” the officials said. “People with disabilities have the same needs we all do: first and foremost among them is to be treated with dignity and respect.”

When interacting with people with disabilities, the first thing you want to do is focus on their abilities, not their disabilities. And while they might do things in different ways in people without those particular disabilities, they can still achieve the same results.

The state officials go on to provide some general rules of etiquette that should help you through just about any situation, removing any fear you might have that comes with not knowing how to act, or what to say.

Treat everyone as you would like to be treated. Think of the person first, not their disability. Don’t shy away from people with disabilities — relax and be yourself.

Just because a person has a disability, they don’t necessarily need or want your assistance. Never help someone without asking first.

Avoid using labels when you speak. Always use “people first” language — saying things like “person who is disabled” rather than “disabled person.”

People with disabilities aren’t victims. When you talk to a person with a disability, don’t use pet names, like “honey.” It’s also disrespectful to pat people with disabilities on the head, or talk down to them as though they were children.

Sure, these guidelines might look intimidating at first, but they aren’t. Because it all goes back to one primary idea: people are people. By always keeping that in mind, and treating all people like people, you have absolutely nothing to worry about.

So please join us on our next trip to Dorothy Hopkin. The residents there are such wonderful people, and I don’t think any of us have smiled so much — and had so much fun — in such a short period of time. But the more the merrier, and it would be great if you could join us on our next trip!