5 Things Not To Say To Someone With A Disability

Being over-empathic and helpful might feel like the right way to accommodate and show consideration for the differently-abled but it is not. Learn how to engage thoughtfully and compassionately with someone who has a disability.

By URLife Team
03 Dec 2023

When we interact with differently-abled individuals, our words carry tremendous power. They have the ability to elevate, empower, nurture or dampen the relationship. In our well-intentioned efforts to communicate, we might stumble upon words that can cause discomfort or offence. Consider the impact of a few words on a person’s day, especially when those words inadvertently reinforce stereotypes or assumptions. 

It's important to acknowledge that our language shapes perceptions and attitudes towards differently-abled individuals. Words that may seem innocent or common to us might carry deeply hurtful connotations for them. Choosing respectful language and being mindful of the vocabulary we use while communicating isn't just about being considerate; rather it also helps create a more inclusive society.  Focusing on the person and not their disability helps create an environment of equality and acceptance where everyone feels valued and understood.


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‘’You are so inspiring’’

This statement might seem like a compliment, but it could make someone feel like their whole life is only about their disability. They can perceive the thought that their disability is all that others see. Everyone’s life journey is unique, and while overcoming challenges is admirable, not everything in a person’s life should be attributed to their disability.

Instead try to engage with them in conversations that focus on shared interests, goals and passions. This helps to build connections based on mutual understanding, respect and interests.


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‘’I know exactly how you feel’’

Saying "I know exactly how you feel" might not always be the best. Each person's experience is unique hence It's better to ask and listen to understand how someone feels instead of assuming you know.

To initiate a conversation with differently-abled individuals you can ask questions like, "I'm here to listen if you want to talk," or ask, "How does that feel for you?" This shows respect for their individual experience and these open-ended questions will open up space for them to share, if they wish to. It's about being supportive and understanding without assuming you know everything about their situation.


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‘’You are so courageous for doing that’’

Praising someone for simple tasks or everyday activities because of their disability can undermine their capabilities. Everyone has strengths, and focusing only on their disability can make it seem like you're underestimating what they can do and lower their self-esteem and self-confidence.

Acknowledging their efforts without attributing them to bravery solely because of their abilities is important. Using terms like heroic, inspiring, courageous, and brave might sound condescending and demeaning to them. 


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‘’Let me do that for you’’

Jumping in to help without being asked might seem like the right thing to do, but it might make someone feel like their abilities aren't trusted. It's better to check first if they need assistance instead of assuming they can't handle something on their own.

Respecting someone’s independence means giving them the right to decide when they need help. By asking before taking action, you show that you trust their abilities and respect their freedom. This will help you create an environment where individuals feel empowered and supported rather than as if their abilities are questioned. 


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Recommending remedies or suggesting doctors

Asking, "Have you tried this treatment?" without being asked might feel intrusive. Discussing "fixing" or "curing" someone's disability can unintentionally imply that they're flawed, which isn't the case. Disabilities are part of an individual's identity and aren't inherently negative. It's essential to respect their perspective and not view their condition as something that needs fixing.

Additionally, the person you're speaking with probably has a team of medical professionals already supporting them. It's respectful to leave any suggestions for treatments or remedies to the expertise of their healthcare providers. They likely have their preferred methods of managing their condition and discussing unsolicited treatments might not align with their choices or current plans.


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Instead of these phrases, it's better to approach conversations with empathy, respect, and openness. Treat individuals with diverse abilities the same way you would anyone else. Engage in meaningful conversations, ask about their interests, and listen attentively without making assumptions about their capabilities. Try creating an inclusive environment by treating everyone with dignity and respect. 


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