Mother and disabled son sitting on the couch.

How to Talk Supportively to Disabled People

Q: How can I avoid offending disabled people in conversation?

Some people are born with a mental or physical condition that is qualifying for Social Security disability benefits. Others may be born without a disability but then gradually or suddenly become disabled at some point in their life through an accident or illness.  

In either case, applying for Social Security disability benefits through either (or occasionally both) of the two federal government programs offered by the Social Security Administration can help alleviate the financial burden. 

Arizona disability benefits attorneys know that most benefits recipients would prefer having their health back and going to work rather than staying on disability–not only to have greater financial income, but to feel they are making a contribution to their communities. Relying on disability benefits is nothing to be ashamed of, but many recipients have issues with their pride and look forward to possibly returning to work if they recover. 

As a society, people often make comments toward people who are members of groups that are different than their own. While often the comments are not meant in a derogatory way, the misguided attempts at empathy or support can be upsetting if taken the wrong way. If you haven’t walked in the person’s shoes, you can’t understand their experience. 

What not to say regarding disability

Avoid trying to downplay someone’s disability as if it’s just a weakness in a skill-set. Don’t say that everyone has some type of disability. A disability is not the same as a weakness. If they have to plan their day around it and need accommodations, it should be legitimatized. It’s better to acknowledge that you don’t understand their experience and then ask them to explain what it’s like to navigate life with their disability and ask if there’s a way you can help them.

Attempting to build-up a person with physical disabilities by pointing out their mental or intellectual strength is condescending. It’s also offensive to those with intellectual disabilities due to its implication that having a mental disability is worse than having a physical one. Instead, discuss and congratulate them on their specific intellectual accomplishments and show interest in what they do. 

Avoid giving unsolicited advice about their disability especially when you don’t know how the person will take that advice. It can be upsetting because it assumes the disabled person couldn’t or didn’t think of it themselves–and it’s even more annoying if the same tip is repeatedly offered. Chances are they already investigated the information you want to share. Unsolicited advice feeds into the disturbing stereotype that disabled people are helpless– so tread carefully when offering it and ask if they would like to hear about a suggestion before just blurting it out.

Don’t assume that you understand the discrimination of ableism just because you’ve experienced discrimination in a different protected group such as race, gender, religion, or sexual orientation. 

If you need assistance with an initial application for Social Security disability benefits or with appealing the denial of benefits, the disability attorneys of Arizona at Roeschke Law can help. Contact us today for a free consultation

From our office in Phoenix, we represent disabled people and their families throughout Arizona. We help them access the disability benefits they need and deserve so they can focus on healing. It’s all we do.