The journey to becoming an ally can be one that leads you down an amazing path of exploration. When you don’t know where to start, you just have to dive in. Wanting to be an ally, and a good one at that, is an everyday commitment to learning more and doing better. Dr. Vivienne Ming states, “If you want to tackle bias, rewire people’s brains with continuous, natural experiences with people who challenge their stereotypes.”
Here are 5 ways to become a good ally to those in the disabled community.
#1: Educate Yourself, Then Ask.
Do what you can to educate yourself, but don’t be afraid to ask questions. Remember that it is not the responsibility of the individual with a disability to educate you. Read blogs, seek out their voices, and learn about what they are fighting for and where they need their voices to be heard. If you do get stuck on something, then ask specific questions.
#2: Use People-First Language OR Identity-First Language Depending on the Individuals Preference.
People-first language emphasizes the importance of the fact that people with disabilities are first and foremost humans. It conveys respect, rather than defining people primarily by their disability. Be aware of the language that you use and learn what the majority of people with disabilities prefer, but always clarify with the individual. If they prefer you to address them differently, use their phrasing. For some allies, it might be scary to use the word disabled, but it’s not a bad word.
#3: Disability Is Not Inability.
Humans will always find a way to accomplish their goals, in spite of things that may try to hold them back. Do not set expectations for people with disabilities, but rather, advocate for a way to help the world become more accessible and amplify their voices for what they need.
#4: Work for Inclusion in Your Own Community.
There are people with disabilities within each of our communities. We need to do what we can to make our community more inclusive and accessible for them. Be mindful of people's intersectionality between multiple minority statuses, as oftentimes, these people are the most ignored. Also remember that it’s not just about physical barriers either, but the attitudes and perspectives that need changing as well.
#5: Remember That a Wide Range of Disabilities Exist -- They Aren’t All Physical or Noticeable.
Disabilities are not just associated with a physical limitation. A wide range of disabilities exist, some being invisible. As allies, we cannot assume that we know what a person with a disability looks like or how they experience life.
One of the most important things to remember as an ally is that we are not here to take charge or take over. We are here to learn, listen, and amplify voices.