6 Ways to Support Individuals with Disabilities

Did you know approximately one in four adults in the US have some kind of disability? Disabilities are more common than you might think. Increasing awareness around disabilities and understanding the impact on one’s health and wellbeing is necessary to create a more inclusive society and help people find the resources they need. 

A person with a disability is someone that has a mental or physical impairment that limits a major life activity. While the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) became law in 1990 to protect people with disabilities from discrimination and guarantee equal opportunity, we still must continue to work to create a more inclusive society, increase awareness and remove the stigma, and offer support to individuals with disabilities. Community organizations provide support to people with disabilities in a number of meaningful ways. Some offer recreational programs or sports groups, while others provide financial assistance or employment coaching. These community organizations make a true impact in peoples' lives. There are many ways you can help support people with disabilities and create a more inclusive society.

Be aware and don’t make assumptions

Disabilities take all kinds of forms from mobility to cognition to vision, so it is important to understand and be aware of the specific disability a person faces. Don’t make assumptions on a person’s ability to communicate or physical capabilities. Be patient and assess the situation fully before jumping to conclusions. You should also remember that people are entitled to privacy and no one is required to give you an explanation of their disability. Do not assume that everyone is comfortable talking to a stranger about their disability. 

Be respectful

It’s simple. Treat others the way you want to be treated! This golden rule is no different when interacting with a person who has a disability. Be sure to speak to them directly and show interest in what they are saying to you. It is also important to speak to the individual rather than the people they are with. Treat them with kindness and remember that you must give respect in order to gain it. Respect is at the heart of every action when helping people with disabilities.

Ask before helping

Always make sure you ask before assuming a person needs help. People with disabilities have varying levels of independence, so you should never assume that someone needs help. If someone does ask for help be sure to ask for specific instructions on what will make things easier for them. Remember to be patient and respectful when assisting individuals with disabilities. The goal is to help support and empower them, not to embarrass or disrespect them.

Be aware of personal space

Being aware of someone’s personal space is important in all situations, but becomes even more important when interacting with a person who has a disability to ensure their safety. The mobility aids people use such as a wheelchair, cane, or service dog should not be leaned on or touched without permission. Be aware of your surroundings and do not compromise the safety of a person by being careless. Remember to never move a person’s wheelchair without permission and to never approach or interact with someone’s service dog without permission. These animals are working and it is important for them to be free of distractions. Being cautious of personal space helps keep people with disabilities safe and also is a sign of respect.

Communicate directly and listen closely

Because there are different types of disabilities, communication may vary from situation to situation. It is important for you to gauge the situation to best understand how to provide support. Remember to speak in your normal voice and tone and to be yourself during the conversation. There are things you can do to make communication easier if applicable such as looking directly at a personal who is hard of hearing so they can follow your visual cues or read your lips. The most important thing to remember is to treat people with respect and avoid exaggerating your speech by speaking slower or louder. This may come across as rude or patronizing and should be avoided.

Volunteer at community organizations

If you are looking for actionable ways to get involved in your community and help others, volunteering is a great way to get started. From offering education assistance to employment assistance to housing services, there are a variety of organizations that assist individuals with disabilities. Community organizations help give back to the community, so volunteering with your local organization is a great way to make a difference. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, some volunteer opportunities may be virtual but that shouldn’t stop you from helping your community.

You can search for volunteer opportunities here:

Community organizations help provide the resources that people with disabilities need. Some advocate for the legal rights of individuals with disabilities, while others help empower individuals and prepare them for the workforce. People with disabilities are often at higher risk of injury or health conditions, so they might find themselves needing more help from community organizations than other people. Disabilities also affect the entire family, so some community organizations exist to help provide a support network to these families or provide financial assistance.

To help community organizations maximize their impact, it is important to have the right tools that reduce manual effort of data entry or tracking down information so more time can be spent focusing on the client’s needs and building personal relationships. Pieces Connect is a cloud-based case management software that assists organizations that provide support to individuals with disabilities in their mission. It offers a robust, up-to-date referral directory that makes it easy to refer a client to another organization in your community and promotes closed-loop referrals which ensure that your client gets the extra help that they need. Pieces Connect helps organizations across the community stay connected and fulfill their mission.


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