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How to be a better friend to a person with a disability

February 23, 2019

Man is a social animal and craves companionship, love and support from fellow beings. This makes the role of friends critical in our lives. However, some people with disabilities face barriers in forming deep friendships due to stigma. People are also unsure how to talk to someone who is disabled, how to approach them, etc.

Pulkit Sharma, is a well-known video logger and restaurant critic based in New Delhi. As a wheelchair user, he understands some of this awkwardness that non disabled people feel, but asks them to spare showing pity or sympathy.

While I do not have a problem if people ask me questions about my disability, I prefer not explaining things to them in detail. There are a few people who bombard me with questions and show me sympathy and that irritates me to the core. What matters the most to me is the connection that we have, irrespective of being a disabled person or not. I believe that every human being is different and there are seven billion people in the world and so much to explore. If you have a problem with me or my disability, you can move on. So will I. - Pulkit Sharma, Restaurant critic

So, if you are wondering how to be a better friend to a disabled person, here are some tips.

  • Watch what you talk - Speaking your mind with friends is totally fine but watch what you say. This applies to all, regardless of disability. But some sensitivity when you are around a person with a disability is especially appreciated. We often use words that are routinely used to describe someone and do not realize they are hurtful. And remember you can be put behind bars for discriminating or hurting the sentiments of a community.
  • Do not assume things - Since people with disabilities are judged a lot, people tend to assume things about them. Like for instance, you might think that a wheelchair user needs help to move around. Or maybe when you go to a restaurant, you might think that your deaf friend needs advice on what food to order to the waiter. Stop judging or assuming things for disabled people. They are capable of doing their own things and will ask for help if needed.
  • Be thoughtful - Look out for accessible locations for meetings. When you plan for a meet-up, make sure that it is an accessible location where your disabled friend can join you. There are many restaurants and malls that are accessible, especially in cities. Try and find them out before finalizing a place. Maybe you can even ask your disabled friend for suggestions.
  • Do not discuss disability all the time. - Once a comfort level is established, it is fine to ask your friend about his or her disability. But can you not make that the sole focus of conversation? There are many interesting things to talk about.

Penav Mota, who is visually impaired, says most of his friends are people who are non disabled. Initially they would ask him many questions. "They used to ask me questions like how I became blind and is there a cure to it. Honestly, I am OK with such questions but there is a way of asking it. You must make sure that the other person is also comfortable", he says.

For Simran Chawla, who is blind, it is important to be treated as an equal.

"Like for instance, when you go to get something, do not ask the disabled person to wait there so that they can go and get it. Most of them do not mean anything bad that way. They think that it is difficult for a disabled person to do it along with them. But that should not be the case. You must do it together. Isn't that what being friends is all about?", she asks.

Friendships know no religion, caste, creed, country or disability. Keep an open mind whoever you meet and wherever you meet to know the true meaning and value a friendship can bring.

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