Disabilities manifest in many different forms (both visible and invisible to the naked eye), meaning each disability presents its own unique needs and challenges. Whether you’re aware of it or not, there’s a good chance that someone in your immediate network lives with a disability, given that the prevalence in Americans is about 1 in 5.
If you’re looking for ways to support someone in your life that struggles with chronic pain, arthritis that limits mobility, or a cognitively challenging traumatic brain injury, educating yourself on their specific situation and needs will go a long way. For now, brushing up on general recommendations for supporting your loved ones is a great place to start. Here are a few ideas to help you serve as an ally for family and friends with disabilities.
Take Stock of Their Needs
It’s an excellent idea to become familiar with your friend or family member’s disability. That way, you can take their potential needs into account. For example, suppose someone has multiple sclerosis and is experiencing a flare-up. In that case, they may need assistance completing household tasks or moving up and down stairs due to fatigue and muscle spasms. If your loved one is looking to maintain optimal independence, connect them with caregiving services like those offered by 24 Hour Home Care. Home care providers ensure that your loved one has 24/7 access to additional assistance they may need. Additionally, these in-home care services empower folks with disabilities to lead a high-quality life from the comfort of their home environment.
Be an Advocate
Learning to be an advocate for your loved one can be helpful in sticky situations. Becoming familiar with how and when to apply the Americans with Disability Act (ADA) can be beneficial when helping your loved ones ensure their rights are protected. Organizing a complete medical history can ease the burden resting on your loved one’s shoulders, as they’ll no longer have to remember every minute detail. With your support, preparing for doctor’s appointments or emergencies won’t drain your family member or friend’s limited emotional and physical energy.
Empower Their Abilities
Rather than focusing on how their disability may limit them, celebrate what your loved one with disabilities can do by acknowledging their achievements. If safe and warranted, encourage your friend or family member to pursue their daily tasks with independence. If or when someone has questions regarding the disability, encourage your loved one to answer onlooker’s questions using their own words rather than trying to speak for them.
Plan with Accessibility
Keep accessibility at the forefront of your mind when planning vacations, family gatherings, and social activities. A vital part of supporting your friend or family member with disabilities is making sure that they’re included the same way as everyone else.
If needed, research their disability to better understand the activities they can or can’t participate in. With this simple step, you can plan accordingly for wheelchair inaccessible event spaces. For example, if your loved one is hard of hearing, choose a quiet or spacious venue so that they’re better able to understand others. Ensure the event’s location is accessible or has the necessary accommodations for your loved one, such as wheelchairs and wheelchair ramps.
Practice Active Listening
Learn how to listen to what your loved one tells you actively. Doing so will give you a better idea of what your friend or family member needs from you. That way, you won’t rely on what you think they need to steer yourself in the right direction. Listen intently to what they tell you and wait to think of your response until they finish talking. Ultimately, your goal should be to avoid interjecting with your thoughts and opinions prematurely.
After all, you may not know what your loved one is truly going through. That said, you must lend an ear, amplify your loved one with a disability’s voice, and validate this family member or friend’s feelings when they express them to you.
Supporting your friend or family member with disabilities can and should take many different forms. Ensuring that they have access to additional assistance, focusing on their strengths, taking their needs into account when planning activities, and truly listening when they tell you what they need are all great places to start. Lastly, be open to any critiques or suggestions they may have for you to act as their ally continually.