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Disabled Reddit-ers Share: Eight Common Interaction Mistakes, And How to Fix Them

I saw this a few years ago and thought it was broadly informative.

An interesting conversation picked up on Reddit this week when a user posted the following question to people with disabilities: “What is something that we (presumably people without disabilities) do that we think helps, but it really doesn’t?” In just a day, more than 9,000 comments rolled in, and people living with all types of health conditions — from physical disabilities to developmental delays to invisible illnesses — offered a lot of great insight.


If you’re unfamiliar with what it’s like to live with a health condition, you may not even realize when you’re not actually being that helpful. (That’s OK because that’s where we come in). According to Redditors, here are eight common mistakes people make when they’re trying to help:

1. Helping without asking.

“I love when people help me, but please always ask first, and if I say, ‘No thanks, I’ve got it,’ then go on with your day. Or better yet, strike up a conversation!”

“A friend of a friend of mine who [uses a wheelchair] told us how people constantly offer to push her to her destination, and often times go to start push (sic) her along. One person said, ‘I’m helping!’ as he started pushing her in her chair. She yelled back, ‘No, you’re kidnapping!!’ He stopped.”

2. Changing the way you talk.

“A wheelchair doesn’t make someone hard of hearing. Or stupid. Stop acting like it does.”

“I’m hearing impaired (or hard of hearing, as the Deaf community prefers to put it). Do. Not. Yell at top volume, reeeaaaaaallllllly painfully slow. Just like it isn’t going to help a Spanish person understand the English you are speaking, it’s going to make you look real stupid to me… and everyone else we are around. It might work for you with Grandma, but I’m not your granny. Face me so I can read your lips, speak sharp and speak clear and we cool.”

“Don’t bend down to my level to talk to me, I can hear you perfectly well, and it’s incredibly demeaning.”

“I have an autism spectrum disorder… Just talk to me like you would anyone else, and if I need something explained to me, I will ask. It’s that simple.”

3. Saying “But you don’t look [disabled, sick, etc.]”

“‘But you don’t look sick.’ ‘Well you don’t look like a doctor, but that’s just my opinion.’”

“The thing is, people without visible disabilities… often hear ‘But you don’t look sick’ as an excuse for the person saying it to not take the condition seriously or not give proper accommodations. In those cases it’s not a compliment, it’s an accusation. It happens way more often than you’d expect, and since it’s not just annoying but often an obstacle to actually getting the help needed to get on with your life, it gets old fast.”

4. Feeling sorry.

“I don’t want to be pitied for something I can’t do anything about. It makes me feel less human/inferior.”

“Pity is condescending, it ignores a person’s talents, relationships, accomplishments and joys and paints them as nothing more than a thing that suffers.”

5. Offering medical advice.

“My husband has chronic migraines. I can’t tell you the number of times someone suggests f**king Excedrin. ‘Oh really? I’ve lived with migraines for 20 years and I never thought to try over-the-counter Excedrin! Tell me more about how it helped you with a really bad headache once.’”

“Someone told me cashews could cure depression. I… may not have been the most tactful in my response.”

“Believe me, unless you are a researcher who specializes in my condition, you probably don’t know more about treatments than me.”

6. Calling a person “inspiring” or “brave.”

“I laugh when people call me an inspiration. If they only knew. No Hallmark movies to be made about me anytime soon. lol”

“This! I’m being praised for going to university and doing normal random everyday stuff.What am I supposed to do, sit on my ass all day and wait to die?”

“There’s nothing brave or strong about it. I exist. My strength and courage comes from what I do. Not what I am.”

7. Shrugging off an illness you can’t see.

“I have a chronic pain condition. Please don’t tell me it’s all in my head. Everything we experience, we experience through the brain. Of course it’s in my head.”

“Just because someone looks OK to you, doesn’t mean you should treat them like they’re faking it.”

8. Avoiding eye contact or keeping your questions to yourself.

“I have some form of Tourette’s syndrome. I love questions. Questions show concern and interest, and that is (for me at least) infinitely more preferable than awkward tension.”

“I only have one eye. Look, I already know I look different. I understand that your kid is curious. That’s a good thing. Let me answer their questions. They can learn something and find out that I’m still a nice guy even though I look different. Don’t make them feel afraid to talk to people who don’t look exactly like them.”

But remember, everyone is different.

“Many of the things that some people don’t want could likewise be things others might welcome. The point is, everyone is different and has different needs and feelings about their situation in life. My advice is engage in a conversation and ask if there is anything you can do. If the answer is yes, help. If the answer is no, fine. This applies to everyone — not just those people with a clear physical impairment.”

From Our Intern: Top Tips for Planning Accessible Conferences

My name is Lucas Sanders, and this summer I have been working as an intern with DR. Arielle Silverman. When DR. Silverman was hired as a consultant, for the Physics Education Research Conference Planning Committee, I was asked to help research how they could best ensure their conferences are fully accessible for all of their attendees. While helping do research on conference accessibility, I learned a lot about just how much extensive planning goes into creating an accessible conference environment. Below are some of the most important things one should consider when planning an accessible conference.

When planning a conference, one should always attempt to make it as accessible as possible for the convenience of those who will be attending. This may seem rather daunting considering the wide spectrum of different people’s needs and the wide range of disabilities of those who may be attending. This is why the first step, when planning a conference, is to make things as simple as possible and should be to assign someone on the planning committee of the conference, to oversee all matters concerning accessibility. This person is usually called the accessibility chair person, and they have the responsibility of ensuring that all attendees will be equally able to participate. The first thing the accessibility chair person should oversee, is the creation of the registration form, which needs to be accessible to those using screen readers or zoom text. The form should also have a sufficient checklist for people to go through and check off concerning any accommodations they’ll need when attending the conference. Once this is done the accessibility chair person can begin planning for the location of the event, which is one of the most important aspects to consider when thinking about those with special travel needs. The location will need to be easily accessible for those who are unable to drive themselves. This means it should be near an airport for those who are flying in and near bus stops for those who will be using that form of transportation. The event should also be near or in a hotel for the convenience of those who will need to be staying overnight, and are unable to drive themselves. The building itself should also be easily accessible to those in wheelchairs or other physical disabilities.

Once the registration form and the location have been created and determined the next thing to be considered is the formatting of all material that will be presented at the conference. The accessibility chair person should inform all speakers to provide their presentations ahead of time so they can be put in alternate formats. The speakers should also be informed that any and all videos should be captioned and that they should be prepared to give an auditory description of all visual images used threwout their presentation.

These are perhaps the most important things to consider, but there are many more aspects to creating the perfect accessible conference. Such as, providing volunteers to assist people in getting food if food is provided, providing volunteers to read any and all signs or posters, ensuring all seating arrangements are spread out enough that people in wheelchairs will be able to maneuver throughout the room, making sure that there will be enough money in the budget to hire enough interpreters if requested, and correctly labeling all food that is provided, for the benefit of those who may have allergies or dietary restrictions.

 If all these things are properly set up then your conference should go smoothly, but to be properly prepared it’s important to also carefully choose the staff who will be working at the event. It will be a huge benefit if the volunteers and event staff have been properly trained in how to assist those with disabilities as an extra precaution to ensure the satisfaction of all attendees.

Make Real Change on Gun Violence: Stop Scapegoating People with Mental Health Disabilities [Repost]

“Research shows that there is no direct link between gun violence (excluding suicide) and mental health. In fact, people with disabilities of all kinds are more likely to be the victims of gun violence.”

“The evidence is clear: the overwhelming majority of gun violence is committed by people without disabilities. Public opinion, and public policy, must catch up with reality.  Misinformation on this issue contributes to discrimination that has a real and negative impact on people’s lives.”

In the wake of recent mass shootings, Americans are struggling to figure out where to find solutions. All too often, violent crimes are blamed on mental health disabilities. This research brief from the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network (ASAN) demonstrates that attributing a majority of violent crimes to disabled perpetrators is not only inaccurate, but also stigmatizing and harmful to a group who already face a heightened risk of victimization.

Make Real Change on Gun Violence: Stop Scapegoating People with Mental Health Disabilities

Some Thoughts on Stimming: Toward An Acceptance of Movement Diversity

“I flap my hands when I am happy. I flap them when I am content. I flap them a lot when I get excited about something. I have as many different ways of flapping and twisting and ruffling and fluttering my hands as I have emotions and emotional combinations that wash over and through me. My hands are like barometers of my emotional climate.”-Maxfield Sparrow

“I tried soccer and hated it. In soccer everyone else seemed to know where to go, and I was always confused. Flapping my hands and jumping up and down, though — that came naturally.”-Zoe

“A student pushes at a piece of paper, flaps their hands, stacks their fingers against their palm, pokes at a pencil, rubs their palms through their hair. It’s silent, until: ‘Quiet hands!’-Julia Bascom

“I also think that people should have a lot of options available, and should be able to decide at any moment whether it’s more important to pass or to feel good. And that is what I think we should teach people: that sometimes it can be helpful to know how to pass, but that doesn’t mean you have to forget how to stim.”-Zoe

[Excerpts from essays published on

Thinking Person’s Guide to Autism]

They go by many names: “stims,” “stereotypies,” “self-stimulatory behaviors,” “mannerisms” and in blind circles, “blindisms.” These labels are applied to a huge range of habitual movements: body rocking, head rocking or head shaking, eye pressing, hand flicking or flapping, spinning or bouncing in place, playing with items, etc. The only thing all these movements have in common, in order to get labeled “stims,” is that they are performed by a disabled person.

I am blind. I used to love banging the back of my head on things. I could spin in place for hours without getting dizzy. I loved anyone who would let me bounce on their bed. I used to flap my hands. I still rock or shake my head sometimes when I get excited about something. Except for the childhood spinning and jumping, these are movements that happen without my awareness.

I used to feel ashamed of my stims. I was told that if I stimmed in public, people would think I “wasn’t all there.” At the time, I tried to distance myself from people with intellectual disabilities, so the threat of being seen as one motivated me to hide my stims. I was compared to other blind people who didn’t stim. I would read books saying that the only reason blind people stim is because their parents or caregivers didn’t work hard enough to break them of it.

But then, a while ago, I realized that nondisabled people stim, too.

Some people tap their pencil in class. Others fidget with their bracelets or squeeze stress balls. Still others bite their nails, or crack their knuckles.

Autistic kids grow up being told to have “quiet hands.” Yet when sighted neurotypicals speak verbally, they sometimes “talk with their hands” too.  They make what seem, to me, like purposeless hand gestures. Nobody tells them to have “quiet hands” or “quiet body.”

I began to wonder why me rocking in the middle of a passionate conversation was that much different from my sighted friend gesticulating.

Nondisabled toddlers run and climb and jump all over the place. They have to be supervised so they don’t fall down the stairs or break their leg. But when a blind or autistic toddler spins in place, completely safe and harmless to others, they are pathologized. I saw a Facebook post recently from a parent whose son’s teacher was “freaking out” about his habitual spinning. The child’s occupational therapist even warned that the spinning would interfere with his sleep. Obviously, she had never experienced the joy and peace of spinning.

We have a cultural double standard regarding the kinds of movement we accept from disabled vs. nondisabled members of our society. And, I believe that our collective antipathy toward stimming is just one more way we tend to consider disabled people as “other.” By pathologizing the movements of disabled people, we forget that these movements arise from the same human needs that drive the movement behavior of nondisabled people. Due to neurological or sensory differences, our stims might look different on the outside.

The term “stim” implies that a movement is done for the purpose of generating sensory stimulation. Sometimes this is true. But, stims can serve many other purposes as well, as I have learned from autistic people. They can generate needed sensory input, but they can also help lessen unwanted sensory stimulation. Stims can serve as full-body emotional expressions. They can release pent-up motor energy that might not be released through more typical outlets. It seems clear to me that humans are wired for movement, and movement serves many other purposes beyond just traveling from one place to another-especially early in life. If children weren’t wired to move, we would see kids only walking if they needed to get somewhere, and only running if they needed to get somewhere fast.

I know that many parents are genuinely unsure how to handle their children’s stims. They want to respect their children, but they are also aware of the negative ways our society reacts to behavior that stands out from the norm. Many disabled people, too, struggle with more general questions of how and when to disclose their disability. Suppressing stims is one way of “passing” as nondisabled, which bears both benefits and costs for the person doing it.

I try to take a dual approach to these kinds of issues. I push to remove social barriers and make the world accessible to everyone. But at the same time, I am a pragmatist, and I know these things won’t happen overnight. That’s why, if a blind student is having trouble accessing an online course for example, I will advise them to make a complaint to the course developer, and then hire a reader to help them while they’re waiting for a resolution. I generally take a similar approach to matters of stimming and passing.

I want to see a greater acceptance of stimming included as part of our broader inclusion and “disability awareness” campaigns. I think much of our aversion to stimming is unfortunately hard-wired in our evolution. We feel uncomfortable with people who move differently, for much the same reason as our discomfort with people who have facial differences, or who vocalize instead of speaking. All of these differences could point to disease or threat. Our human ancestors lived longer if they avoided people who looked, acted, or spoke differently. This is hard-wired, but we know that disability education and contact works to undo these patterns. I would like to see books and videos about stims and how natural they are for neurodivergent people. I also want to see an end to teaching methods that try to undo stims through shaming or punishment. Imagine if all the effort spent on breaking us of our stims could instead be directed toward helping nondisableds get comfortable with the full spectrum of human movement.

But, these shifts will take time. I do think it is appropriate for disabled children to learn about the social costs of stimming. This needn’t be over-emphasized, though. The social costs of looking disabled are pretty obvious to most disabled children, even blind children who are supposedly so unaware of our social environment. We can pick up on other people’s avoidance or judgment pretty quickly. What we need, then, is guidance on alternative ways to stim that are less socially costly. For example, children can be offered trampolines, swings, or enrolled in dance classes. Efforts can be made to adapt typical exercise activities so they are accessible. Fidget objects can be used discreetly under the table. Blind children, who may not know how sighted people express themselves nonverbally in conversation, can take acting classes and learn about gesturing and body language. Individuals who actively want to stop a certain stim can use a reminder bracelet, or ask a trusted loved one to give them discreet feedback so they can build awareness and substitute an alternate stim. We can practice a “quiet hands” pose reserved for public presentations and first dates. Just know if the date goes well, or if it goes horribly, there might be a lot of stimming at home that night.

I think the coolest thing, though, would be if disabled people could have role models who stim. I will close with this quote:

“Stimming in front of my students to relieve tension lets them know they too are safe to do so in the classroom. Disabled students need disabled professors and a curriculum in which they can see themselves reflected.” [From https://m.facebook.com/witchbrain/?refid=52&__tn__=C-R

Happy Birthday, ADA: An Essential Step, But Our Work Continues

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law 29 years ago today. At the time of ADA’s passage, I was a month away from starting kindergarten. I was disabled, and had not yet experienced integrated schooling, as I had attended a preschool for blind children. But, I did not yet know what a disability was or that I had one.

My right to a free, appropriate public education had already been guaranteed prior to the ADA. But the ADA protected my right to accommodation in employment and in all nonreligious settings serving the public. Because of the ADA, I can walk into a doctor’s office, or a grocery store, and ask for reading assistance without fear of being kicked out because “we’re too busy.” Employers can’t ask about my disability, or deny needed accommodations unless they would presentan “undue hardship” to the business. But perhaps the most significant benefit of the ADA has come to people with physical disabilities whose very literal access to public spaces depends on their design. The ADA requires all new buildings serving the public to be constructed in a manner allowing full access for wheelchair users and others with physical disabilities.

Disabled people from the generation before mine remember living in pre-ADA America. They fought for the basic civil rights protections afforded by the ADA. The ADA has allowed access to community life for millions of Americans.

But, the ADA has been far from a panacea. A significant group of blind Americans warned that the ADA could increase custodial treatment and over-accommodation of disabled people. To address this concern, a provision was passed within the ADA ensuring that individuals can refuse unnecessary accommodations.

More troubling, though, employment rates for Americans with disabilities have not improved appreciably since the ADA passed. There are a variety of reasons for this. One thing that definitely happens is that employers may over-estimate the cost or the burden of hiring disabled workers. In the old days, employers would openly turn away disabled applicants. Now, post-ADA, employers may claim other reasons for not hiring disabled workers, or even outright lie and say a position has been filled, while continuing to screen nondisabled applicants. A research participant of mine once shared that he came to a job interview as scheduled, was told that the position had already been filled, then overheard another person being called back for an interview while he was waiting for his ride home. While such blatant lies may not be the norm, in today’s competitive job market, it is easy for openly disabled applicants to be passed up without any stated reason and no clear proof that discrimination was at play.

Furthermore, the ADA in isolation cannot fix technology-related barriers in the workplace. In 1998, legislation was passed requiring federal agencies to make their websites and information technology accessible. But, there has been a dearth of specific regulations governing how the ADA applies to the Internet and other 21st-century media. Workplace technology is constantly evolving, and even with laws requiring access, it takes time for workplaces to properly identify and remove technology-related access barriers every time there is an upgrade, or a new release. Consequently, we see disabled workers laid off or demoted when the call center where they work starts using a new call management system, for example.

The ADA was pivotal because it enacts a spirit of inclusion and an awareness that disabled Americans deserve civil rights protections. But, inclusive attitudes cannot be legislated. As long as people continue to misunderstand, fear, hate, pity, or envy people with disabilities, discrimination will still occur. Laws like the ADA may just encourage people to sweep the discrimination under the carpet instead of letting it lie in plain view. And when discrimination is hidden or swept under the rug, it becomes even harder to manage. It’s a little like that stinky old broccoli I accidentally left in my fridge for a month, and finally found on the very back of the shelf. Stunk up my whole kitchen until I could find and dispose of it.

We need laws like the ADA to guide organizations toward inclusion. But, what will really enact long-term change is the widespread cultural belief that disabled people are valued members of our communities. In my work, I am encouraged to meet organizations that are taking strides toward full inclusion and access because they want to, not just because they are being forced to do so by the hand of the law. Real revolution requires all of us to identify and confront our own misunderstandings, fears, and other involuntary reactions we have around someone whose abilities differ from our own. Once we identify these internal roadblocks, we can work to correct them and to build systems free of discrimination. As more disabled people are being integrated in schools, workplaces, housing, and civic life, I hope to see a more unified valuing of inclusion nationwide and worldwide.