I surveyed the stairs that were leading to my friend’s door. They were covered with ice and had no railing. I began to wonder, how am I going to make it into their house? While looking around for an answer, two gentlemen come around the corner from the garage to rescue me from my predicament. One says, “Jenny, let me help you up the stairs.” The other says, “I’ll get the door.”
“Your arm, Miss,” my friend extends his elbow for me to grasp as we head up the stairs. I look at him and smile, “It’s like we’re at the prom! ‘Jenny Hill escorted by…’” Suddenly, in that moment, I am transformed from a casual visitor to an honored guest.
Pleasantly surprised by this incident, feeling so honored by the kindness of my friends, I began to wonder: how can we show honor to people with disabilities? I am sure there are several ways, but here are three that come to mind:
1. We can honor people with our language. In college, I learned about using person-first language. It’s a simple rearranging of our sentences helping us to see and honor people as human beings ahead of their disabilities. For example, instead of saying, the blind girl, or the deaf boy, say the girl who is blind or the boy who is deaf. I also recommend the use of the word disability and accessible in lieu of the word handicapped. There’s a widely held misconception that the word handicapped actually means cap-in-hand, referring to the need for those with disabilities to beg for money. The word handicapped actually speaks to leveling the playing field in sporting events so everyone has an equal advantage to compete. Unfortunately, this word’s history is not widely known.
(Read more here: http://www.snopes.com/language/offense/handicap.asp)
2. We can honor people with our priorities. I think it is so important to get to know people for who they are as individuals, and then out of that relationship, learn how to meet their needs. I feel loved and honored when family and friends attend to small details for me without being asked because they have known me long enough to know my needs. I see this in many ways: when a seat is waiting at the door for me to sit in while I take off my shoes, when colleagues walk in quietly to the media center so I don’t startle while sitting at my desk, when friends offer to carry my food for me while walking down stairs or outside at a social gathering because they know I can’t balance everything, and when people offer to drive when going to the Cities because they know I’m uncomfortable with the traffic.
3. We can honor people with our attention. The issues surrounding disabilities can be challenging to understand and difficult to discuss. However, I think we can all learn so much from taking the time to hear other people’s stories. Stories provide a window into the world of disability for those who are able-bodied and a mirror for those who have a disability from which they can see themselves. This is why I believe they have the unique power to offer both insight and hope. Want to read a great story? Here’s one about a family who has three children with cerebral palsy. They are one of 18 families in the world to be in their unique situation, but I don’t want to give away all the details…read the full story here:
http://www.thedoor.org/resources/documents/MarAprMay_2012_at_the_door.pdf. Resources Windows and Mirrors: http://dsq-sds.org/article/view/854/1029 Picture Source: http://www.thisweeklive.com/2011/05/16/lakeville-north-2011-prom-grand-march/