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How to be a better ally to people with disabilities

July is Disability Pride Month, a month to celebrate disabled people and remind everyone that being disabled isn’t a bad thing. Too often disability is met with pity, but this response is often triggered by the assumption that disability is synonymous with something negative.

“This annual observance is used to promote visibility and mainstream awareness of the positive pride felt by people with disabilities,” says disability rights organization AmeriDisability. “Pride comes from celebrating our heritage, disability culture, the unique experiences that we have as people with differing abilities, and the contributions that we offer society.”

If you want to be a better disability ally, here are five suggestions from five people with disabilities:

Disability isn’t a dirty word

There are plenty of euphemisms that have emerged for “disabled” such as “special needs” or “differently-abled,” however, even if these terms were probably created with the best intentions, disability rights advocates say that they have the opposite effect. Trying to cover disability up with other “nicer” words makes it seem as though being disabled is an inherently bad thing.

Hannah Griffin, a self-identified professional patient, says you shouldn’t be afraid of saying “disabled.” “Disability is more than just the physical and/or mental effects on the body,” she explains. “Disability is more than the pills that you take or the doctors that you see. It’s a part of who you are.”

Understand basic wheelchair etiquette

According to editor and fanfiction writer Charlie Knight, “A wheelchair is an extension of our bodies. If you wouldn’t lift and move an abled person without asking, don’t push a wheelchair.” This applies whether the owner of the wheelchair is in it or not.

Another pointer Knight gives is to not go out of your way to avoid saying things like “take a walk,” and to not bend down to speak with someone in a wheelchair unless you legitimately have to scream to be heard.

Remember that there is no one way a disabled person can look

Some disabilities are obvious, however, a great many of them aren’t. Keep in mind that you never know when you’re interacting with a person who is disabled. There is a wide misconception that disability only affects a small portion of the population, but, as disability rights activist Isabel Mavrides-Calderón shares on her TikTok, “this simply isn’t true—one in four people are disabled.”

Don’t lead with assumptions

Instead of letting your assumptions guide your thoughts, do your own research and allow disabled people who are willing to share things about their disability the space to do that.

Betty Gold, senior food editor at Well+Good says that “knowledge is power, and giving someone the opportunity to explain their condition helps everyone involved feel more comfortable, understood, and accommodated for.” She notes that when people find out she has diabetes, people allow their responses to guide them which leads them to say something “really rude about how they could never have diabetes because they hate needles.” Instead, Gold says that it’s appreciated when people “allow [her] to explain what type 1 is without assuming a lot of things.”

Offer help, just like you would offer it to anyone else

Help is often welcomed, as long as you offer it in a way that you would offer help to anyone else. For example, disability rights activist Spencer West uses a wheelchair, which he explains can be difficult to maneuver in the rain. “When it rains going outside sucks,” he says in a TikTok video. “If you have disabled folx in your life, check-in. See if they need some help or if you can offer some support.”’

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