10 slightly awkward questions you might have about disability

Have you ever had questions about disability but felt too awkward to ask them? We're taking a look at some curly questions, and giving our take on the answers.

Tackling taboo questions about disability is not always an easy task, but we believe confronting these head on is the best way to break down stigma

Curiosity is natural, and having questions about disability is also natural. But sometimes you might have questions that you’re not really comfortable asking – and at times it may not actually be appropriate to do so!

We’re taking a look at 10 of these curly questions, and giving our take on the answers.

Not everyone will wholeheartedly agree with us, it’s each to their own, but we feel this is a good general guide.

1. Am I allowed to say someone with a disability is inspiring?

This can be a difficult question to answer simply.

OK sure, if the person you’re talking to has achieved something you think is pretty amazing, like set an ambitious goal and achieved it, then sure it’s appropriate to say they’re inspiring.

But in our view, if you are saying that someone is inspirational just because they have a disability – then no.

In their eyes, they’re just living their life and probably going about their day-to-day which may mean going to work, cooking dinner, and then watching the Bachelor! A great life sure – but probably not actions they feel they need praise for.

2. What is wrong with the ‘r-word’ or ‘spastic’?

When people use the r-word (retard), or spastic and spaz, it is often to insult people with a disability, or to call someone or something stupid or uncoordinated – “You’re being so retarded”, “You’re such a spaz”.

What’s wrong with these words? Simply they are hurtful and derogatory – they suggest people with a disability are stupid or flawed, even when people don’t mean for them to.

In our view this is not being overly politically correct, this is just showing people respect.

3. Can I use accessible parking or toilets if I don’t have a disability?

Using accessible parking without a correct permit is illegal and it is never acceptable to park here. Not only is it illegal, it means that people who do have a permit may not be able to.

Also remember, 90% of disabilities are invisible, so never judge others for having a disability permit even if they don’t ‘look’ like they have a disability. Someone may not use a wheelchair, but they can have chronic pain, poor lung capacity, or need more room to accommodate a prosthetic limb.

And what about using an accessible toilet? As it’s not illegal to use one if you don’t have a disability, this is a little bit more of a grey area…

Common sense does need to come into play, but as a general rule it is courteous to not use an accessible toilet so you don’t delay someone who does need to use it – and especially not just to do a number 2!

4. Do I need to bend down to talk to someone in a wheelchair?

No – generally there is no need for you to do this.

To make the conversation comfortable, try and take a step back so you have eye contact, or, if you want to talk to the person for a while, or it’s noisy, why not pull up a chair?

5. How do I talk to a deaf person?

Having a chat with someone who has hearing loss should not be scary or intimidating, but here are a few tips to get the conversation flowing easily.

If you need to, get the person’s attention before you start talking to them – possibly just a gentle tap on the shoulder.

You can talk at a normal speed and at a clear but normal volume, but make sure you face the person and stay still so they can lip read if they need to.

If you are chatting with a group, talk one at a time so the person can follow the conversation. And if the person is having difficulty understanding, don’t repeat yourself over and over, maybe just say it in a different way.

6. Can I ask someone with a disability “How did you get your disability?”

“What’s wrong with you?”, “What happened to you?”, “Were you born that way?”

No, it’s not really OK to ask these questions when you are meeting someone for the first time! What you are saying to the person is the first thing you noticed was their disability.

It’s also really quite personal, and it would be similar to being asked about your own health or medical history right off the bat!

When you get to know the person a bit better, you might ask them some more personal questions, but, everyone is different. Some people might be very comfortable talking about their disability, while others may not, so take cues from the person themselves.

Just remember there is nothing wrong with a person who has a disability so never ask “What’s wrong with you?”.

7. How do I shake someone’s hand if they only have one?

If someone only has one hand, shake their hand! Simple! Even if they have limited use of their hand, or wear an artificial limb, it is respectful to offer a handshake.

If someone is not able to shake hands, simply acknowledge them with a smile and a ‘hello’!.

8. Should I push someone in a wheelchair?

Generally no, you shouldn’t push someone’s wheelchair without the owner giving you the go ahead. Someone’s wheelchair is actually an extension of their body or personal space – so you can see why this could be a bit uncomfortable!

Also don’t assume someone in a wheelchair needs your help, but if you think they may, ask them! There is no need to try and be the hero, just be natural. There are also other ways you could help, maybe you could hold a door open, carry a package, or give some other helping hand.

But remember the person may be more than capable and comfortable on their own, so if they say no, respect their answer and don’t push the subject.

And it goes without saying, if someone asks for help, then sure, help them out!

9. Can I date someone with a disability?

Yes of course – as long it is safe, consensual, and the person with a disability fully understands what being in a relationship, and possibly a sexual relationship, is all about. It is ultimately then their decision whether they fancy you and say yes!

People with a disability date, have sex, get married, and have children, and they do not only need to exclusively date others with a disability. The bottom line is, if the person is happy, and the relationship is consensual and positive, then it is just like dating anybody else.

And no, someone is not noble for being in a relationship with someone who has a disability – this suggests that not having a disability makes you a great catch, and having a disability makes you a liability.

10. What do I do if I can’t understand what someone is saying?

Sometimes people can have more difficulty speaking.

If you are talking to someone with a disability but are not sure what they have said, don’t be afraid to ask them to repeat themselves.

It is also completely fine to repeat what they have said back to them to make sure you have understood. It’s best not to pretend to understand if you haven’t, and don’t just smile and nod.

Communication doesn’t have to be speech either, try using a pen and paper, tablet, or phone to write things down.