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Posted on Wed, Nov 3, 2010 : 5 p.m.

People with disabilities: We are people first

By Carolyn L. Grawi

People with disabilities may have more difficulty than others walking, moving, talking, learning, breathing, seeing, hearing, etc. We are remarkably like everyone else. We pass, we fail, we succeed, we take trips, we stay at home, we are bright; we are pains in the neck, and we’re trying to get by like everyone else. When you encounter someone with a disability, please remember the following:

Watch your mouth.

Use "people first" language. Using language that puts the person first acknowledges that people with disabilities are human beings who should not be defined by others’ perceptions of their bodies and minds. For example, instead of “blind person” say “a person who is blind” or, instead of saying “mentally ill,” say “person who has mental health concerns.” Crippled, deformed, suffers from, victim of, the retarded, etc. are never acceptable under any circumstances.

All of us, with or without a disability, are unique individuals. Those of us with a disability, like those of us without a disability, are, first and foremost, people. We are wives, husbands, children and parents. We’re active in the lives of our families and our communities. We love, we laugh and we cry. We accomplish what we need to accomplish, albeit perhaps sometimes in a different manner, with the accommodation of more time, adaptive equipment or technology or an assistant.

Our disability characteristics are both visible and hidden and can include blindness and visual impairments, deafness and hearing impairments, cerebral palsy, arthritis, post-polio, muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis, spinal cord injury, amputation, mental illness, substance abuse, autism, epilepsy, learning disabilities, traumatic brain injury and stroke, to identify a few.

Many strides have been made in “leveling the playing field” for those of us with disabilities. When the Americans with Disabilities Act was signed into law by President George W. Bush on July 26, 1990, many people needed to be informed about the law and educated on how to “accommodate” customers and employees with disabilities.

What is often just as frustrating to those of use with disabilities as the historic lack of equal access and opportunity we have faced for generations is something that cannot be legislated. What we really want is to be treated with the same dignity and thoughtfulness shown to people without disabilities. I firmly believe that most people are well meaning. However, because of ignorance or fear or misconceptions, people with disabilities are often ignored or mistreated.

Two phrases used throughout this article are really important; "people with disabilities" and "person with a disability." They were used rather than the terms “disabled person” or “disabled people” (or other more dated terms like crippled or handicapped) in order to emphasize a fundamental point. People with disabilities are, first and foremost, people. Respecting people with disabilities is really quite simple. Treat us as you would have us treat you - fairly, honestly and with dignity. Treat us as people first.

Most often, interacting with a person with a disability is a matter of common sense and common courtesy. A person who uses a wheelchair may need a door to be opened and/or held. When engaging in a conversation with a person who uses a wheelchair, sit along side or across from him or her. If an individual has a personal assistant, speak directly to the person about his or her requests or needs, not to the personal assistant. When giving directions to a person who is blind or visually impaired, be very specific, such as, “Stay right, there’s an open manhole on your left in about seven feet.” Service animals are working animals and should not be distracted from assisting their owner.

These are just a few ways in which to embrace those of us with disabilities. If you are unsure how to interact or assist a person with a disability, just ask us!

To remark on this post please call 734-274-9209 or send email to Please also vist the Ann Arbor Center for Independent Living at



Thu, Nov 11, 2010 : 3:09 p.m.

DF Smith- No where does it sound as if the author is "demanding" anything. The way I read the article the author is asking for people to be "aware", to treat others as you might wish to be treated. She is giving examples of what is prefered. " Respecting people with disabilities is really quite simple. Treat us as you would have us treat you - fairly, honestly and with dignity. Treat us as people first."

Kristina Birk

Thu, Nov 4, 2010 : 7:17 p.m.

Posting should be corrected to reference President George H.W. Bush.


Thu, Nov 4, 2010 : 7:33 a.m.

Demanding that people speak politically correct language as defined by disability-concern advocates is not a good strategy. Rather than help us folks with disabilities, it is more likely to create a backlash.