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Civil Rights

Think about People with Disabilities – What Are Their Rights and How to Help Them

— March 12, 2020

Please drop the inspirational remarks, speeches, and condescending comments.

People living with disabilities have all the same rights you do. This means freedom of speech, a respect to privacy, a right to health, education, marriage, a family… They have, of course, equal rights before the law as well.

Disability is defined as individuals who have long term mental, sensory, intellectual, or physical impairment that hinders their full participation in society through the interaction and creation of barriers set by their own impairments. 

Awareness is luckily growing, and people are becoming more and more understanding of people with disabilities. There is also a growing awareness of what types of disabilities exist, and how to help people who have them. This article is here to assist with this awareness and to help you understand how to better assist people with disabilities. 

The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

This mouthful of a title is relevant for Australia, and all of the other 82 signatories that took part in this Protocol. Namely, this convention, set up by the United Nations, worked towards changing attitudes and approaches we have to people with disabilities. 

The core switch was changing the viewpoint of looking at people with disabilities as simple objects of charity, protection, and medical treatment, and switched to looking at them as people who have rights, who can make their own choices, and their own decisions. 

The core point of the CRPD was not the creation of new rights, but rather, to consolidate existing rights, to clarify them and to show how they completely apply to people with disabilities. 

Through the accepting of the CRPD, Australia has accepted the obligation to recognise people with disabilities and that they recognise people with disabilities have a legal capacity equal with the non-disabled, and that It will provide them with access to support they might need.

Give them autonomy

First things first – never help without asking. Unless you see someone really getting in trouble in a time-straining way (like rushing towards the bus or train, or getting their wheelchair stuck), you need to allow them to have autonomy. Perhaps what you think is a helping hand, helping a blind person walk a couple of blocks, is actually making practice for this person (who is out with a cane for the first time) too easy, and ineffective.

Maybe this disabled person wants to get into an accessible van by themselves? Maybe a person with cerebral palsy doesn’t want help buttoning up their shirt but rather prefer to struggle with it on their own. This is all both a matter of them genuinely getting practice in doing everyday things, as well as building up their autonomy and confidence. 

Promote social inclusion

Disabled people can find it hard to get social inclusion. Whether it’s in the office, schools, or just outside of school and work hours, they are often isolated, subconsciously ostracized, or simply not accepted as equals.

Skateboard ramp with banner saying “Redefine Possible,” showing wheelchair athletes. Image by Allie Smith, via
Skateboard ramp with banner saying “Redefine Possible,” showing wheelchair athletes. Image by Allie Smith, via

So, don’t be fake, don’t pander, but try to include your disabled co-workers and schoolmates into your social circles. Strike up a conversation, include them in activities that they can take part in. Invite them out to cafes and bars, get to know them. Make an effort.

Ask for some institutional help

If you have an important person in your life who lives with a disability, it’s completely fine and normal to feel overwhelmed. Sometimes you might need some kind of help from an institution or an organization. This means you might get advice, literature, training, or equipment that can assist your loved one.

You might also try and get assistance through the use of a quality NDIS in Australia, get some insurance going, or see what other options exist. 

Institutions and organizations can also help with some activities and communities. Maybe they can direct you, or your loved one, to some fun activities they can take part in. There might be special disabled person sports organisations and communities that you simply don’t know exist. 

Don’t be condescending

Please drop the inspirational remarks, speeches, and condescending comments. No one doubts that these are very good natured and honest. But if you congratulate someone with a disability on doing a basic task (even worse if their disability doesn’t hinder them in doing that anyway), you just insult them, and make them feel self-conscious.

There is some etiquette involved…

There are specific things that just drive disabled people mad. For example, talking louder is very annoying. We can either hear you, or not, and talking louder won’t really help. Mobility aids are not a sign of poor hearing. Deaf people will most likely rely on reading your lips. 

Furthermore, do not lean on wheelchairs. It’s a pretty offensive thing to do, since people are pretty reliant on their wheels to actually move and travel and lead their lives. 


So, try to not be condescending. If needed, ask for some help from organisations and for some institutional help. Work on getting them included into your own spaces and act towards boosting their autonomy and independence. 

Join the conversation!