How to Support People with Disabilities MAG

October 8, 2017
By LaurenO BRONZE, Calabasas, California
LaurenO BRONZE, Calabasas, California
2 articles 0 photos 0 comments

How You Can Fight for the Rights of People with Disabilities When You Don’t Have a Disability… and Aren’t an Adult

I’m a hearing person who signs ASL. I love being able to help out with interpreting or translating, but I can’t speak for deaf people. That’s not my place. (I mean, sometimes I can literally speak for them, if they are non-speaking, but I can’t speak for them in the metaphorical sense of deciding what they want and need and giving it a voice.)

People with disabilities are marginalized in many ways. From lack of social services to ineffective health care to lack of infrastructure and accessibility, they are underserved and underrepresented in the United States. But as an able-bodied person who wants to help, you walk a slippery slope. Because just speaking for people with disabilities can harm them.

How so? When we speak on behalf of people with disabilities, the message we send is that our voices matter more. The message received may also be that they are unable to speak for themselves. People with disabilities can be portrayed by the media as a burden. The Ruderman Foundation’s chilling White Paper explains that approximately once a week, a person with a disability is murdered by his or her caretaker, and that any media coverage received is likely to portray the murder as a “mercy killing.”

Speaking for minorities and marginalized communities always carries a secondary meaning: my voice matters more because I am the majority, so listen to me. We can double the positive message if we let marginalized communities speak for themselves.

People with disabilities don’t need us to speak for them - they know what they want and need. They need us to listen to them, and to use our privilege to make a space where their voices can be heard.

Are you a teenager who wants to help people with disabilities, but you aren’t sure how to start? Here are some things you can do…


If You Have Two Minutes
Donate to an empowering organization. Organizations such as the American Association of People with Disabilities are working all the time to improve the lives of people with disabilities. Even $5 makes a difference.
Share an article you found interesting. Did you read something that made you interested in hearing the voices of people with disabilities or helped you to understand the challenges they face? Maybe share it! Think about not sharing what is commonly known as “inspiration porn”. (Don’t worry, it’s not really porn - it’s when people with disabilities get called “inspiring” for doing regular things we all do. And it’s crappy.)

Share the voice of an activities with a disability. Don’t just share articles, social media posts and accounts, or voices of people who get you to care about disability, but share articles, social media posts and accounts, and voices of people who have a disability. One of the slogans for the disability rights movement is “Nothing about us without us.” Clicking “share” only takes a second, but you might open someone’s eyes.

Fax your Senator via Resistbot. Healthcare reform matters to all of us, and it matters a lot to people with pre-existing conditions, which would be most if not all people with disabilities. You can fax your Senator in less than a minute and share your concerns (don’t worry, you don’t need a fax machine) by using Resistbot, which does all the research and contacting for you on your behalf.


If You Have Fifteen Minutes
Read the voice of a activist with a disability. If you haven’t yet, get to reading. Some places to start might be Non-Speaking Autistic Speaking, Crippled Scholar, Cripperella, Words I Wheel By, or Autistic Hoya. Of course, no one person with a disability speaks for all people with disabilities, but you can listen to and learn from their experiences.

Call your Senator. Senators vote on health care reform, which has a direct impact on people with disabilities (and all people in the US). The best, most direct way you can impact your Senators and their vote is to call them. Don’t know how? Find your Senator and how to call them. You can say whatever you like, or find sample scripts here. If you can’t work up the courage to call (it’s not scary!), you can use resistbot to send a fax for you, which takes about a minute.


If You Have an Afternoon
Attend a protest or event. Don’t go to lend your voice - go to magnify others’ voices. Ask where help is needed, and help.

Read a book by an author with a disability. This article has some great suggestions.

“Donate” your birthday or other event to a foundation. Click a couple buttons on Facebook and maybe send an email to your relatives, and you’re raising money for a cause that matters to you.


If You Have More Time
Learn a little bit of ASL. Learning ASL (American Sign Language) is a great way to be better able to communicate with deaf people in your community. Even if you only learn a few basic signs, you could help in an emergency or just show you are interested in communicating. I set up a free online class here.

Volunteer with students or children with disabilities. You can look for a school in your area (maybe even your own school) with students with disabilities and see if you can provide extra assistance.

Provide long-term assistance to a person with disabilities in your community. Using your physical abilities to help assist members of your community who have disabilities is a great way to engage and assist in a practical way. Ask around!

Set up an annual fundraiser at your school or club. Donating a small amount of money is good. Having a fundraiser is even better. But a recurring annual fundraiser tends to grow and build support over time.


There is always something you can do, even if it’s small. Just because you can’t do everything, doesn’t mean you can’t do anything. If you read this article, you have two minutes - do something!

The author's comments:

I have been learning American Sign Language for 4 years and through that, I have noticed how common deaf people and those with disabilities are excluded.  

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This article has 3 comments.

on Mar. 7 at 6:06 pm
AmyPond444 BRONZE, Wyckoff, New Jersey
2 articles 0 photos 1 comment

Favorite Quote:
'Don't change, and people will love you for who you are. Change, and they'll love a stranger.' ~Me!

Wow, great job! This was definitely something that had to be shared, and I love the whole structure of the article. I recently wrote one on the same topic myself, and am also learning ASL! I totally agree with everything you wrote. Brilliant!!

I loved this!

on Oct. 12 2017 at 12:26 am
WritingAddict03 SILVER, Saint Peters , Missouri
5 articles 0 photos 68 comments

Favorite Quote:
Everyone is a genius, but if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree it will live its whole life believing it is stupid. - Albert Einstein

This is really amazing! I am also learning ASL, and have learned so much about Deaf culture which I would never have know if it wasn't offered as a class at my homeschooling co-op.(Such as "Deaf" is capitalized when referring to the community of deaf persons versus the disability itself is not.) Thanks for sharing this; everything you wrote was spot-on. (And seriously, everybody should at least know some ASL! Just checking out YouTube videos if you have an extra moment is a great way to learn a few signs.) We as a community need to spread awareness about disabilities and make sure that those with disabilities make their voices heard.

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