There is some etiquette for people to know when they approach an elder or person with a disability.
“Why should I be concerned about that?”
I’m so glad you asked!
I can think of at least two reasons:
*Sooner or later, you WILL be one of us. You’ll either advance in years to the point that you’re and elder and/or you will lose abilities, until you are considered to be disabled. Remember the Golden Rule – Treat others as you would like to be treated.
*When you practice such things as honor, courtesy, kindness, compassion and understanding, you create a beautiful atmosphere. Again, these qualities will come back to you because you planted their seeds.
So then, this etiquette starts with a couple of attitudes:
1. “I honor everyone I meet as a person first. I do not let age or ability lessen their status in my eyes.”
Have you ever stopped to consider what makes a person? Is it limited to doing or ability; is there more to us than that?
I say there is. We are spiritual beings with souls; we love, create, hope, build, think feel, perceive and so much more.
To be reduced to ability or doing is a profound insult.
2. “When I meet anyone, including someone who is older or a person with a disability, I don’t assume.”
I often have people act as though I am hard of hearing and cognitively challenge because I can’t see. They talk more loudly, if they address me at all, speak in tones that might be used for small children or ask about me in my presence. The truth is, I hear very well and am quite capable of intelligent conversation.
I have watched well-meaning people humiliate an elder in much the same way, physically putting him or her into a chair, speaking far louder than necessary.
Truthfully, people make assumptions about others all the time. Usually, they are supposing that this person or that can perform given tasks. In the case of elders and people with disabilities, the assumption is that we can’t.
So what would happen if we stop guessing altogether?
If you meet someone who can’t see, lay down all of your notions about who he or she is and what lack of eyesight might mean in terms of abilities. It’s perfectly fine that you don’t understand. Get to know the person first.
When you meet an elder, remember this is a person with a story and possibly some words of wisdom. Show him or her the honor that is deserved.
Now for some practical etiquette:
1. When you are first meeting a person who can’t see, say your name. Think of it as being like a phone conversation: You introduce yourself so whoever is at the other end of the call knows who you are. Once that person recognizes your voice, you no longer have to identify yourself.
2. Unless you are asked to speak up, please talk at normal volume. This not only applies to conversations with people who are blind, physically challenged or aging, it also includes those who are hard of hearing or deaf.
3. Speak in the same tone and manner that you do with other adults. Nobody likes to be condescended to.
4. Let others take the lead in determining what they like and what kind of help they need. If you are asked to assist, let the person direct you. I have known plenty of people who were injured because someone insisted on doing things his or her own way.
5. Let courtesy and respect be your guides. This is a good rule for meeting all people, regardless of how “different” they may appear to you.
6. You might notice that I use the words, “people” and “person” a lot. This is deliberate. A pet peeve of mine is phrases such as, “the elderly,” “the blind” or “the poor.” We are not inanimate objects or projects; we are as human as the most capable, wealthy, prestigious ones around. This goes back to the first attitude above. Approach people who are observably different with integrity and openness; be pleasantly surprised by the friendly response you receive.
7. Relax; be yourself. Hmmm, this would be a good approach for meeting all people, don’t you think?