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While there are many different ways to advocate for disability inclusion and belonging in your community, here are six specific tips to help you get started.

1. Be mindful of what you say and how you say it

While you should always respect how someone wants to describe themselves and their disability, in general it’s best to use “people-first” language and avoid ableist terms:

  • Instead of using “disabled children” say “children with disabilities”
  • Instead of using “normal kids” say “children without disabilities” or “a typically developing child”
  • Instead of using “confined to a wheelchair” say “uses a wheelchair”
  • Remove the following ableist words from your vocabulary altogether: 
    • * lame 
    • * dumb 
    • * reta**ed 
    • * dem**ted 
    • * cripple
    • * idiot 
    • * imbecile 
    • * nuts 
    • *psycho/psychotic 
    • * spaz 
    • * crazy 
    • * coo-coo 
    • * mental 
    • * freak 
    • * bonkers 
2. Never make assumptions about a person’s abilities

The only thing you should assume is that a person with a disability—whether it’s physical or intellectual—is always competent. Never assume that someone with difficulty speaking has difficulty thinking. Instead, learn how you can help or accommodate what they might need (if they need support from you at all!). All of us have things we are particularly good at, or “strengths” – get to know kids as individuals to find out what their specific strengths are.

3. But also don’t rush to help

While you may think it’s a good idea to help push someone’s wheelchair or grab something for them, always ask before you act. Most of the time, kids and youth with disabilities will make it known if they need help, and if so how they need help.

4. Remember that people living with disabilities aren’t sources of inspiration

Don’t objectify a person with a disability by describing their talents as “overcoming a challenge.” Most kids and youth don’t see living with a disability as anything more than just a part of their identity and don’t appreciate being described as “rising over it.”

5. Challenge the belief that kids and youth with disabilities lead less fulfilling lives

Just because someone lives with a disability doesn’t mean they’re living a life that’s any less than someone who isn’t living with a disability. This type of assumption only generates unnecessary pity, which is something no child wants directed at them.

6. Listen and learn—and don’t be afraid

Sometimes the fear of unintentionally saying something wrong may stop you from discussing disability. Don’t let that fear hinder you from being an advocate. The best way to learn from and understand someone with a disability is to ask questions. But remember to always be respectful: about the questions you ask and whether they choose to answer or not.