People with disabilities, young, old, and in between, all want the same thing: to feel included. A sense of belonging and integration is vital to every person across the globe, especially those with disabilities. When that sense of belonging is missing from life, it can be so easy to slip into a dark hole and convince yourself that you don’t matter. Well we all matter; no matter our age, gender, or disability.

Society has ingrained into our brains that if we are different, we don’t belong. Society rejects those who are different; who don’t fit into the perfect “mold”, if you will. An estimated 48.9 million people in the United States have some sort of disability. That’s almost 50 million people who deserve to be treated with the same love and support as the rest. Here are 6 ways that you can support people with disabilities:

1) Set high and reasonable expectations

Society wants us to believe that people with disabilities need to be continuously coddled and require constant supervision. While all disabilities are different, that is generally not the case. Society continues to set low expectations for people with disabilities and over time, that way of thinking has become adopted by a vast majority of people. This also transcends to those with disabilities, and they start setting low expectations for themselves as well. One of the best ways to support people with disabilities is to set high, albeit normal, expectations. Make them feel like your equal.

2) Educate yourself

It’s as easy as completing a Google search! You don’t need to take classes or go to the library; all you have to do is type a few words into Google and thousands of articles are at your fingertips. You don’t need to be an expert, just know the basics. Learn a little bit about the good, bad, and the ugly of someone with a specific disability.

If you feel comfortable, ask them in person. The internet can only tell you so much. Each disability is unique to their person, so if the timing feels right, ask them if they are comfortable enough to talk about their disability. Ask them what they can and/or can’t do and what they would like to be able to do in the future.

3) Never assume

You know what they say about assuming things. If you feel it is appropriate to ask if someone has a disability, go for it, but don’t assume you know. Many disabilities go unnoticed because they can easily fit into society’s “mold”. There’s nothing more awkward than assuming someone has a disability and they in fact do not.

4) Be a good listener

This could go for all stages of life, but it is vital to be a good listener in supporting people with disabilities. It is often assumed that people with disabilities can’t or don’t want to interact with others, but that is not always the case (and it usually isn’t). You may have to learn how they communicate and adjust from there, but listening is such an important trait and quality. When you truly open yourself up and listen to the other person, they will begin to feel included and start feeling important; start feeling wanted. These three things are vitally important to living a happy life.

5) Be inclusive and welcoming

Though this ties into the point above, it is important to note. You don’t have to be friends with everyone and go out of your way to spend time with them. Being inclusive should not be associated with pity. We are not forcing anyone to become friends, but make sure that your friends and acquaintances with disabilities can participate in group activities. If you don’t know if they can or not, just ask them! The simple act of asking questions can alone make them feel included.

6) Be a good support system

Everyone can thrive when they have a good support system to fall back on. People with disabilities may need support differently than you do, but they need the act of support all the same. Educate yourself and understand how you can be a solid support system. A good support system looks different to people with different disabilities.

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