Working with young people with a disability
Myth 1: People with disabilities are helpless Don't assume that someone with a disability needs your help. A young person who doesn't need help may (understandably) feel very frustrated that other people are constantly trying to take over tasks that they can do themselves. If you think someone needs help, ask them first. If they say yes, ask them what to do before you act.
Most young people with a disability want opportunities to be independent and have control over their own life. They want to be able to look after themselves rather than be looked after.
"I know that a lot of people feel they should do everything for people because they feel sorry for them ... but I would rather do things for myself than have other people do them for me and then be expected to be grateful even if I do not like the way they were done"
- Stephen, a young person with a disability
"Some people can be patronising, even condescending or are too helpful. I've been referred to in the past as a poor handicapped boy. Some go out of their way to aid me and often embarrass me in the process"
- Paul, a young person with a disability
"I hate it when people treat me specially because I look different. I don't want to be treated specially. I just want the same deal as everybody else. I did not want people to fuss over me, only do what I asked and leave it at that. Fussing just makes me feel either useless or angry, and getting the message across without being rude isn't easy".
- Peter, a young person with a disability
Just because someone has a disability doesn't mean they don't have abilities. Once you get to know the young person you might be surprised to learn that they have talents and abilities that other people might not have.
Don't assume that someone with a disability cannot get involved or is not interested in getting involved with your program.
Myth 2: People with disabilities need sympathy
People with disabilities do not need sympathy or pity. They also don't need to be told that they are brave or courageous for living with a disability. Some young people with disabilities are brave, some are not, just like everyone else. People with disabilities do not need to be treated as children, they need opportunities to maximise their independence.
Myth 3: People with disabilities are sick
A disability is not necessarily a sickness. Many people with disabilities are healthy and free of disease.
Myth 4: People with a physical disability also have an intellectual disability
Just because someone has a physical disability doesn't mean that they have an intellectual disability as well. Less than one third of people with a physical disability also have an intellectual disability.
Just because someone has difficulty speaking to you does not mean that they have difficulty in understanding what you say. It can be really frustrating for someone with a physical disability who has average or above average intelligence to be constantly spoken down to or be spoken to in "baby talk".
Myth 5: People with disabilities have trouble hearing
Some people yell or raise their voices when talking to someone who is blind, in a wheelchair or have some other sort of physical disability. When communicating with someone with a disability speak in a normal tone of voice unless they ask you to speak louder.
Myth 6: All disabilities are obvious
Not all disabilities are obvious. In fact it is likely that some young people using your service have a disability that you don't know about. Don't assume that you need to know if someone has a disability.
Myth 7: People with disabilities only want to hang out with each other
The reason most of us make friends with particular people is because we get along well with each other and have common interests. People with disabilities are no different. Most like to have a range of friends including those with and without a disability.
Myth 8: People with disabilities aren't interested in or cannot have sex
Adolescence is a time when young people develop an interest in sex and become more aware of their sexuality. This is normal for all young people, including young people with a disability. Many people (and some parents) treat young people with a disability like children, and are shocked when they are interested in or have a girlfriend or boyfriend. There is no reason why having a disability means that someone does not have an interest in relationships or sex!
Myth 9: All people with disabilities are the same
People with disabilities are individuals. Not all individuals are the same. Not all disabilities are the same. For example two people with a visual impairment may have different needs and abilities. Partly this will be as a result of the cause of the disability, their particular impairment, upbringing, experience and ability. The effects of disability differ from person to person.
Even if you know someone else with the same disability don't assume that you know how a person thinks, feels or acts.
Myth 10: People with disabilities are conservative
This is a stereotype. People with disabilities have different values, tastes and styles just like everyone else. Some are conservative and some are not.