10 Easy Ways to Show You Are Cool With Special Needs and Disability

by Meriah Nichols
Originally Published: 
A portrait of a little girl with special needs and disability

All right, okay, you want to show you are cool with disability/special needs, but you are not sure how to do it. Should you forward the meme on Facebook of that kid with Down syndrome to your friend who has a kid with Down syndrome? Or how about that article about a cure for Autism?! What to do?

Well, these are some things that would work for me – I am disabled and my daughter is too – but bear in mind that I’m not all disabled people! I’m just one. And since my disabilities are far less discriminated against than my daughter’s Down syndrome is, I’m writing this more from her perspective than my own…

1. Talk! Talk to us. Talk to me, talk to my child. Especially to my child. Even though she doesn’t talk much in return, she’s soaking in what you are saying. Ask questions about things kids tend to like (my child loves shoes, babies, Dora the Explorer and cheerios, for example)

2. Make eye contact. This seems so basic it feels dumb to write it. But you know what? A lot of people don’t make eye contact when they talk to people with disabilities. Maybe they are feeling uncomfortable, don’t know where to look, something else? Whatever, don’t be one of them! Just look at us in the eyes, connect visually (if you are not blind, that is), maintain eye contact.

3. Invite! Like, sincerely. Invite my child to parties or events or things that you are throwing or wanting to attend. Desire her presence, or want to get to know her. Even if you don’t think she can make it, it feels good to know that you are wanted. Right? Not many people like sitting alone at the cafeteria table.

4. Show interest. Be as interested in my child or any child with a disability, as you would any other child of her age/cuteness level. Does that make sense? Some people just aren’t kid people; that’s fine – so don’t pretend to be a kid person. But if you are a kid person, be just as interested in the kids with disabilities as you are normally with any other kid of that age.

Interest in gadgetry counts. Kids who use wheelchairs? They are KIDS who USE wheelchairs; they are not wheelchairs! They are not “bound!” They are tool-using kids! Same goes for kids who use hearing aids or other tools – and if you are really interested in their tools, ask about it, for crying out loud. “Hey, what model is that? What’s your battery power?” – the point being, just as you would with anyone else, be sincere in your interest, and honest in your questions and it’s cool.

It’s very, very cool.

5. Think of us in the picture. That’s to say: care about inclusion and access. My child, me or children who have needs different than what is typical.

This is big: it kind of makes me feel like crying when you’ve thought about access or inclusion: you jumped ahead and thought about the fact that my child might have sensory issues and so when you are suggesting a place to eat together, you say, “hey, how about that place outside by the grass? It’s quiet there.”

Or something like that.

When it’s clear to me that you’ve thought about our needs without my having to bring it up, it means the world to me.

6. The Stories About the Homecoming Kings and Queens? The posts about the homecoming Kings and Queens with Down syndrome, the video of the child with Down syndrome and the dog? The kid included on the basketball court and all those other “inspirational” stories… um. Yeah. They don’t float my boat. More often than not, those are screaming examples of Inspiration Porn for me and I can do without a daily dose of it.

It might be helpful to think about it in racial terms to see where I am coming from. Would you be passing around a meme of an Asian guy on a basketball court, saying something like, “The Only Disability in Life is a Bad Attitude”, or what about a photo of an African American girl, crowned Homecoming Queen with taglines of “Try Before You Fail!”

Right?! Okay. So before you forward that stuff, just do the easy beginner’s litmus test – the quick mental swap – disability with race – to see whether or not something is going to be rubbing people wrong.

7. Stand Up. You know those memes that go around that sometimes seem funny? Or the jokes/tumblr’s that are about something or other but have a mocking smell to them? Besides not “liking” them on social media, it means so much when you call them on their shit.


  • “hey, this is a little uncool” (*or: repugnant, gross, execrable, mean or my personal new favorite, “pestiferous”)
  • “we’re ahead of this; it isn’t funny anymore (was it ever?)”
  • “offensive isn’t laughable”
  • your own utterly witty call-out

I get tired of being the only one commenting, I feel alone and lonely when I see things like “retardsy” or “f*cktard”, when I’m slammed as being “too sensitive”, “too PC” for asking people to cut it out.

Your joining me means a lot to me. It really shows me that you care, that you are cool with my child’s disability, with me. That you will stand up for her, me and the two thirds of the planet that are said to either have a disability or a connection with disability.

8. Reach Out. Do you have friends with disabilities? Real and true friends? If not, consider going the extra mile to make friends with people with disabilities. People with disabilities are the same as any other cultural tribe – there are going to be people that you’ll love and get along with really well and there will be assholes. So you just need to reach out, be friendly, be yourself and go from there.

9. Hire Someone With a Disability. This totally seems like a huge jump, doesn’t it?! I mean, I’m going from forwarding a meme to HIRING someone! But it’s really, honestly not a big leap. Don’t think that because you are a stay at home mom or don’t have much money or whatever that you can’t: YOU CAN!! Experience counts as pay in many intern/experience-oriented positions. There are a LOT of programs out there to help connect you with people with disabilities who want to work and need some experience and maybe some training. A lot of these programs even PAY YOU to “hire disabled”. Nothing says you are cool with disability and value people with disabilities as choosing to take someone with a disability under your wing as an intern/apprentice/employee.

10. Ask Questions. I appreciate nothing more than honestly-asked questions. Now, this just me, one disabled person and I run strongly along the lines of Deaf-culture in this regard (- I am extremely frank, to the point of appearing tactless). But I’ve always appreciated people asking what they are curious about. How else is anyone going to learn, after all?

Ask your friends with disabilities questions. Ask people questions. Do you want to know why Autistics flap their hands? Ask an Autistic. Want to know what brain injury is about? Ask me. Want to know what it feels like to have fibromyalgia? Ask someone with fibromyalgia.

Ask questions. Extra points for good, hard, well-thought out ones, but all questions asked in the spirit of trying to better understand another are welcome. With me anyway. But I’m just one person with a disability parenting a child with a disability, remember. We’re not all the same.

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