Looking on the Heart: Respecting Those with Disabilities

Kristin Warner Belcher


In every community there are individuals with physical, emotional, or mental impairments. The following ideas may help those who wish to effectively interact and communicate with those who have disabilities.

  • When referring to someone with an impairment, emphasize the person first rather than his or her disability. Consider the following: “the man who is blind” rather than “the blind man”; “the girl in a wheelchair” rather than “the crippled girl.” This stresses the importance of the individual rather than the disability.

  • When communicating with people with disabilities, don’t let fear or feelings of discomfort keep you from normal interaction. Make eye contact and speak in a normal tone of voice. In most cases, those with impairments are able to express their own needs, thoughts, and feelings. There is no need to ask someone who may be accompanying them what their friend would like. Just talk directly to each person, and do not use a condescending tone.

  • Allow those with disabilities to set their own boundaries. Adults know what they can and can’t do for themselves. Children with disabilities may need assistance setting limits, but they too know better than anyone else what their body can and can’t do. Be cautious using comments such as “You shouldn’t,” “You can’t,” or “Let me.”

  • If you are curious about a person’s disability, when appropriate just ask. Do this in a respectful manner (“Would you feel comfortable explaining your disability to me?” or “Tell me about your sight or hearing.”) Most people would be glad to explain their situation rather than have assumptions made. However, at some point move beyond the disability and discuss other normal topics of conversation. Ask about the person’s family or what he or she likes to do.

  • If you wish to offer assistance to the disabled, just ask if you might be of help. If they refuse your help, that is all right. It was nice to ask. If you are unsure how to interact or don’t know what to do or say to someone who looks or behaves differently from the norm, let them teach you. The situation is not new to them.

  • Treat people with disabilities with respect. Think carefully about your manner. For example, it is not helpful to speak louder to someone who can’t see. Avoid disrespectful labels or slang terms in referring to individuals with disabilities.

As an infant I was diagnosed with cancer in both eyes and treated with radiation. Although my life and some vision was saved, I have lived with a visual impairment ever since. At times my lack of vision causes difficulties, but for the most part my life goes on as normal.

I view my disability as an opportunity for me to turn to the Savior. Whether our personal disabilities are on the inside or outside, Christ is the source of strength for all of us. As the Exemplar, He shows us how we should interact with love one to another. We also know that the “Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart” (1 Sam. 16:7).

As members of the Savior’s Church, it is our goal to become as He is. When He lived on the earth, He healed those with afflictions and disabilities. We too can help heal by looking, as He does, on the hearts of others.Kristin Warner Belcher, Crescent 25th Ward, Sandy Utah Crescent View Stake

[illustration] Illustrated by Scott Knudsen

[illustration] Illustrated by Beth M. Whittaker