For a person with a disability, everyday stressors—let alone any sort of traumatic event—can create feelings of fear and apprehension. Their sense of safety, wholeness, and well-being can be easily thrown off, given the right mix of circumstances.
Though you can’t change their situation, there are things you can do to help someone with a disability cultivate a greater sense of security and wellness as they navigate life’s challenges.
Five ways to create a safe environment for someone with a disability:
- Be mindful of how you communicate: Establishing a respectful communication approach is a fundamental building block of helping a person with a disability feel more comfortable. Things as simple as speaking directly to the person, maintaining eye contact, and using natural expressions can have a profound impact. Also, be sure to focus on the person, not the disability—and never ask intrusive questions.
- Don’t patronize: Before you jump in and help someone who you perceive might need it, ask! More times than not, they don’t need or want assistance; they want to be empowered to do it themselves. Also, be mindful of your nonverbal body language. Something as simple as a pat on the head or a subtle look of pity in your eyes can make that person highly uncomfortable. By interacting in a non-patronizing way and treating those with a disability as an equal, you set a no-judgment tone that allows them to put their guard down and feel more at ease.
- Focus on their strengths, not their limitations: Your loved one lives with a disability that limits them mentally or physically. But they also have attributes and skills that make them shine in other areas. They may not complete tasks or carry out the same thought process as you, but that doesn’t render their approach any less valuable. Focus on their x-factor—that thing, or series of things, that positively contribute to who they are as a person. By doing this, you instill a sense of confidence and pride that makes them feel more comfortable—and less self-conscious—in any situation.
- Create a physical comfort zone: A person with a disability may not handle stressful situations, traumatic events, or even the everyday hustle and bustle of life as well as their able-bodied counterpart. By creating a safe space in the home for them to escape the noise, wind down, and quiet their mind, you help them regain a sense of control when so much in their life is out of their control. Perhaps this space includes some of their favorite items, comfortable furniture, soft lighting, or even photos of friends and family.
- Employ grounding techniques: The stimulating nature of life and the world around us can be anxiety-inducing, particularly for a person with a disability. If you observe someone with a disability getting wrapped up by fear and panic brought on by their own thoughts, practice grounding with them, whereby you bring them into the present moment. Perhaps you ask them to list their favorite things, focus on an object, practice deep breathing, smell something familiar, or even stomp on the floor!
Creating a safe and welcoming physical and emotional environment for individuals with disabilities is essential in helping them face life—with its various ups, downs, twists, and turns—with more confidence, security, and overall well-being.
At CAU, we are passionate about helping people with disabilities overcome their challenges, pursue new opportunities, and live fulfilling lives. Together, we all have the power to change lives.