How to treat people with disabilities, visible and invisible
By Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition
Having tinnitus and hyperacusis has made me more aware of what it’s like to have a disability. I am fortunate that my symptoms are mild and not life-limiting, but noise does bother me. When my wife asks for a quiet table at a restaurant, “because my husband has issues with noise” or “because noise bothers my husband,” I feel embarrassed and different. That gives me a very small insight into how difficult life can be for those with serious disabilities.
This piece by David Pogue in the New York Times discusses what different-looking people would like us to know before we stare. The bottom line, it seems, is that except for children it’s not okay to make comments about someone’s disability. It is okay if it appears that someone needs help to ask, “May I help you? If so, what can I do to help?"
Reading the article made me think about what those of us who have invisible disabilities, including auditory disorders like hearing loss, tinnitus, and hyperacusis, as well as disorders like PTSD or autism spectrum disorder, might like others to know.
For those of us with tinnitus and hyperacusis, I think we would like people to know that noise bothers us. It makes our symptoms worse, and can be downright painful.
For those with hearing loss, we need low ambient noise levels to be able to understand speech. Please look at us when you speak with us. Adequate lighting helps those who lip read understand what is being said. Speak slowly and distinctly, but don’t shout. That doesn’t help us understand what you are trying to say, and it can also be painful.
For those with PTSD and other psychological or psychiatric or developmental disorders, and indeed for anyone with a disability and actually for everyone, with or without a disability, just be gentle and kind.
And the world will be a better place for all.