15 Things Not To Say To Disabled People

Not too long ago a hashtag popped up on my Twitter feed, #AncientAbledProverbs it was and as a disabled person it caught my eye straight away. Disabled people were tweeting with the hashtag sharing things that abled people had said to them, the kind of things that definitely should not be said to disabled people. I've been wanting to do more posts about disability language, ableist words and things that you should never to say to disabled people and the hashtag just gave me that little bit of motivation that I needed. So, here is 15 things you shouldn't say to a disabled person!

1. The only disability in life is a bad attitude.

Tell my genetic condition that. I can see the good intentions behind this but it complete erases my disability and identity. Plus you know, you're saying I have a bad attitude when I literally cannot control the fact that I'm disabled.

2. You're too young/pretty/intelligent to be disabled.

NEWSFLASH: young, pretty and intelligent people can all be disabled! Stop with your stereotyping.

3. I don't see you as disabled, I see you as a person.

It's possible to be both, being disabled doesn't remove my ability to be a human being, didn't you know?

4. Have you tried mindfulness/going vegan/exercising?

Whilst all the above can help *some* people most of us are sick of others giving us 'advice' that we don't ask for on how to cure our conditions. Not everyone can exercise or go vegan, for medical or financial reasons. If a disabled person tells you they can't do any of the above for medical reasons then move on, don't question it.

5. Yeah, but you're not actually properly disabled though are you?

Stop assuming that you know what a disabled person looks like, you could walk past someone in the street who looks totally normal but they could be battling everything from chronic pain to Crohn's disease.

6. Well, you look fine to me.

Well, you don't look ignorant either but there we go!

7. My friend/family member/work colleague is disabled so I totally understand.

Knowing a disabled person, whether it be personal or mutual, does not mean that you understand what it is like to be disabled. This goes for parents of disabled children, carers etc. Disabled people are the only ones who can truly understand and tell you what it's like.

8. If I was disabled I don't think I could carry on living.

Thanks for telling me that my life isn't worth living, delightful aren't you. I wonder where ideas like this come from? *cough* Me Before You *cough*

9. Don't let your condition define you. You aren't disabled, it's a choice you're making.

No one gets to tell me or any other disabled person whether we should let our conditions define us or not, let me direct you to this post about why my disability does define me. And believe me, no one chooses to be disabled. For example, no one chooses to use a wheelchair contrary to common belief. When we use a wheelchair we're choosing to open doors for ourselves, we are choosing a more accessible life.

10. At least you don't have *insert any other condition other than your own here*

Please stop comparing conditions and assuming that one condition is worse than another. Our conditions affect us all differently and comparing people and their health doesn't bring anything positive to the table.

11. You're so inspirational for just getting out of bed in the morning.

Really though, am I really? Are you actually inspired by me getting out of bed? I doubt it. Let me direct you to this post about inspiration porn, educate yourself.

12. Everyone is a little bit disabled though, right?

NOPE. Just no. Don't even. You want to be a little bit disabled but you won't give us our rights, improve accessibility or stop being ableist? Hmm okay.

13. I wish I got a special parking space, you're so lucky to get all these free things.

All these things which you call 'free' are actually equal accommodations, what we need to be able to do the same tasks as you. And they certainly aren't free when the price you pay is being disabled in the first place.

14. You can't have that many things wrong with you, it's not possible!

Oh believe me, we can.

15.  You can do anything if you set your mind to it.

Let me just think my way up a flight of stairs in my powerchair. Oh, it's not working, funny that!

Have you got any of your own suggestions of things that people shouldn't say to disabled people?


  1. Hi Shona,
    Thanks so much for this post. It's so important that people learn to think critically about the kind of rhetoric surrounding marginalised groups. I hadn't come across the phrase 'equal accommodations' before, but I really like it as a descriptor for why things like disabled-only parking spaces and such exist; it's not about granting concessions, but taking steps towards putting everyone on a level playing field - though of course there's a very long way to go yet.
    In light of this post and your piece on your disability defining you, I was wondering about your thought on the term 'differently-abled' as opposed to 'disabled'? I am able-bodied and for a while have thought it quite a positive, celebratory phrase, but reading some of your posts has made me wonder if it actually serves to undermine the difficulties faced by disabled people - I'd be really interested to hear your thoughts on it.
    Many thanks for your wonderful and thought-provoking blog. Have a great day!
    Lx | Lightly We Go

    1. It really is super important, language and the way we speak to people is so vital in building relationships but equally, getting rid of stigma's and stereotypes.

      I really do not know any disabled person, who is educated on disability issues, who uses differently abled. It erases our disability and makes 'disability' and 'disabled' bad and dirty words when they aren't. It's abled people that have decided they are bad words, not disabled people. If an individual asks you to refer to them as differently abled then fair enough but as a rule I'd always use disabled. When it comes to person first language it's the same, I don't know any disabled people who prefer to be referred to as 'a person with a disability' plus when we break it down to just language, it's quite clunky to say.

      Thank you!

  2. It's so true, I've had comments like "But you seem so happy" even "But you're good at FIFA", although to be fair the irony of of that one had me laughing for about an hour, and the dreaded "It's great to see you here, despite....". I know people mean well, but it is pretty annoying.

    As for letting my condition define me, I have this one to say. "I don't have Neurofibromatosis, Neurofibromatosis has me, and it wishes it didn't, because I'm far more obnoxious than it can ever dream of being".

    1. I hate that use of 'but' and 'despite', it's not necessary at all. People just assume that disabled people are sad, or we aren't talented etc. People just assume that we are totally incapable.

      I love that haha!

  3. Thanks so much for this post shona :) I know it's not the same but I have a 8 year old son with developmental coordination disorder, joint hypermobility and learning difficulties with autistic traits. I get so many of the above said to me about him (often in front of him too). And lots more, such as
    - you wouldn't have him any other way though would you. (Although I love everything about him I would of loved for him to have a life without the restraints of his disabilities and definitely went through a mourning process when he was diagnosed)
    - I think he should be doing that himself by now don't you? (Normally when in a public place I'm helping him with something his poor motor skills hinder, like getting dressed after swimming)
    -this didn't exsist in our day/your worrying too much (erm it did exsist and always will have but these people in the past were sent away or left to be the most vulnerable members of society at best!)
    It's so frustrating and makes you feel so sad just because of people's ignorance! I love reading your blog, your a inspiration and really give me lots of hope for Freddie. Lots of love x

    1. I'm glad you liked it! It really is frustrating and yes, quite often what people have said to me has got to me emotionally but I suppose I've hit a point now where I'm so normalised to having these things said to me. Thank you! x

  4. I'd just like to say a massive YES to this post! I've heard many of these and am always so baffled by people's ignorance. I wish people were more understanding & actually thought before they spoke
    Kate x

    1. Hopefully these posts will make people think first, before they speak! x

  5. I get the first one a lot too or some variation. I had a coach that would tell me "everyone has problems" which is true but a normal minded person's problems can never compare to the problems of someone that is considered to have a mental disability. I also find it often funny when these people tell me something like that as they are often the ones that don't understand. If you think my problems are comparable to others then why is it possible for you to invalidate what goes on inside my head?
    I also have encountered people that tell me "you look normal". In this case they are trying to make me feel better or just stating an observation but people do need to educate themselves more on disabilities.

    The only problem though with admitting that your problems are different than others is you risk getting treated the opposite way. For example one interviewer had told me his concern was that I stuttered but that doesn't mean I couldn't do the job. I find that society works like this when you want someone to understand they act like you are normal. On the other hand when you just want to fit in and be productive people do not even want to give you a chance.
    It sucks because it reinforces my low self esteem. I sometimes worry when I get into a new gig because I know that I will be more difficult to work with as I am likely to require more attention with learning though I certainly do not try to and I want to do some things that normal people can do. It's kinda funny but I have discovered in my job search because of the way my brain functions I am more prone to getting the jobs that I am more insecure about/difficult to do as no one else wants to do them. In fact that's just what happened. I am taking this job because I am desperate but am so scared I will screw it up.
    The worst part is there is not much help out there for mental disabilities at least where I live.

    1. Whenever people tell me that 'I don't look disabled' I always know that it's coming from a good place but it's so problematic isn't it!

      My partner actually did a experiemnt where he removed all signs of disability from his CV, awards, volunteer work, after hundreds of job rejections and he got several interviews within just one week. It's so backwards. We want to be like everyone else but not without removing our identity and disability!

  6. oooh yes to number 7!!! I had someone say 'oh my friend has that and she's fine so Jenn must be putting it on!' Everything is different for everyone. There are so many ignorant comments that are just not needed.
    Great post hun!


    1. It's amazing how so many people can believe that everyone with the same condition has the same symptoms, the same quality of life, the same abilities etc.

      Thank you!

    2. Oh, yes! "My neighbor has that and she never complains."
      Who earns the income? Her husband.
      Who does the housework? Her teenage daughter.
      Who takes out the trash? Her son.
      Yeah, well, I have to do all those things myself. If I've spent the day earning income, I may do without dinner, because there's no one to cook for me when I'm exhausted. And no, I can't call out for pizza, because I don't eat spicy or acidic foods.
      "My friend is in constant pain but never says a word about it."
      So how do you know she's in pain?
      Because her husband tells us.
      Aha! So she complains to her husband, who lets everyone know that this is not a good day. Well, I don't have anyone else to let you know that I can't do stuff today. And when I had a husband, he was too busy complaining about how my condition inconvenienced him to ever let anyone know how awful I felt; he didn't want to share the sympathy with me. It was all about him having to make his own dinner, never about WHY he had to make dinner (or, more accurately most nights, reheat something I'd cooked and frozen for days when I didn't feel up to cooking after work).
      And certainly he never mentioned that I had to work because he didn't want to get a job that required him to work harder in exchange for enough salary to pay the bills so I could stay home and take care of my health.

  7. "Well, you look fine to me.
    Well, you don't look ignorant either but there we go!" - I'm going to have to remember this one!

    #14 made me laugh too.

    Also "If you had all those things wrong with you then you wouldn't be able to do everything you've done."

    ...or maybe you just don't understand how my body works because you don't live in it?!

    1. Everyone suddenly turns into a doctor when discussing people's personal medical history!

  8. I have just been prevented from carrying my dad at his funeral as some o E who should no better thinks I can not do it. O yes I can I wish they could see this comment. I carried my own son on my own I am sure I can carry my Dad with 5 others.

  9. I have not alwYs been disabled but peoples attitute makes you feel that way. A fellow christian said to me this Sunday. She said blimey l went to Devon and its very steep there, people in wheelchairs would find it very difficuly wouldn't they. Then she said. Its definately a walking persons world. I couln't believe it. That statement made me cringe as if to say. Well you all can never try. As this world is just for the walkers
    I woundered if or how she meant that to give her the benefit of the doubt. But work this one out. She has worked in social services as a care officer she must known what that sentence would do. I aquired my disablement through having a burst Aunersym and blood poisoning (Sceptisemia) then they found osteomyelitis in the bones in my left leg. Due to the sceptisemia. If you read this would you reply on my other g mail account Bluesville13@gmail.com. I would like your thoughts on that one. I have a scooter to get about with plus a manuel one and a powered wheelchair. I am lucky in that way. I thought this petson who worked in Social Services like l did. Would have more thought.

  10. Similar to the parking thing I have had people say to me, "Wish I had one of them," meaning my wheelchair. On More than one occasion. Shouldn't take much thinking about to not say something that ridiculous should it?

  11. Excellent observations! But what is step 2?
    It took me a while to abandon my pride and accept help. When someone offers to get something off a top shelf for me or help me load my groceries in my car I once refused but now accept with a "Thank you." It was hard to welcome help, but now I realize it really does make life a tad easier and promotes good feelings for helper and helpee.
    But I have heard disabled people lash out at people who offer to help. I usually ask them to chill but then get told off. People with good intentions can unintentionally hurt. But it is kind to gently correct them, "I understand you are trying to be helpful, but your offer hurts me," or to accept help, more for them than for you. I think the same applies to insensitive comments.
    Simply asking a person, "Why did you say that?" usually leads to a more thoughtful response. Let them tell you, rather than telling them off. I know it's a cliche, but a comment can turn from being a hurt for one into a learning experience for both. The more kindness we show, the more it spreads.