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By first encounter, I mean meeting the person in an event, such a meetup in a cafe, or a seminar, or such. The event is to be expected, but is not planned by us; we are invited to join the event, if we can. There are several that we have been acquainted before (briefly, in the previous event), but there will be many that we haven't.

The event is a Deaf meetup (to encourage hearie to learn Deaf culture), but it's to be expected that many people with various disability to attend. I'm mainly concerned about navigating topics to avoid and behavior that may offend them, while at the same time I don't want to lose opportunity to make new friends.

How to handle the encounter with the disabled in this situation?

From the previous event, I'm expecting Deaf (obviously), those on wheelchair and crutches. I'm not expecting blind people (but there might be in the next event).

One of the question I have is whether asking about when, how, or why they've gone disabled is an appropriate question, but this is not the main question. This event will be held in Indonesia, but I believe "disability culture" is more important, thus I welcome answers from anywhere.

  • I have found a question that is too broad and POB. I think you should narrow your request, differently abled people (see link why this once PC term appears to be no longer acceptable) will react differently to different topics, and exchanging small talk. There is no right "formula" no "one size fits all" solution. – user3114 Oct 12 '17 at 8:09
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    @Mari-LouA from your link I don't see how differently abled is no longer acceptable. Here, we use "difabel", as a translation to "differently abled". If the term disabled is offensive to some, I'll happily edit it to "difabled" or "differently abled". – Vylix Oct 12 '17 at 8:22
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    @Mari-LouA I'm limiting the question to interaction with the Deaf and those in wheelchair/crutches, and handling topics. Is that not narrow enough? I know people will react differently, that's why I'm asking for guidelines on what in strictly NO, maybe, and usually safe to ask. – Vylix Oct 12 '17 at 8:26
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    I said "apears" based on the note of irony in the link: The committee itself shows signs of being differently abled in the use of English." the writer is saying the committee's English is itself disabled. EDITED: I still think your Q is too broad, but others may well disagree with me. All the best, and I hope the meeting is a success for everyone. – user3114 Oct 12 '17 at 8:26
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    "Disabled" is already a politically correct term. Before that word was invented, physically disabled people were called "cripples" and mentally disabled people were called "idiots". – Philipp Oct 12 '17 at 8:49
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How to handle the encounter with the disabled in this situation?

Well, first greet them as you do to other people. They are maybe differently-abled people, but still they're people like others and want (mostly) to be treated as normal as possible. So, just talk in the same way you do with others.

One of the question I have is whether asking about when, how, or why they've gone disabled is an appropriate question, but this is not the main question.

Some people like to talk about this and some not. Some people may want others to know the problems happening to them due to this issue, while some not. Therefore, this shouldn't be your first question. You can ask later when you know them a little bit. You can say like,

If you don't mind asking, may I know how did this happen to you?

Once this time, when I offered my seat to a person with crutches, I did have a general conversation with him and I asked the same. He didn't mind it all and told me the disease that caused him lose his legs.

If you have other questions, ask them like you normally do. If you are having conversation with a person in wheelchair, try sit on a chair to maintain eye contact so that person doesn't have to look up continuously.

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    You could add to your answer, that most disabled people really want to be treated as normal as possible in conversations. Regarding the rest of your answer i agree with you. – Otto V. Oct 12 '17 at 9:25
  • "most disabled people really want to be treated as normal as possible in conversations" __ absolutely right @Otto V. – English Student Oct 16 '17 at 1:37
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Almost universally, every person I have met that has some sort of limitation has the same desire: To be treated just like any person that you would meet that doesn't have limitations.

Some things to think about:

  • Avoid being a cliche: If you meet a deaf person, don't talk louder and slower. Find out if they can read lips, and if so, avoid talking facing away from them. Otherwise, find an interpreter. In this case, also don't have the conversation with the interpreter, still talk to the person you are conversing with. And so on.
  • Let them initiate contact: If you have someone that is on crutches or has a limitation with their hands, let them offer the handshake or any other contact.
  • Find out about their interests as you would anyone: Just because they have a limitation, doesn't mean that they don't pursue some of the same hobbies and interests you do.

As an example of the last point, there is a lady in our organization that is a 2nd degree black belt, motivational speaker, licensed pilot. She was born with no arms. She asks for no accommodations (And actually does a really impressive nunchaku form with her feet), and expects to be treated as anyone else. Incredible woman to talk to.

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In my experience there are two kinds of ableism there are those who avoid or are openly insulting/condescending to people and there are those that are extra special "nice".

As with a lot of people who are "different" they likely just want to be treated the same way you would treat everyone else. Don't be rude, but don't tiptoe either. You're talking to a person, not a disabled person. Would you feel the need to stand on a chair when talking to a very tall person, or kneel when talking to a very short person? Probably not, or at least I would hope not...

People generally don't like being gawked at because they're "different" no one wants to feel like a sideshow attraction in their day to day life, but avoiding them because they're "different" is equally wrong.

When it comes to talking to someone about their specific issue, and it's an issue you don't have in common, it's probably better to let them take the lead. But try not to avoid conversations or act differently with them.

If you're having a mutual conversation about "disability", it may be appropriate to ask about theirs, but it would probably be inappropriate to bring it up with a stranger out of nowhere. Keep in mind that while some people may have just been born that way, some may have suffered very real and lasting pain and trauma. It's also worth mentioning that even if the person was born that way they may have been bullied for being "different" which is also very traumatic. Questions about these things will likely, and obviously, be very personal, so tread carefully.

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    "When it comes to talking to someone about their specific issue, and it's an issue you don't have in common, it's probably better to let them take the lead" __ that's the 'take home message' @apaul! If we and OP keep that in mind there will be plenty of opportunities to interact naturally and instinctively with all types of people. – English Student Oct 16 '17 at 1:39
  • @EnglishStudent That and "You're talking to a person, not a disabled person." – apaul Oct 16 '17 at 1:47
  • "You're talking to a person, not a disabled person." __ very true but some disabilities don't directly affect communication; when they do, it's often awkward and difficult for a non-disabled person: communicating naturally using sign language or gestures is often a skill to be learned with interest, patience and practice, @ apaul, which is what I appreciate about OP @Vylix. Meanwhile, please consider reopening this question. – English Student Oct 16 '17 at 3:22
  • @EnglishStudent you gotta know I already voted to reopen ;) – apaul Oct 16 '17 at 3:24
  • Let us continue this discussion in chat. – English Student Oct 16 '17 at 4:05

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