We know that life with a disability can be as full, happy and rounded as anyone else’s life. Of course, living with a disability can have its challenges, and at times can be frustrating, tiring and hard work. However with the proper supports in place, any challenge can be overcome. Support comes in many forms, but most often day-to-day support is people in the immediate or extended family: brothers and sisters, parents, adult children or grandchildren.
Family members of someone with a disability, may well want to do everything to help, but equally may not quite know what to do, or may be unintentionally doing well-meaning things that don not actually help at all.
Here’s a guide to what family members can do to help someone with a disability get as much as anyone else out of life.
1. Speak to the person about preferences
This may sound too obvious, but so often people overlook this most basic of ideas. A person with a disability is just that, a person, first and foremost with their own hopes, dreams, frustrations, and pet peeves.
Often living with a disability means that you have to accept help from others, in no matter what form it comes. It may be that someone has been offering help in a certain way for years and the person accepts it, because they do not know how to say stop, or I prefer it done differently. Rather than just boldly carrying on, think how that would feel and make sure you speak to the person you are helping about what would work best for them.
2. Inclusion is key
Inclusion is at the heart of anyone leading a rich and fulfilling life. Inclusion is about breaking down impediments, and enabling anyone to take part in our wider world no matter who they are, what they look like where they are from, and whether they are able bodied or have a disability.
Inclusion is what the wider world is striving for, and this should absolutely start in the home of anyone with a disability. At home everyone should feel included, safe and able.
If a family member has a disability make sure that the home is designed to cater for their needs as much as anyone else. Make adaptions to the home to make it accessible. As a family aim to include everyone in vacations, decisions, activities and occasions, and always take on board everyone’s needs.
3. Help build confidence
It has been shown that having a disability can really affect someone’s confidence, be that in going out and about because of anxieties of getting around, in meeting people or in issues of self-worth in the work place.
For many these are not issues, but for those that do suffer, their family members are key in helping to build confidence. Issues will of course vary from person to person depending on their own circumstances and how their disability affects them.
Being aware of the potential for lack of confidence in certain situations is the first step. Speak to your family member to let them know you have their back and find out from them if there’s anything you can do to help. Encourage them and offer moral support, and try to find practical ways to help with the things that are worrying them the most.
4. Practical support
Offering practical support need not seem condescending, as long as you consult the person you are doing it for, be it offering to drive or accompany your family member on excursions or to appointments, doing their shopping, or fixing something in their home. Practical help can be anything that just makes life a bit easier for someone with a disability. Carrying out mundane tasks can help preserve energy in someone who might be very tired as a result of their disability or reduce worry about getting things done in someone with a physical impairment.
Other practical support can be something simple like understanding someone’s medication, and knowing doses and timings, to lessen the mental burden. Alternatively you might take on the legal information around someone’s condition, look into working rights or health insurance issues, if the person says that would help them.
5. Make social life a key ingredient
We all need a social life to feel like a full rounded human being. Often getting out socially can be difficult for someone with a disability, and may not be prioritized in the grand scheme of things. Feelings of isolation are very common for people with disabilities and a social life can make great strides to fix that. As a family member of someone with a disability you can make it a priority. Whether it be arranging meet-ups with old friends, finding new activities and social groups for your family member to attend, or even finding an online community for your family member to become part of, you can help get the ball rolling.
If confidence is low you can offer to go along too. Or if transport is difficult offer to drive and pick up at the end. Whatever it is, make sure that a social life is not ignored.