Nfld. & Labrador·Access with Alisha

10 things you should know about disabilities and the people who have them

CBC producer and disability advocate Alisha Dicks wants you to think about how to talk to and treat people with disabilities.

CBC producer Alisha Dicks has some advice on how to talk to and treat people with disabilities

Alisha Dicks is a disability advocate and an associate producer at CBC Newfoundland and Labrador. (Alisha Dicks/CBC)

 Living with a disability can sometimes be frustrating, expensive and isolating. But, as the CBC's Alisha Dicks knows, it's so much more than that. Her disability has taught her to think creatively and look at things from a different perspective. In her series, Access with Alisha, she gives us a look into her life, and others living with a disability, and helps break down barriers for others.

The language we use regarding people with disabilities changes regularly. These days, the words you hear often are "acceptance" and "inclusion."

But what do they really mean?

Is it simply having them in the room during playtime at school? Is it meeting a staff quota of persons with disabilities? Is it making sure your child acknowledges a person with a disability in passing without asking awkward questions like, "Mommy, why is she in a chair?" Or, in education, is it having them involved in the mainstream classroom?

These are all just stepping stones toward changing the lives of persons with disabilities.

What should matter first and foremost is seeing the person before their disability or diagnosis.

One of my favourite phrases when I'm trying to get this message across is "see the ability in disability."

Sounds easy, right?

Changing the way you think

Many of us probably don't even realize when we are being biased or ableist in how we think.

How many of you may have walked up to someone in a wheelchair and picked up something they may have dropped without asking whether they needed help? How many of you wouldn't have even thought that you were being ableist?

We may assume someone can't do something, without engaging in a conversation with them. If a person can't speak, for example, that doesn't mean they don't understand you or can't communicate at all — they just communicate differently.

Dicks wants people to 'see the ability in disability.' (Alisha Dicks/CBC)

That's why it's important to see the ability in disability; that simple shift in thinking can make all the difference for someone living with a disability.

I've always had obstacles in front of me, from physical barriers to people's assumptions keeping me from reaching my full potential. As I've gotten older, I've learned to be more vocal than bitter about it, because I realized I need to speak in order to make things easier for those who come after me.

I never had someone to speak for me, or to look up to. I had to change my perspective and my way of thinking about a world that was not built for me.

Dicks is pictured here graduating with a bachelor of intermediate secondary education degree at the Arts & Culture Centre in St. John's. (Submitted by Alisha Dicks)

The thing that we need to do is break down barriers by addressing assumptions and misconceptions about living with a disability.

I've spoken publicly about my obstacles to becoming a teacher. Now I'm doing it on a bigger scale with this series and as an associate producer of CBC Radio's CrossTalk.

It's scary putting yourself out there, but I always say having a conversation getting uncomfortable to be comfortable is how it starts.

The list

I'm going to do that today by providing you with a list of 10 things I think you should know about interacting with someone who has a disability:

  1. Share — don't stare.
  2. See the ability in disability.
  3. Don't doubt someone's intellectual ability based on their physical appearance; that has long-lasting effects on the person with the disability.
  4. Do not pet the person on the head. We are not animals.
  5. It's not more work for you to hire somebody with a disability.
  6. Never speak to the person with a disability by addressing someone accompanying them (for example, by saying, "What would she like to order?" Always speak to the person directly.
  7. Able-bodied people are not the heroes.
  8. Never be afraid to ask questions, it isn't rude. Knowledge is key.
  9. Don't say, "I would love to be in a wheelchair all day. It must be easy to not have to walk around."
  10. Do not use baby talk when speaking to someone with a disability.

Some actions I've described here may shock you, and you may think, "Of course — that's common sense. I have never done that."

But it's important to understand that these things do happen, and they make it harder for someone to lead a happy and healthy life as they try to adapt to a world that wasn't built for them.

I'm not asking you to feel bad if you have done or have thought these things. What I am asking you to do is stop and think about how your actions affect a person with a disability. Think before you speak or do something, and get to know a person before you make assumptions. Recognize that a disability is only a part of them, and you will miss a lot about a person if you don't move past those first assumptions, those first ideas that pop in your head.

Dicks is trying to help erase the stigma and the barriers that come with disabilities. (Alisha Dicks/CBC)

If you didn't get to know me, you wouldn't know that I am a teacher, an advocate, a producer, a friend, partner and so much more than my disability.

I don't want you to get the wrong idea; I don't want to erase my disability from my story or who I am.

What I do want to do is erase the stigma and the barriers that come with it.

Today on the show we are breaking down barriers and starting a conversation about seeing the ability in disability. We will also talk about inclusive education and 10 things you should know about people with disabilities. First up, we are talking to Dave Munro about the 6th annual St John’s Tattoo Convention

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador


Alisha Dicks has a bachelor of arts in English and history from Memorial University and a bachelor of intermediate secondary education, and is enrolled in Memorial's bachelor of special education program. She is particularly focused on accessibility and inclusive education, and is currently working as an associate producer for CBC N.L. in St. John's.