“But the LORD said to Samuel, ‘Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.’” 1 Samuel 16:7 ESV
Imagine yourself tied to a chair, with a blindfold over your eyes and earplugs in your ears. You cannot move, see or hear. How do you think you would feel?
Well, that is my life. I can only see objects and people up close and I can hear some low and loud sounds but cannot distinguish them. Recently, I gave a speech in which I talked about befriending people with disabilities while I had a volunteer next to me in the exact conditions I described above.
After I finished my speech, I gave the volunteer the opportunity to express his feelings during the experience. He expressed being uncomfortable—used to fidgeting and moving around, he felt quite unpleasant, as well as frustrated and annoyed that he could not scratch the itch on his knee. The point of the exercise was for him to step into my shoes for ten minutes.
Now that you have a glimpse of what it is like to live with a disability, I want to give you some tips on how to befriend someone with a disability. Becoming friends with a disabled person will bless his/her life, make him/her feel special and will teach you a great deal. I challenge you to step out of your comfort zone and broaden your perspective.
Tip #1: Don’t be afraid or shy.
People with disabilities are happy to make new friends. Sometimes we like to crack jokes. I know I do. And guess what: we don’t bite, like my dog Sofia does.
Tip #2: Once you have a friend who has a disability, offer encouragement and support.
Ask how you can help him/her accomplish something of value. During my time of struggle, many of my friends extended their encouragement, support and help to me. Without them I would not have been able to finish my books, write my blog or do my art. God has provided me with what I needed through my friends.
Tip #3: Be patient.
We may take longer to accomplish everyday tasks. We also ask a ton of questions. Keep in mind that we are doing the best we can, and sometimes we are very curious! Please be patient with us.
Tip #4: Remember that we have feelings, hopes, dreams and desires just like you.
We laugh, cry, become angry and suffer hurts. We look forward to the future, feel lonely and when God blesses us, we feel surrounded with love. We empathize with others in their pain and in their joy. Please do not forget us in doing the same.
Tip #5: Remember that we are normal people, even though we may look differently on the outside.
We are the same on the inside. In all senses we are equal; God created us all. Ask your friend, “What’s up, buddy?” or, “What are your favorite activities?” Join your friend in these. Encourage your friend to do something that he/she enjoys, even if it seems impossible. There is always a way.
I am writing this blog because I want to communicate how I have felt throughout my life, and I want to spread more awareness for others who have had these same experiences. I have often been mistreated, judged and looked down upon for the way I appear. You might not know how to act or what to do around a person with disabilities. Just be who you are, and treat the person the way you would want to be treated. Look at people for who they are. Do not look at the outward; look at the inward. You may be surprised at what you find.
One of my best friends described his experience: “Really all in all, if people would take the time to befriend someone with disabilities, they will find a friend just like any other person, but the one thing a person with disabilities can give you that is different than a ‘normal’ person (if there really is such a thing as a ‘normal’ person) is they will be an incredible encouragement that will have a lifelong effect.”
If my friend had not done everything he has for me and stuck with me through the years, I would not be person I am today. Therefore, all my friends are very dear to me, and I have a deep love and appreciation for them.