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A smiling young man with Down syndrome with his non-disabled friend, clasping hands in a celebratory gesture.

A smiling young man with Down syndrome with his non-disabled friend, clasping hands in a celebratory gesture.

In our house, the game of Scrabble can be an all-out war. Between our youngest and his father, the rest of us never stand a chance in winning a game. The one way we can defeat them is to recognize our allies. I can hand off an easy access to a triple word score to ensure our daughter gets major points. Blocking access to a valuable Q, X or Z can have the same effect for our older son. Working together, the three of us can add many barriers.

Military alliances, as seen in WWII with the likes of Russia as well as UK, was what it took to defeat the Nazis. In war, effective alliances begin with a common enemy.

Allies, however, are not exclusive to conflicts, globally or in the game room. The origin of the word, in Latin, is alligare (to bind) or in French, alier (to combine).

How do we join forces to be supportive for those with disabilities? For people with disabilities and their allies the common enemy is ableism. We all have much to learn about being a better ally. Let me start by making three simple suggestions.

Promote access and inclusion. In planning a meeting, designing a space, writing a job description, or organizing a diverse group, ask “Are we doing all that we can to be welcoming to those with disabilities?” In asking the question, you encourage everyone to think differently about signage, websites, furniture, entrances, lighting, food, and everything else. It’s important to have someone with a disability in the conversation. “Nothing about us without us.”

Be open to learning. It is easy to become defensive if a behavior of yours is labeled as ableist. Stop and look for the learning experience. It is when those with disabilities tell us their needs that we can become better allies. Know the preferred words to use. Seek out opportunities to learn more through reading, volunteering, and attending community events. If in doubt…just ask!

Don’t share “inspiration porn.” Inspiration porn is those insipid videos showing people with disabilities as inspirational to non-disabled people because of their circumstance (making the touchdown, heroic or saintly actions serving to warm your heart). If it wouldn’t be “inspiring” for a person without a disability to do it, it’s safe to say you’re in the vicinity of inspiration porn. Consider instead sharing opinions and recommendations on being a better ally. Better yet if you’re sharing disabled voices. You can start with the Rutgers How to Be an Ally resource or encourage others to subscribe to this newsletter.

Just start with these three basic steps. As with any new behavior, it takes practice to become good at it. Consider practicing these few acts in anticipation of Disability Pride month in July. You can form your own “military alliances” and join our battle to make our communities more inclusive. Help others to think differently about disabilities.