'Help us break down the barriers': 3 ways to be a better ally to people with disabilities.

Today is the International Day of People with Disability. For people with disabilities, this day can represent and encompass a lot of mixed feelings.

For me, a woman with a disability, it is a complicated day.

On the one hand, I feel very grateful that this day exists. After all, the day allows people like me, to be given the microphone, the pen, or a space at the table. To use my voice. To show the realities of living with a disability.

On the other hand, I am continually surprised by the lack of awareness non-disabled people have for the International Day of People with Disability. For me, this re-confirms that many non-disabled people don’t see us as we see ourselves.

Watch How to treat people who live with disabilities. Post continues after video.

Video via District of Columbia.

We are just like you. Despite the challenges that we face, we can be and are, in many cases, living full and happy lives.

This is the core of my conflicted feelings about this day. I dearly want you to believe, that I, for example, am just the girl next door who just happens to use a wheelchair.


We can be your friend, family member, peer and workmate.

While this is my reality, it would be doing a disservice to you and the disabled community, to not highlight all the barriers, challenges and inequality that our community face, every day. After all, today is the day where we feel we will be listened to.

When people with disabilities only have one day, the space to speak, many of us are unsure of how to make non-disabled people understand our full-picture reality.

From my perspective, understanding is key to any minority gaining acceptance from the greater society. The LGBTQI movement and community is testament to the power of acceptance. The LGBTQI community is now a part of the greater community, as they always should have been.

Like any minority, we can’t make change without help from allies. Are you our ally?

I believe non-disabled people care about disabled people. I just think you haven’t been given the knowledge or tools to know how to be good allies to us.

That’s why I am here writing to you. I’m going to give you *some* of the tools to be a good ally to people with disabilities:

1. Educate yourself and listen to many disabled voices.

What percentage of everything you read, watch and listen to is created by disabled people?

To give you a bit of perspective, one in five people in Australia have a disability. Does one in five of everything you consume; include, highlight or is created by, a disabled person? If not, then why not?


There is heaps of fantastic content out there.

There are movies. My favourite is The Intouchables.

There are TV shows. I am most excited for the remake of Heartbreak High where Chloë Hayden, an actor who is autistic, is set to play an autistic character.

There are books. I recommend 'Growing Up Disabled in Australia' edited by Carly Findlay. This is a good start as it includes different disabled voices.

There are podcasts. Shameless plug: I host The I Can’t Stand podcast. The podcast answering the audience's questions on what it is really like to live with a disability.

2. Look at your local community. Is it accessible?

Once you start looking for accessibility, you will start to realise how inaccessible our world is. When you next go to the gym, a café, or a restaurant notice if it has a step out the front. If it does, why does it need to be there?

When you nip off to the loo during dinner with friends, take a look at the accessible toilet. Is it being used as a storage facility instead of a toilet? Or is there even an accessible toilet?

If there are accessibility issues, please politely point them out to the business. Disabled people want to spend their money at their business as much as you do. 

By starting to look out for inaccessibility on our behalf you are directly helping us reduce the barriers that stop us from living our lives.


Listen to The Quicky where host Claire Murphy speaks to a disability researcher and three women each with different experiences to discuss the everyday challenges they face, and what we can all do to make sure every public space is accessible and welcoming to all. Post continues after audio.

3. Where are the disabled people?

Do you see us waiting in line getting our morning coffee? Are there disabled kids in your child’s class? Do you have any disabled work colleagues? Do you see any disabled people in your day-to-day life? 

If not, why not?

Our absence in daily life is a clear illustration that people with disabilities are still not given the same opportunities as non-disabled people.

When you start to ask yourself "why aren’t disabled people here?" - you will realise how excluded we still are. Have you ever seen a disabled person work as a hairdresser? Or work as a teacher, or an accountant or on radio or television?

Please help us question the people in power. 

Even the simple act of asking “where are the disabled people in this organisation?” will start a conversation and an awareness of our absence.

Peta Hooke is a 30-something, single Melbourne girl living with Cerebral Palsy. You can follow Peta on Instagram, or listen to the 'I Can't Stand' podcast.

Feature Image: Peta Hooke / Mamamia.

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