For employees

Caring for disabled family members

A disabled person is a person who, due to a physical or mental disability, is unable to participate in public life in part or in full, and to exercise his or her rights. Disability can be very diverse: inherited or acquired due to illness, aging or an accident; mild, moderate, or severe; physical, sensory, mental or developmental. Each type of disability and its complexity determines the different levels of independence of people with disabilities and the assistance that they need. Only by educating yourself about your family member’s disability will you be able to help him or her live a full life. It is important to determine what will actually help your loved one, and what will not work or make him or her feel even worse.

Physical disability

Physical disability includes mobility impairment when a person’s ability to move and control his or her body is limited, as well as somatic disorders such as multiple sclerosis, heart diseases, etc.

If your family member has a physical disability, always try to:

  1. Communicate with him or her as with any other person;
  2. Ask questions;
  3. Not avoid asking to repeat a sentence – a physical disability may prevent a person from speaking clearly, so it may be more convenient for that person to respond to you in writing or by using appropriate devices;
  4. Offer your help;
  5. Not assume what a disabled family member expects of you and what help he or she requires;
  6. Ask if he or she needs help at all, and what kind of help he or she needs;
  7. Not touch the movement aids used by the person you are caring for without the said person’s consent;
  8. Ensure that the person is able to communicate with you eye-to-eye with dignity – if he/she is moving in a circle, sitting or lying in bed, stand further away or sit down in front of that person to make eye contact more comfortable, and the disabled person would not have to strain to look up.

Sensory disability

Sensory disability is a sensory impairment that interferes with the reception of information by the senses. This type of disability includes hearing impairment, visual impairment, and speech impairment such as loss of voice, fast speech or slow speech.

People with sensory disabilities perceive the world completely differently than a healthy person, thus being aware of the specifics of such disabilities may encourage you to acquire certain skills yourself. For example, if you have a family member with a hearing impairment, you will have to learn sign language to be able to fully communicate with your loved one. When communicating with a person with a sensory disability, try to:

  1. Ask which method of communication is most acceptable to him or her;
  2. Not show your annoyance if there are any communication problems and it is difficult to understand each other;
  3. Ask if the person needs your help, and what kind of help he or she needs;
  4. Not treat your loved one as a child who is unable to function on his or her own.

Mental disability

Mental disabilities of family members, particularly severe ones such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or manic depressive psychosis, often cause a great deal of tension that, if left unchecked, can escalate into passive anger. A mentally disabled family member may seem introverted or hostile, but keep in mind that in many cases these are symptoms of an illness rather than a conscious desire to hurt you.

In more difficult moments, especially when a loved one is in crisis, you cannot react the way you would in a conflict situation – you must remain calm, therefore:

  1. Do not show your annoyance or anger, and do not shout;
  2. Do not interrupt or finish the sentences of your family member;
  3. Do not stand in front of a panicked person because he or she is already scared, and blocking his or her view or passage will only cause even greater fear;
  4. Do not attempt to discipline your disabled family member because of his or her thoughts or behaviour, and do not blame him or her;
  5. Respect the disabled family member’s personal space, and do not attempt to restrict his or her movement unless this is necessary to protect him or her or the people around him or her.

To help a family member with a mental disorder without causing any tension, try to:

  1. Maintain normal daily-life habits;
  2. Communicate with a loved one as with any other person, and listen to his or her needs;
  3. Share your own feelings and needs;
  4. Find enjoyable recreational activities that you can do together;
  5. Remove any additional distractions (unfamiliar people, TV, music, street noise, etc.) as soon as you notice that the condition of your disabled family member is deteriorating;
  6. Speak calmly and clearly.

Focus on what a disabled family member can do

Many disabled people are able to take care of themselves fully or at least partially. And they could do it even better if their environment was adapted for that. However, problems usually arise from the lack of understanding and intolerance of non-disabled people which may also lead to feelings of inferiority among the disabled. For example, wheelchair users are typically able to take care of themselves, thus you should not touch their wheelchair without their consent, since a wheelchair is part of the disabled person’s personal space. By showing excessive care and helping even when the disabled person does not need it, you also burden yourself, and therefore get more tired, become more irritable, and have less time to take care of your own needs.

Disabled people are often unable to fully participate in social activities not because of their disability, but because of the environment which is not adapted to their needs. Do not be afraid to ask what the person is able to do and would like to do independently, and what tools does he or she require. By being aware of the needs of your family members, you will be able to ensure greater autonomy and a more dignified life for them.