How to be an ally

Here is a quick guide to help you to be an ally to disabled people.

Do you know someone who is disabled? Perhaps a friend, family member or colleague? Are you aware of how to speak to them or refer to them to others? How can you help them and what do they need? Here is a quick guide to help you to be an ally to disabled people.

Don’t assume that a disabled person needs help or that you know what they need help with

1 – Ask a disabled person if they need your help – don’t assume that a disabled person needs help or that you know what they need help with. The government has set up the campaign Ask Don’t Assume (#askdontassume Ask Don’t Assume – Become a better ally to disabled people ( to raise awareness of this issue.

2 – Never push someone’s wheelchair without permission – did you know that some wheelchair users have spikes on their wheelchairs to deter people from doing this because it happens so often? As above, don’t assume someone in a wheelchair needs help getting up a hill and if someone in a wheelchair is in your way don’t push them out of it! Shockingly this happens a lot, don’t forget there is a person in that wheelchair.

A group of 3 happy looking men are clinking their glasses together and smiling. One of the men is seated in a wheelchair.

3 – Don’t ask someone what happened to them – Some disabled people are born disabled and others become disabled later in life as a result of an accident or illness. Even if you know a disabled person it is not appropriate to ask them why they are disabled and if you’ve never met them before them before this is definitely not a good icebreaker! If a disabled person want you to know about their disability they will tell you. If someone has acquired their disability then the circumstances around this may be traumatic and not something that is easy for them to discuss.

4 – Get to know the appropriate language around disability – in general it’s better to refer to ‘disabled people’ rather than ‘people with disabilities’, which many people feel is less offensive. This also fits with the social model of disability, find out more about the social model here. Scope has written a guide to the language used around disability (Inclusive language guide and examples for disability (

5 – Don’t stare and definitely don’t take a photo – you’d think this was an obvious one but in her book, You Are the Best Thing Since Sliced Bread, journalist Samantha Renke wrote that she regularly catches people taking photos of her which, unsurprisingly, she finds distressing.

6 – Always address the disabled person and not the person they are with – you should never assume that a visibly able-bodied person knows more than the disabled person they are with. Often the disabled person will know more about their needs than their companion.

7 – Don’t obstruct the path of someone in a wheelchair or mobility scooter – turning can be hard and they might squash your toes!

This list is by no means exhaustive but hopefully it provides a starting point for anyone who wants to work to be an ally.