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Do Not Pat Me. I’m Not an Animal.
Mike Cohn M.Ed.

What makes people uncomfortable being around me? I stand about 5’5” I weigh 135 lbs. and I have brown hair. I look like the average Joe that you would meet on the street or in a work environment. Yet because I use a walker and have a speech impediment many people think it is okay to be condescending. THINK AGAIN!

I never see non-disabled co-workers go up to their co-worker or boss, tap them on the head or arm and say, “it’s okay” or “I understand”, when in reality all the conversations are work related. The fact of the matter is, I, like many other people who have disabilities, am college educated, have a job, and live independently.

Why is it so important for you to know this about the disabled community?

The answer is simple. People who are disabled, whether it is a physical, developmental or a hidden disability, deserve to be treated with the same respect any one else would command.

When I talk, please listen to the words that are being spoken. If you do not understand me, try to make the effort. In many cases you might need to just have a word or two clarified in order to understand. You should not feel bad because you cannot always clearly understand what a person who has a speech impediment is saying. It takes two to make a conversation flow . I have found that the non-disabled person is often embarrassed to ask the speech-impaired person to repeat themselves. They may say “I understand” and then walk away, asking themselves “what did he/she say?”

Looking beyond a person’s disability is not always an easy thing to do! Many service providers and parents promote the kind of behavior that we in the disabled community will not tolerate.

It is NOT okay to belittle a person with a disability by patting them on the head, arm or leg. If the person can grasp your hand, then shake his hand. It is also important that the person who is disabled make the effort to greet the person as well. I find it very demeaning when a person with a disability is called Pal or Buddy. As far as I can tell, each person was given a first and last name. My name happens to be Mike Cohn, not Buddy or Pal. I deserve to be treated just like anyone else.