What Does Respect Mean, Anyways?

A man and a woman sitting and laughing with one another

Respect, especially within the Disability Community, is a big deal. How we treat others reflects how we view the people we converse with; it can either uphold an individual’s dignity or fail to recognize each person as someone of worth and value. 

At our recent all-staff meeting, we gathered to discuss what respect means not only in everyday interactions, but also to the people we work with – Tennesseans with disabilities. We took a good chunk of time to consider ideas of what respect is, as well as detail instances in our lives where we have experienced both failures and successes of treating others with respect.

Three of our employees shared their thoughts on what respect means to them: Andrea Hall, office manager, Evan Kersten, Project BRAIN resource specialist, and Kay Watson, benefits analyst for Benefits to Work. 

Q: How do you define respect?

A: I define respect as being conscious of what others may be going through and their feelings, and  taking a moment to try to see where they are
coming from. We do not always agree with others views on many things, but to
respect them means we have to look past that. Respect is often just
acceptance. It is just reminding myself that I don’t need to judge others, because
they might not understand why I am the way I am. If we all just appreciated that
we will have differences in beliefs in many ways it becomes easier to accept
those differences.  It would be a boring life indeed if we were all the same.

E: Respect is a healthy mixture of effort and being considerate of others. Respect is treating others how they want to be treated- not necessarily how you think they should be treated.

K: I define respect as seeing the worth of a person and showing and recognizing the person has worth in my eyes. The other day my little granddaughter was very upset with some toy that she could not understand how to make it play music. As her mother and I sat and helped her figure the toy out, it occurred to me that it was a very simple fix for me and nothing that would have triggered such a response from me, but to her that was very real and very upsetting. Respect is recognition of the others person’s feelings. 

Q: Where do you seek to live out your definition of respect?

A: I often have to pause and think before I speak and listen to others. I have to
remind myself that a person with disabilities doesn’t necessarily want me to run
over and open the door, or to finish what they are trying to do. Sometimes, children don’t want you to help them color in the lines. I can’t force others into thinking that my way is the best way. Standing back and seeing where I can help and where it will be accepted is best. Jumping in and running the show isn’t showing
respect. I learn good things when I listen, watch, and give others space.

E: The first way I show respect to others is when working with families. I have learned to talk less and listen more. I don't have a solution to every problem or for every individual, but what I can promise in every case is to be an engaged listener. The second is with my co-workers, the people I see and communicate with every day. I try to be encouraging and helpful. It's too easy to become disengaged from office mates and to forget that we all need to feel valued and welcome at work. I want to respect my co-workers by showing that they are worth going the extra mile.

K: I seek to live it in my everyday life and treat people, no matter their age, with dignity and courtesy. We must see people as a people. So many times, we overlook those around us because we are so busy with our day. I try to taking the time to say hello, thank you, or ask questions.

Q: What does respect mean when interacting with people with disabilities?

A: As I said in the last question, I think that we try to make up for us not having a
disability by trying to do everything for someone that has a disability. What we
may view as a struggle for them is just daily life. I have learned big lessons from
working here. We can’t change that a person has a disability, but we can try to
change how things are done to be more inclusive of those with disabilities.

E: Respect in my interactions with people with disabilities is still tricky, and I still make mistakes. Respect, for me, means asking questions about how a person prefers to be treated, and being unafraid to admit when I have made a mistake. People value sincerity and humility.

K: In an office several years ago, my boss was a very direct person. It was there that I started to challenge to golden rule "Treat others as you want to be treated." In order for me to treat her with respect, I needed to step out of my comfort zone and treat her with directness. So now I try to treat others as they want to be treated and not how I want to be treated. Also, in learning how to use sign language, I learned a very important lesson. I was finger spelling my words of what I wanted to say. As you can imagine, it took a long period of time to spell out every word you were wanting to share. The person who was deaf stopped me and taught me the sign for what I was referring to. Sometimes it is just a matter of patience and consideration for how the person wants to be treated. I since have learned to ask what I can do for that person and not  just do.

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Tennessee Disability Coalition

The Coalition is an alliance of organizations and individuals who have joined to promote the full and equal participation of men, women and children with disabilities in all aspects of life. We work together to advocate for public policy that ensures self-determination, independence, empowerment, and inclusion for people with disabilities in areas such as accessibility, education, healthcare, housing, and voting rights.

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Tennessee Disability Coalition
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