AT to Help Those with “Invisible Differences”

For class we all were given the opportunity to read material addressing etiquette when communicating with an individual with a disability, and were given the caveat that while these practices are widely accepted, it is crucial to recognize that each individual has personal preferences when it comes to how the interact with those around them. One topic that I think we have not addressed in depth is how to act in scenarios where an individual’s special circumstances are not immediately evident. For example, my younger teenage brother is one of the most genuinely thoughtful people that I have the privilege to call my sibling. He is also Autistic. When walking down the street with him, our fellow pedestrians typically do not note anything remarkable about either of us; insensitive people would probably say “he doesn’t LOOK any different than the rest of us”. As such, when in a restaurant a waiter may come to take our order, and speak to my brother just as they had spoken to me. My brother may or may not respond with an order that the waiter is satisfied with, after which point a member of my family (or often, multiple members) will order on his behalf.

My brother is fully capable of communication, depending on the situation that he is in, and how comfortable he is in that scenario. As a protective older sister, I wish that I could always be around to offer some familiarity in alien situations, but I feel as though there should be some form of assistive technology that can help him as he grows older, to advocate for himself and his needs independently. This begs the question: how can assistive technology protect and support those with “invisible differences” in a world that supports only uniformity? Naturally, I do not have an answer to this question, but I do have a few thoughts on how to approach it. One, we cannot simply identify these individuals as “different” as that label would attract vicious people to take advantage of them. Two, universal design principles may be able to help garner familiarity even in the upmost alien environments. For example, individuals with Autism benefit from highly regular approaches and speech patterns, thus finding a standardized manner to unfamiliar situations (opening line, interaction mechanism, etc.) may not only help these individuals, but also make public interactions far smoother and less awkward for all strangers.

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