In my previous post on disability sensitivity, we talked about some general practices to keep in mind when interacting with people with disabilities. I’m going to round out the list with tips regarding specific types of disabilities in specific situations.
Keep the following in mind when you’re with a person who uses a wheelchair:
• For extended conversation, get down to his level to talk to him by sitting in a chair yourself. It’s uncomfortable for him to have to look up for that long.
• When planning outings, check that the places that you plan to go on outings before you go are accessible.
• If you are pushing her chair, let her know when you’re about to start pushing. Try to let her know what you’re doing as you’re pushing (for example, tell her if you need to tip the chair back to get up onto the curb). Be aware that pushing someone smoothly takes practice. It’s not as easy as it looks!
Keep the following in mind when you’re with a person who is hard-of-hearing or deaf:
• Make sure that your lips are always visible. Speak directly to the person. Make sure you are always looking at him, and use simple sentences. Avoid activities that affect your speech or make your lip movements difficult to read. Do not like chew gum or smoke.
• Speak in a normal tone. Shouting isn’t going to make you any easier to hear. Concentrate on speaking clearly.
• Gently touch her on the arm or shoulder to get her attention before you start speaking.
• Don’t worry about using terminology like, “Did you hear the story about…?” Despite popular belief, most people with hearing disabilities are not offended by these colloquialisms.
Keep the following in mind when you’re with a person who is visually impaired:
• As you approach her, identify yourself and any people who are with you. Introduce her to the people who are with you.
• Ask him if he’d like your help to get around. If he says yes, let him hold your arm and lead you. Let him know obstacles he that is approaching by using the clock face (“Chair at 2 o’clock). Tell him approximately how many steps away the obstacle is.
• When supporting someone, provide her with a quick overview of a room as she enters. Let her know who is in there, and tell her about potential obstacles and approximately where they are. Tell her about any steps in the room and approximately where they are.
• Don’t worry about using language like “Did you see that?”. Most people with visual disabilities aren’t offended by these colloquialisms.
Disability Sensitivity Tip #9 – People with Cognitive Disabilities
• Don’t “talk down” to him. He’s not a child, and enjoys talking about the same things you do: Weekend plans, relationships, jobs, etc.
• Assume competence. She can make her own decisions, unless you’ve been told otherwise. This is another assumption that you should always make.
• Rephrase or try to communicate in a different way if she doesn’t understand what you’re saying. Sometimes just showing her what you mean works well. If you can’t understand what he’s saying, ask him to show you what he means.
• Allow lots of time for communication so that she doesn’t feel pressured.
Disability Sensitivity Tip #10 – People with Mental Conditions (Mental Illness)
• Recognize that people deal with mental conditions in varying ways. Ask what would make her feel most comfortable.
• Remain calm in crisis situations. Ask if you can help and be supportive. Find out if someone should be called. Some resources say to find out if there’s a medication that the person should be taking. For personal reasons, I am very reluctant to administer medications or suggest that someone take medications (unless it’s a life-or-death situation, such as an EpiPen for clear signs of anaphylaxis after food consumption or a bee sting) unless I’ve been told about it first, without speaking to a doctor or a pharmacist first. Think about what your position is on this.
• Assume competence. Having a mental condition does not mean that an adult can’t make his own decisions.
The 10 tips disability sensitivity tips that I’ve talked about are just a short list of how to make everybody in our society feel as safe and comfortable as possible…and that’s the ultimate goal of a culture of inclusion, where everyone feels welcome.
Check out the following links for a *very* comprehensive discussion of disability sensitivity:
See you Monday! 🙂