Interacting with people with disabilities
The golden rule:
“It’s common courtesy”.
Interaction with people with disabilities is an unfamiliar and sometimes threatening experience for many people. Avoidance behaviour can occur. Training can help staff deal with these issues.
Interacting with people with disabilities requires commonsense and simple sensitivity. A few key points need to be stressed:
- Good service behaviours such as active listening, a service orientation and a results focus work equally well with people with disabilities as with all other people.
- Think of the person first and the disability second. Sensitive use of language can help reinforce the “person first” attitude. Reference to “people with disabilities” rather than to “disabled people” helps maintain this stance.
- Accept people with disabilities as individuals. People with disabilities may have in common a disability, but the consequences of their disabilities will vary considerably from person to person. Factors such as the degree of impairment, duration, individual coping strategies and styles, support structures available and a host of personality traits will all combine to influence the nature of the individuals needs. Don’t generalise about all people with disabilities from your knowledge of a few.
- Listen to what people say. Don’t assume you know what they want or what is best for them. People with disabilities are no less capable of thinking for themselves than anyone else. There may be challenges in communicating their needs, but assumptions that they cannot decide what they need are also offensive.
- Be yourself, be natural, don’t force enthusiasm. Do not patronise or be inappropriately solicitous.
- A disability is not necessarily an illness. Do not treat people with disabilities as though they are sick. Treat them as healthy individuals. Research indicates that people with disabilities take fewer sick days than other employees. Their impairments cause inconvenience and disability in particular areas of activity, but they are rarely dysfunctional.
- Treat people in a manner that is appropriate to their age. It is not appropriate to talk to people with disabilities as if they were children, nor to refer to them as children. Terms such as “girlie” or “sonny” are not appropriate for adults with disabilities.
- Speak directly to the person, not to their carer or other third party. People with disabilities often have carers. However, the carers are there to assist in specific ways. Do not assume that they are the mouthpiece or the advocate for the person with a disability. It is insulting to talk in the third person about a person who is present.
- If the person with a disability has a communication problem they will usually let you know and indicate a preferred method.
- A disability is an inconvenience in certain situations, but it is not necessarily a tragedy which dominates a person’s life and makes fulfilment impossible. Individuals find their own ways of adapting. Interacting with people with disabilities