As a society, we’ve made great strides in improving rights, access and attitudes towards disabled people. But still, as a disabled person, it can be incredibly frustrating when I come across businesses who fail to make Disability Awareness a priority for their staff. Negative experiences stay with me and make me reluctant to return. When was the last time you considered Disability Awareness in your business?
Whilst no substitute for training, the following 5 tips will help your team to become much more disability aware.
Avoid making assumptions
“Disability means using a wheelchair.” “Disabled people need carers” or “Disabled people can’t work.” Less than 5% of disabled people use a wheelchair; many disabled people are completely independent and there are currently over 4 million disabled people employed in the UK.
We all know what’s said about making assumptions, don’t we? Just makes an ass of you and me. So avoid making assumptions and simply ask if you’re not sure about something. Better to ask and get the truth than go around believing something which isn’t true.
Learn the language
Knowing the right language to use when talking about disability can go a long way to making disabled people feel comfortable. In a nut shell, avoid grouping disabled people, don’t be patronising and if you’re not sure, ask! “Do you mind telling me how you prefer me to refer to your disability?” is perfectly acceptable and most disabled people won’t mind guiding you, particularly when they know you’re making an effort to get it right.
Sometimes it can be difficult for disabled people to get across what they need or want, especially if they have a speech or communication difficulty. Make sure you make time to listen; don’t try and second guess or finish someone’s sentence. Be patient and if you don’t understand what someone is saying, politely ask them to repeat themselves and never pretend to understand if you don’t.
Apply some common sense
I was recently at a theme park and asked to prove my disability in order to get priority on some amusements – even though I’m in a wheelchair, have a speech impairment and uncontrollable movements. Sometimes, a little common sense, thought and general consideration can be the difference between a disabled customer coming back to you. Or not.
Be guided by the individual
The disabled person is an expert in their disability; they know what they are capable of and what they need from you. Let them guide you and whilst it’s great to offer help, never force assistance on someone and be respectful if your help is declined.