People are affected by disability in many different ways. Let’s work together to break down some communication barriers, challenge a few assumptions and become more confident about disability. Let’s put an end to feeling awkward about interacting with people for fear of doing the wrong thing.
Let’s get the best from each other
- I don’t want anything special or unusual – just to be included, respected and treated like anyone else.
- Disability doesn’t define me. Don’t judge me before you know me.
- If you don’t know what to do, just talk to me. Ask me if you are getting it wrong.
- You don’t need word perfect terminology.
- Treat me as an individual. Accord me the same respect you would anyone else. Be polite, be patient.
- Ask if and how you can help. I may not need your help.
- Don’t avoid me because you feel uneasy about saying or doing the wrong thing.
- Look me in the eye. Speak directly to me.
- There’s always a lighter side. Try to relax. If you feel you’ve embarrassed me, it’s fine to say sorry but there’s no need to dwell on it.
- Refer to my disability only when necessary and appropriate.
- Shake hands, even if I have limited hand use. A left-handshake is fine.
- You can describe me as ‘a person with disability’ not ‘a disabled person’. Don’t use these words: handicapped, victim, crippled, invalid, wheelchair-bound, retarded.
- Ask me how I would talk about my disability and which terminology I would use – but only if this feels appropriate and relevant.
- Don’t use words that imply that I am remarkably courageous, special, or superhuman. It’s unlikely to be true.
- Don’t feel embarrassed if you use expressions like ‘see you soon’ or ‘I’ve got to run’.
- It’s often simple to make a few adjustments, and at no, or very little, cost.
- I may be able to lip-read, so make sure I can see your mouth when you talk. Not everyone with a hearing impairment lip-reads, but a lot do.
- Avoid background noise: it can make it more difficult for me to follow a conversation.
- Speak clearly. Don’t cover your mouth, turn your head away or rest your chin in your hand. You don’t have to speak loudly or slowly. Just avoid eating or chewing while we talk.
- If you are chairing a meeting, make sure people speak one at a time.
- Talk to me, not to my helper or interpreter. Maintain eye contact with me. There’s no need to ask my helper or interpreter for their opinion.
- I may ask you to send me documents or presentations in an accessible format ahead of time.
- Check with me which format I prefer for documents – it needs to be compatible with my text-to-speech software.
- In meetings, introduce everyone by name and ask people to address each other by name while talking.
- If you use a whiteboard, use words to describe what you are drawing or writing.
- After the meeting, it’s fine to ask if anyone needs help to return to their desk or floor.
- Don’t worry about using phrases like ‘do you see’.
- You can stay standing to talk to me: there’s no need to bend down. If we have a long conversation, let’s both of us sit down.
- Don’t try and move my wheelchair, unless I ask you to. Ever.
- If we go out for a meeting or drinks, keep in mind that I might not be able to take the same route or transport as you.
- When you are setting up a meeting, make sure that the set-up is accessible for me and that there is enough room for me to enter and turn.
- Don’t use the accessible bathrooms if you don’t need to.
- If you see me heading towards you in my wheelchair, don’t panic or jump out of my way. I don’t need that much room to pass you!
- Keep in mind to stay on the outside of the sidewalk/roadside so that I can move along the inside, where it is safer.
- Having dyslexia doesn’t mean I am stupid: it just means that my brain is wired differently. It is a particular way of thinking and learning, not a disease.
- I am in good company. These are just some of the people who have – or had – dyslexia: Einstein, Whoopi Goldberg, Benjamin Franklin, Mozart, Florence Welch, Richard Branson, Beethoven, Nobel prize-winner Dr Carol Greider, WB Yeats, Picasso, Agatha Christie, Steve Jobs, John Lennon.
- I take a different approach to problem solving from you. That’s because most dyslexics have a good sense of spatial relationships or make really great use of the right side of their brain. That could explain why 50 per cent of the people who work for NASA have dyslexia.
- I might use text-to-speech software to read large documents but it also helps me if you keep emails succinct and use bullet points.
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Australian Network on Disability – Norton Rose Fulbright is a member
Business Disability Forum (UK) – Norton Rose Fulbright is a member
SenseAbility in Canada – Norton Rose Fulbright is a member