Here are 6 ways that you can help create a more inclusive society and workplace for people living with disabilities:
1. Ask first and follow their lead
Don’t assume people need help. Ask if they need anything to make the process more effective or easier for them. They are the experts on their needs and how to best meet them. If they do ask for help, ask for specific instructions on how you can help.
2. Speak clearly, listen well
If you are working with a person who has a developmental disability or other cognitive issues, use clear sentences, simple words and concrete concepts. Gauge the pace, complexity and vocabulary of your speech to match theirs. Unless you are informed otherwise, remember they can make their own decisions. Allow people with speech impairments to finish their own sentences. Don’t talk for them or interrupt.
3. Speak directly to people
Make eye contact and speak to people directly, even if their personal care attendant or interpreter is with them. When a person who is deaf has an interpreter, the user will look at the interpreter as you are talking. While this is happening, focus your interaction with the user. Also, if you will be speaking for some time with a person in a wheelchair, sit down so they don’t have to strain their neck to look up at you. Do not lean over a person in a wheelchair.
4. Be aware of personal space
Some people who use a mobility aid, such as a wheelchair, walker or cane, see these aids as part of their personal space. Similarly, never start to push someone’s wheelchair without first asking the occupant’s permission. Don’t touch, move or lean on mobility aids. This is also important for safety.
5. Be flexible to family members of people with disabilities
Many people with disabilities have family members who care for or provide companionship. In many cases, the spouse of a person with disability may leave the workforce because of their spouse’s needs. Being flexible to the needs of family members keeps British Columbians in the workforce and reduces any compounded impact on the household and the province’s labour force.
6. When setting meetings, check accessibility
Confirm a meeting place in advance of the meeting and send detailed instructions on the accessibility of the venue. Ask if there is anything you can do to prepare for the meeting to make sure everyone is able to participate fully.
Don’t forget that mistakes happen! The important thing to remember is to just ask questions and take a person’s lead. Some of these tips can feel awkward the first time. Especially if you’re asking someone you’ve just met or is new to your company.
We naturally try to avoid awkwardness and may unknowingly try to avoid interacting with colleagues with disability, creating a real feeling of exclusion in others. Once you get over that first time, it quickly gets easier. Conversely, asking someone about their disability gets more difficult and increasingly awkward every time you avoid them. Don’t let the awkwardness get in the way.