I got into work today, and my office mate was talking with one of my co-workers about a course he is working on about etiquette to follow when interacting with people who have disabilities. I mentioned my blog, and he told me he would get me in touch with the woman who is creating the course. I will have to post about that later.
It got me thinking though. I think a lot of us, myself included, are nervous and unsure of how to interact with people who have disabilities. Do we look at the interpreter or the person who is using the interpreter? Can we touch the wheelchair? How should be act around a guide dog? Things like that. If you slip up, knowingly or not, it can be awkward, offensive, and embarrassing.
This website is a great resource for what you should and should not do when interacting with people who have disabilities. For those who are deaf/hard of hearing, they had the following tips:
Things to Know:
- Deaf and hearing-impaired persons are entering the workplace in record numbers.
- More persons who are deaf or hearing-impaired have some hearing rather than no hearing at all.
- Sign language is not another form of English; it is an official language with its own grammar, contexts and rules.
- Lip reading, while helpful without sound clues, is only 30%-50% effective, and sometimes less.
- Long conversations with persons who lip-read can be very fatiguing to the person who has the impairment.
- Not all persons who are deaf use sign language.
- Not all persons who are deaf write and read.
- Not all persons who are deaf speak.
- Not all persons who are deaf lip-read.
Things to Do:
Find out how the person best communicates.
- If the person uses an interpreter, address the person, not the interpreter.
- If the person reads lips, speak in a normal, not exaggerated way. Short, simple sentences are best.
- If the person lip-reads, avoid blocking their view of your face. Make sure the lighting is good.
- Gain their attention before starting a conversation.
- If there is some doubt in your mind whether they understood you correctly, rephrase your statement and ask them if you have been understood.
- Be aware of situations where a person may be waiting for a service (transportation, a table, the start of an activity) where the common way to communicate is an announcement or the calling of the person’s name.
- Make sure you take notes when someone cannot hear you and develop an alternative way of notifying them.
Things to Avoid:
- Do not become impatient or exasperated with the person if it takes longer to communicate.
- Make sure there are no physical barriers between you and the person while in conversation.
- If the person is using hearing aids, avoid conversations in large, open and noisy surroundings.
Things to Consider:
- Persons who may deal very well one-on-one in communication may have a hard time with two or more speakers, especially if there are many interruptions and interjections.
- Showing impatience to someone who is deaf or hearing impaired may cause the less assertive to back off from telling you of their needs.
- When someone asks, “What did you say?” the answers, “Never mind,” “Nothing,” or “It’s not important,” are very common replies. These are insulting and demeaning, because they communicate that the person is not worth repeating yourself for.
The last one in the “Things to Consider” section is especially important. I have had countless people say “Never mind” to me when I ask them to repeat themselves. As it says above, this is incredibly insulting and demeaning. I get so angry when people say this to me. It must have been important enough for you to say it, so please don’t insult me by saying “Never mind”. I got fed up with this with a guy I was dating once and snapped at him, going on a rant about why I hate it. He got really defensive, which didn’t help at all.
I am not a very assertive person, so any show of impatience or annoyance will cause me to back off. I am not very good at voicing my needs to others, and I’m sure the responses I’ve gotten on account of my hearing loss has something to do with this. If you constantly get negative responses or impatience when asking for something, do you really think you will be willing to ask for help in the future?
In the end, it is all about being informed. If you aren’t sure about something, it might be better to ask politely instead of assuming you know what you’re doing.