Talking Disability. It s important to look past the disability and treat me as a real person. Communicating with people with a disability

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1 It s important to look past the disability and treat me as a real person. Communicating with people with a disability

2 This communication booklet has been developed in recognition of the fact that how we speak and interact with people can be either positive and enhancing, or negative and damaging. Talking about disability is often difficult, partly because the appropriate terminology is unclear and often laden with negative connotations. Designed as a practical guide to assist organisations, community members and businesses in communicating positively with people with a disability, the booklet affirms the importance of the individual over their limitation. It s important to look past the disability and treat me as a real person. Contents Introduction 2 Terminology Tips and Courtesies 4 Communicating with people who have a Physical Disability 5 Vision Impairment 6 Hearing Impairment 8 Communication or Speech Impairment Cognitive Disability: Intellectual Disability Acquired Brain Injury 9 10 Mental Health Issue 11 Employees in the Workplace 12 For large font, plain text format, please contact your local Council listed on back cover

3 Introduction... Give me a choice: I have an opinion. Most of us are touched by disability at some time or another in our lives; be it our own experience or that of a family member, friend or relative. In Australia today, one in five people live with some form of disability, with approximately six per cent of the population having a profound disability requiring on-going daily support. Disability is part of everyday life. People with a disability come from all sectors of the community and reflect a diverse range of ages and cultural backgrounds. Primarily, people with a disability do not want their disability to become the defining aspect of their life. The most appropriate terminology, person with a disability puts the emphasis on the person, not the limitation or disability. People with a disability aspire to live in a community that is welcoming and inclusive, where they are treated as equals, sharing the same rights as other community members. Interacting with people with a disability may at first be confronting. We may be unsure of what to do, how to act or what to say; with no intention of disrespect we may unintentionally offend or discriminate against a person with a disability. The most effective strategy is to treat all people in the same way as you would wish to be treated yourself with respect, politeness and consideration. 2

4 Terminology Tips and Courtesies... Just because I don t speak, doesn t mean I don t understand. People with a Physical Disability... I don t like people who stare at me strangely. When meeting, speaking or socialising with people with a disability, the following are offered as helpful hints to put everyone at ease: Look and speak directly with the person with a disability, even if a person without a disability accompanies him or her. If the person with a disability offers to shake your hand, respond accordingly. If you know the person s name, address the person by their name. Ask the person with a disability the best way to communicate if you are unsure. Offer assistance if it appears necessary, but don t assume that a person with a disability needs or will accept it. Wait for acceptance and instruction before proceeding. If a person is using a wheelchair, where possible, position yourself so that you are able to communicate with the person at eye level. If offering to help a person using a wheelchair or mobility device, wait for their response and listen carefully to any instructions. Do not move a wheelchair unless your assistance has been sought. Do not lean against or hang onto a wheelchair or any other mobility equipment. This is dangerous and can unbalance a person. Equipment is also the property and personal space of the person with a disability, and inappropriate intrusion on this personal space can be offensive and annoying. Ensure that there is a clear pathway to intended destinations, and at meetings or restaurants, make a chair-free space available at the table for the person using a wheelchair to sit, or for a mobility device to be placed. In terms of preferred terminology, the following phrases are offered: Look and speak directly with the person with a disability and not with someone who may be assisting him or her. Person with a disability Person with a physical disability Person who uses a wheelchair Person with a hearing impairment, hearing loss Person with cerebral palsy Accessible parking, accessible toilets etc. 4 5

5 People with a Vision Impairment... Acknowledge the virtues of others we are all the same. When speaking with someone with a vision impairment, speak in normal tones and identify yourself and others in your group. For example: I am and on my right is Letitia Long. Also, identify each person you speak with by name in the conversation. If offering to help a person, wait for their response and listen carefully to any instructions. Be specific with verbal directions; direct the person who has a vision impairment to THEIR left or right, not yours. When preparing printed information for a person with low vision, seek their advice for their preferred format for personal documents. General information for people with low vision should be provided in: Arial 18 Point Bold The lighting needs of people with vision loss may differ significantly; while many people see much more with stronger light, others do not. Glare is often a problem. Walk alongside and slightly ahead of the person; allow them to take your arm if they need assistance. Always give the person a choice when using escalators, lifts or stairs. Assist them by guiding his or her hand on the railing. Close or open doors fully and avoid revolving doors. When seating people with a vision impairment, put their hand on the back of the chair and they will then be able to seat themselves. When leaving a person with a vision impairment, consult with the individual to ensure that they are orientated to their surroundings. Always tell the person with a vision impairment if you have moved objects or furniture. Never pat or touch a guide dog while it is in harness. The animal is working and distractions to the dog may cause harm to the owner. Feel confident to use words such as look and see as they are a normal part of everyday conversation. 6 7

6 People with a Hearing Impairment... I like people who look at me when they speak and don t scream. When addressing a person with a hearing impairment always speak slowly and clearly. Make sure to look directly at the person when you speak, especially if the person wishes to lip-read. Do not exaggerate lip movements or put your hand over your mouth while speaking. Some people who are deaf or have a hearing impairment can speak; others have communication and speech difficulties and may use sign language. Be aware of room or window lighting and position yourself to ensure maximum lighting on your face to assist the opportunity for lipreading. If a person doesn t understand something you say, re-word it instead of repeating it. Use visual clues to illustrate what you are saying. You may find that writing things down assists your ability to communicate. Reduce unnecessary background noise this can interfere with hearing aids and make communication difficult. Ask short, clear questions that require only short answers. If there is a sign language interpreter present, position the signing interpreter so that he or she is near you and visible. People with a Communication or Speech Impairment... Give me time to talk and listen to me. Some people with a speech impairment may have difficulty understanding speech as well, but many do not so don t assume. Speak in normal tones and, where possible, talk in a quiet environment. Be patient and don t take over the conversation because you are afraid you won t understand the person speaking. Don t be afraid to ask the person to repeat themselves or re-word what they have said if you don t understand. A person with complex communication needs may use a communication aid such as a picture communication board or talking device. When you are talking with a person with complex communication needs, wait for them to finish what they are writing and/or saying before you respond. If you are unsure of what the person has said, ask if they can give you a clue to the subject, and if they have a communication aid, ask them to spell a word or write down what they have said. If the person is using an electronic communication aid, stand in front of the person and refrain from reading over their shoulder as they type. 8 9

7 People with a Cognitive Disability: an Intellectual Disability an Acquired Brain Injury People with a Mental Health Issue Don t speak for me, I can speak for myself. When interacting with a person with a cognitive impairment, those born with an intellectual disability and those who acquire a brain injury after birth: Look at and speak directly with the person with a disability and not with someone who may be assisting him or her. Don t be afraid to ask the person to repeat something if you don t understand. Don t correct or complete sentences for the person with a disability. Keep your language straightforward and uncomplicated and, if necessary, re-word what you have said to assist with clarity. Speak with the person in the same way as you would any community member; with respect, politeness and consideration. One in five people in Australia will experience mental illness at some time in their lives. Mental health issues may not result in obvious symptoms; you may not know that the person has a mental illness. Mental health issues may cause changes to a person s thinking, perception, feeling and emotional state. These changes may manifest in different ways in the person s behaviours. Further information about mental health is available at the SANE Australia website at; Like all of us, people with mental illness would sometimes like to talk about how they are feeling. If professional help is required, the person s usual practitioner would be the preferred point of contact. Local access information for the public mental health service is available if required on the internet at; When communicating with a person who may have a mental health issue, treat the person with understanding and respect

8 Employees in the Workplace... Acknowledgements Don t put me down and act like I m stupid. Adapt the induction process to meet the employee s needs. Adapt the workplace environment and equipment as required. Provide encouragement and constructive feedback as you would to other employees. Explore with the employee alternative strategies for resolving workplace challenges. Ensure Disability Awareness Training is incorporated into all workplace training programs. is a MetroAccess initiative involving the following partners: Cardinia Shire Council, City of Greater Dandenong, Frankston City Council, Kingston City Council and Mornington Peninsula Shire, in conjunction with the Department of Human Services. This booklet has involved extensive consultation with people with a disability, peak bodies and disability support agencies, and has been informed by research material developed by the Department of Human Services. The invaluable contribution of the individuals whose testimonials are reflected here warrants special acknowledgement, specifically the participants of the Friday Afternoon Planned Activity Group at Mecwa CardiniaCare in Pakenham. Your insight has given real meaning to this booklet, as well as providing an informed framework by which to communicate with people with a disability. Special thanks are also extended to the people who agreed to have their photographs included in this publication and the organisations they represent, including Mecwa CardiniaCare in Pakenham, Outlook in Pakenham, Peninsula Access Support and Training in Frankston, the Frankston Disability Advisory Committee and representatives of the Mornington, Kingston and Dandenong communities. Disclaimer: The content of this booklet is provided for information purposes only. While reasonable efforts have been made to ensure its accuracy at the time of publication, Cardinia Shire Council, City of Greater Dandenong, Frankston City Council, Kingston City Council and Mornington Peninsula Shire do not warrant its accuracy and completeness and readers should verify all information before relying on it. The participating Councils do not accept any liability to any person or organisation for the information or use of the information which is provided in this publication

9 Cardinia Shire Council City of Greater Dandenong Frankston City Council Kingston City Council Mornington Peninsula Shire Funded by the Department of Human Services

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