How To Treat Disabled Customers And Staff
We all want to treat disabled employees, job applicants and customers the same way as everyone else but sometimes we can be uncertain about how to go about it.
The Disability Discrimination Act 1995 places duties upon us not to discriminate consciously or unconsciously against disabled people. As a first step to ensuring discrimination does not occur staff may find the following suggestions useful.
Remember that disabled people are individuals just like everybody else. Be careful not to make assumptions about their abilities or needs, and consider that some disabilities are not obvious such as epilepsy or mental illness.
If you are not sure how something might affect a disabled person do not be afraid to ask them for advice.
- If a disabled person is with someone, talk to the disabled person rather than to the person who is with them.
- When talking to a deaf person, find out - in writing if necessary - whether they lip read. If they do, make sure your face is in the light, look directly at the person and speak clearly and naturally.
- When you first meet a blind person, introduce yourself. When you are going to move away, tell them. Do not leave them talking to an empty space.
- When you are talking to someone with a speech impairment, concentrate on what is being said, be patient and do not try to guess what they want to say. If you do not understand, do not pretend you do.
- If someone has difficulty understanding you - perhaps because they have a learning disability or perhaps are deaf - be patient and be prepared to explains something more than once. Try to use simple language.
- When talking to a wheelchair user, try to ensure your eyes are at the same level as theirs, perhaps by sitting down. Do not lean on the wheelchair - it's part of the user's personal space.
- Avoid asking personal questions about a person's disability. Although an employer could ask "Does your disability affect your ability to do this job?".
- If someone looks "different", avoid staring, try to make eye contact and concentrate on what they are saying, not on the way they look.
- Remember if you are talking to an adult treat them like an adult.
- If someone looks as if they need assistance, offer it, but wait for them to accept before you help.
- When guiding a blind person do not push or pull them. Ask if they would like to take hold of your arm. If there are steps tell them whether the steps go up or down.
- Remember that guide dogs, be it for deaf or blind people, are working dogs, not pets. They should not be fed, patted or distracted while they are working.
- Above all put yourself in the disabled person's place.
Most of the above points are just good manners.
Some of the words and phrases we use can offend disabled people because they suggest that the disabled person is dependent or helpless. Some words such as "cripple" or "retarded" are abusive. Below are some common words to avoid, with suggested alternatives:
- Do not say "the disabled"; use "disabled people" or "people with disabilities".
- Do not say "suffering from", "crippled by" or "a victim of"; use "a person who has" or "a person with".
- Do not say "deaf and dumb"; use "deaf without speech".
- Do not say "epileptic"; use "a person with epilepsy".
- Do not say "spastic"; use "a person with cerebral palsy".
- Do not say "mentally handicapped"; use "a person with a learning disability".
- Do not say "confined to a wheelchair" or "wheelchair bound"; use "wheelchair user".
REMEMBER, be sensitive but not patronising. Treat disabled people as you would expect to be treated yourself.
NOTE: This document is based upon guidance issued on behalf of the Minister for Disabled People.