If you haven’t spent much time around someone with a disability, you might feel unsure about how to best interact with that person.
Ultimately, there is no ‘correct’ way to interact with someone with disability—like with anything, it comes down to the individual’s preferences.
In the second instalment of this two-part blog, Zane McKenzie from the Scope Education team provides five tips to help you feel more confident in speaking to people with a disability- this time with a focus on better communication.
You can read part one of this blog here!
Tip #1: Never pretend to understand what someone has said!
Let’s face it, at some point we have all committed this “Cardinal Sin” of Communication. After all, the last thing we want to do is make a person feel awkward.
But here is the hot tip! People who have communication difficulties know they have a communication difficulty! That’s right, it’s not a secret!
The person will know that their speech is difficult to understand, so if you are having trouble, tell the person! No matter how long it takes, the person will appreciate your time, effort and honesty. Best of all, the person will know that you care what they have to say.
Don’t be afraid to ask the big question: Could you repeat that, please?
Tip #2: Check back if you think you’ve understood!
When communicating with someone who is more difficult to understand, we often pick up some words, rather than all of what the person says.
If you think you understand something, check with the person. It’s a great, simple strategy to help ensure the conversation is on the right track, and helps assure the person we are focused and listening!
Tip #3: Find out how a person says “Yes” and “No”
These may be short words, but they pack a punch when communicating. “Yes” and “No” are on nearly every communication board, aid and device, and they can address any subject!
It could be a nod or shake of the head, a blink or two of the eye, maybe a hand gesture…but once we know how a person says these two little words, we can have a whole conversation by asking questions if we need to! Don’t forget though, your question must be one with a yes/no answer!
Tip #4: Listen….and not just with your ears!
Communication is about more than the spoken word. When talking to someone, watch the person closely! Their body language may be telling you something.
They may be pointing or looking at something. Maybe they are using a communication board or device. Our ability to observe what is being said can be just as important as hearing it!
Tip #5: Always talk to the person!
I couldn’t count on both hands and feet the number of times when, in the menswear section of a shop, a very polite, well mannered shop assistant has asked my wife: “How can we help him?”
Of course, her answer is always the same: “Ask him.”
Many people, me included, will often have a support person with them when they’re out and about- and often these support people can assist us in interacting successfully with the person.
However, when talking to a person, direct your conversation to the person! Yep, even if they are non-verbal!!
Not only will this help the person feel included and in control, but it sets a great example for others, too! You might even say it will enable each person to “live as empowered and equal citizen” in their community!
Now, where have I heard that before?
Thank you for reading…If you haven’t already, read part one!
Zane McKenzie is a father, a football fanatic and a disability educator at Scope’s Communication and Inclusion Resource Centre. You can read more about who Zane is here.