Regardless of whether you’re a savvy business woman, a woman who plays a part in an organisation or simply a woman who has a social conscience I cannot overemphasise enough the importance of having disability awareness training. In a society where 1 in 5 of people who are of working age are disabled and this statistic increases for those of retirement age, we live in a world where we will and do meet lots of disabled people regardless of whether we know it or not. You don’t have to be stupid to not realise that someone you know is disabled, there are so many hidden disabilities out there and sometimes people are reluctant to disclose their disabilities. I for one consider myself to be really aware and clued up about disability, having worked with and having lots of friends with various disabilities as well as being Deaf myself. Yet I managed to work with a previous colleague for nearly 6 months before he informed me that he was visually impaired and that every time I spoke to him I was standing in the wrong place so he couldn’t see me clearly.
Often when we think about disability awareness, we think of really dry courses which spend lots of time looking at the legal duties that organisations have towards disabled people. I have been on several of these courses myself over the years and trust me they were no fun. I would have to reward myself for sitting there all day with a treat at the end, by treat read a glass or two of wine. These courses are essential for some people, especially if you are ‘higher up on the ladder’ of an organisation as quite simply if you aren’t aware of your legal duties and ensuring that all staff or volunteers in your organisation are adhering to them, then you’re leaving yourself open for a lawsuit. I for one believe though that there is something essential which remains unaddressed during these courses and that is communication.
Communication is key – we all know that, and yet such little emphasis seems to be placed on this when thinking about disability awareness. A survey by Scope showed that two thirds of people feel awkward around disability. They simply don’t know what to say or do, so panic or do nothing. I have lost count the number of times when telling someone I am Deaf that they become flustered and either run for the hills or tell me that they are sorry and then awkwardly start to act like they are in a pantomime, overemphasising everything and making weird hand gestures. In fact yesterday I checked into a hotel, after requesting an adapted smoke alarm so I would be woken in the event of a fire, the receptionist responded that they didn’t have one. He told me not to worry; he would knock on my door in an emergency. Once I patiently explained that I wouldn’t hear a knock and he would have to let himself in, he blushed bright red and then proceeded to avoid eye contact. In fact when I went down to reception later on he hightailed it into the back room and sent out his colleague to talk to me. All of this awkwardness could and would have been avoided if he had had Disability and Communication Awareness training.
Being an inclusive organisation (or person) starts with recognising the role that attitudes towards disability play in disability discrimination. It comes from all staff or people involved understanding the communication, etiquette and language issues so that they are confident communicating with disabled people. It comes from being able to engage with people and asking them whether they would like any support and how best to support them. With the best will in the world, if you or your staff aren’t confident with communicating about disability then you can never be fully inclusive regardless of what policies and procedures you have in place.
Enhance the UK offers face to face Disability Awareness training which focuses on communication as well as our new online training. Information can be found on our website here. Both courses are run by disabled trainers who have various disabilities themselves. Our trainers are very open about disability and the effects that it has on their lives allowing audiences to understand barriers that disabled people face and learn how to engage with disabled people and to be comfortable with disability. If you put aside the moral obligations that we have in today’s society to ensure that disabled people are treated well and can access services let’s think about it in terms of cold hard cash. By not being accessible your business is losing out on its share of the purple pound – the £212 billion that disabled people have to spend in the UK each year.