Learning about Disabilities: Disability Ettiquette

In the multi-cultural environment in which we work and live, we are all learning the best way to communicate and interact with people across different races and cultures.  Along with best practices for communicating across cultures, there is also proper etiquette for communicating with persons with disabilities.  When we have not had many interactions with persons with disabilities, we may not know what is the best way to say things or how to act.  For example, you may not be sure if it is ok to get the door for a person in a wheelchair or if you should allow them to hit the disabled door opener for themselves, or we might ask ourselves ‘what is the best way to interact with someone who is blind or deaf?’.  The information below from the University of NorthernIowa’s Office of Compliance and Equity Management, explains proper etiquette for communicating with persons with disabilities in a respectful and equitable manner.

Things to Remember

  • Individuals with disabilities are people!
  • Individuals with disabilities are whole people!
  • They expect to be treated with the same dignity and respect that you do.
  • Just because someone has a disability does not mean he/she is disabled.

Disability Etiquette

  • Remember, he/she is a person, NOT a disability.
  • Words that speak to a person’s medical condition are rarely appropriate.
  • Never patronize them by patting them on the head or back.
  • Offer to shake their hand, even if it appears as if they have limited use of their arms or have an artificial limb. Simply the gesture will help them feel accepted and create a warmer environment for communication.
  • For those who cannot shake hands, lightly touch the individual on the shoulder or arm to welcome their presence.
  • Look at and speak directly to the person, not through a companion, care-taker, or interpreter.
  • Treat adults as adults.
  • Don’t apologize if you use an expression such as “I gotta run” or “See you later” that relates to the person’s disability. These expressions are part of everyday language and it is likely the apology will be more offensive than the expression.
  • Don’t pet or feed service animals or guide dogs as they are working.
  • When giving directions, make sure you consider things such as the weather, locations of ramps/curb-cuts, and other physical obstacles that may hinder travel for individuals with disabilities.

Speech Disability Etiquette

  • Never assume….many people mistakenly identify these individuals as being mentally retarded or mentally ill. Make sure to be patient in finding out which communication method works best for them.
  • Be 100 percent attentive when conversing with an individual who has difficulty speaking.
  • If you are in a noisy and/or crowded environment, don’t panic. Just try and move to a quieter location to talk.
  • Let them complete their own sentences. Be patient and do not try to speak for them. Do not pretend to understand; instead, tell them what you do understand and allow them to respond.
  • Do not be corrective, but rather, encouraging.
  • When necessary, it’s OK to ask short questions that require short answers.

Wheelchair Etiquette

  • Things to Remember
    • Individual who use wheelchairs may require different degrees of assistance.
    • Some who use wheelchairs may also use canes or other assistive devices and may not need his/her wheelchair all the time.
  • Do not automatically assist the individual without permission. It is okay to offer assistance. However, if the offer is not accepted, respect his/her request!
  • If you will be speaking with an individual in a wheelchair for more than a couple minutes, find a place where you can sit down to give the individual a more comfortable viewing angle.
  • A person’s wheelchair is part of his/her own personal space. Never move, lean on, rock, or touch his/her wheelchair without permission. In addition to being rude, it can be dangerous.
  • Do not assume that having to use a wheelchair is a tragedy. Wheelchairs can be a means of freedom to fully engage in life.

Hearing Disability Etiquette

  • Do not shout at a hearing impaired person unless they request you to. Just speak in a normal tone but make sure your lips are visible.
  • Keep conversations clear and find a quiet location to communicate.
  • If you are asked to repeat yourself, answering “nothing, it’s not important” implies the person is not worth repeating yourself for. It is demeaning; be patient and comply.
  • Show consideration by facing the light source and keeping things (such as cigarettes or your hands) away from you mouth while speaking.
  • Look directly at and speak directly to the person rather than looking at the interpreter or any others who may accompany the individual.
  • Remember that facial expressions and natural gestures enhance communication.
  • Clarify which method of communication and language is preferred.

Visual Disability Etiquette

  • When meeting someone with a visual disability, identify yourself and others with you (e.g. “Jane is on my left and Jack is on my right.”). Continue to identify the person with whom you are speaking.
  • If you go out to dinner with an acquaintance with a visual disability, ask if you can describe what is on the menu and what is on his/her plate.
  • When walking with someone with a visual impairment, offer them your arm for guidance. They will likely keep a half-step behind to anticipate curbs and steps.
  • Let the person know when you are leaving the room.

Words and phrases guidelines

 Disability vs. Handicap

  • A disability is a condition caused by such things as an accident or trauma, disease, or genetics that limits a person’s vision, hearing, speech, mobility, or mental function.
  • A handicap is a constraint imposed upon a person, regardless of that person’s ability or disability. These constraints can be physical or attitudinal. For example, stairs and curbs are handicaps imposed on those who use wheelchairs.

Always remember that the person is not the condition. Keep all your speech person focused, not disability focused.

 

Acceptable
Unacceptable
A person with a disability Cripple
Disability Handicap; handicapped person
A person who has mental or developmental disabilities Moron; retarded; feebleminded
Able-bodied; able to walk, see, etc Healthy; normal- Just because someone has a disability does not mean they are not healthy
A wheelchair user; walks with aid Confined/restricted to a wheelchair
Mental or emotional disability Crazy; insane
A person who is deaf/ hearing impairment Deaf and dumb; mute
A person with epilepsy An epileptic
He has cerebral palsy He is a cerebral palsy victim
A successful/productive person Person who has overcome his/her disability.

Person who is courageous.

 

Avoid terms which carry a negative connotation:

Abnormal, Afflicted, Confined, Crippled, Defective, Handicap, Invalid, Lame, Palsied, Retarded, Stricken, Sufferer, Victim, Withered

Use empowering, individualized vocabulary; don’t clump them with phrases like “the blind” or “the disabled.”

Employment Do’s and Don’ts

Do

  • have written job descriptions identifying all the essential functions of the job.
  • learn where to find and recruit individuals with disabilities.
  • train supervisors on how to make reasonable accommodations.
  • remember that those protected by the ADA include individual who have AIDS, cancer, brain-injured, deaf, blind, mentally retarded and learning disabled.
  • make forms available to those with visual disabilities.

Don’t

  • ask if a person has a disability during an employment interview!!
  • assume that if a person is disabled, he/she will be better suited for some jobs more than others.
  • assume reasonable accommodations will be expensive.
  • assume your workplace is accessible.

 

Additional Resources

AbilityLinks.org – How do I know if my worksite is accessible?

ADA Business Connection

Enforcement Guidance:

Reasonable Accommodation and Undue Hardship Under the Americans with Disabilities Act

Sign language alphabet

Wheelchair Information

Self-Compassion

Everyone of us are at different points in learning about difference and identity at a personal, interpersonal, and institutional level. I occasionally look back a year or two and think about how I would frame trainings around identity. Without fail, I chuckle to myself and think about how far I’ve come in my understanding. I try my best to learn as much as I can every day, and I still have areas I know very little. That’s the nature of better understanding diversity and inclusion.

Working everyday on issues of equity and justice is pebbled with mistake-making opportunities. This work is hard. This work is imperfect. This work is not so much a linear path but a series of steps that only at times feel like they take us forward. Many steps are sideways; some are backwards.This work tells you things about yourself sometimes you’d rather not know.There is so much to hold and it’s not easy.

 

A moment of self-compassion can change your entire day. A string of such moments can change the course of your life. ― Christopher K. Germer

Compassion is typically associated with an outward interpersonal understanding and connection with others. What I’d like to further explore is the idea of “self-compassion”. This is our superpower when we make mistakes; when I (male) inadvertently speak over my colleagues, misgender someone, or schedule a meeting in a space that isn’t accessible to folks with disabilities. No matter how hard I try, I will make mistakes. Having compassion for myself, learning where those mistakes are coming from, and continuing to engage and better myself is a necessity; and self-compassion goes a long way to allowing me to push forward.

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Cool cape not included, but highly encouraged.

While this has a lot of implications in engaging across difference, understanding our own identities, and building more equitable environments, self-compassion has virtually unlimited implications for improving leadership, organizational culture, and relationship with self and others. When combined with a humble curiosity and desire to learn, self-compassion can be transformative in both your work and personal life.

For more information and resources, check out the links below!

The Five Myths of Self-Compassion

Self Care – Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Resources

 

2015 Trans Survey Results

Are you sitting down? Good.

Last night, the National Center for Transgender Equality released the results of the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey. I encourage you to view the press conference, read the executive summary, and/or read the full report. The full report is comprehensive, including very specific breakdowns, specifics, and narratives from survey respondents.

View them at http://www.ustranssurvey.org/.

To be honest, I’m not sure what to say about this. The results are heart breaking and heart warming, but above all, they are real. These are real experiences of trans people across the US, interacting with institutions that claim to be about the greater good, about serving all people, about upholding Title VII and Title IX, but time and time again, we see that doesn’t happen. These are real experiences of trans people across the US, interacting with people, their family, friends, communities, peers, strangers.

Where do we go from here? Well, take a second, google some funny animals and come back.

Educate yourself. Read everything you can. Get to know the trans people in your life. Continue to learn. To get started, look back at our post: Transgender Employees and Overcoming Barriers to Employment.

Read more about being an ally by googling “tips to being a trans ally.” Do your own work. It’s not easy.

A Deep Breath…then Dialogue

*Breathe in, breathe out* | *Breathe in, breathe out**Breathe in, breathe out*

Have you ever experienced a situation where someone says something that sparks a highly emotional, head-spinning, heart-racing reaction? Perhaps you are Tom Hanks and someone just told you that you’re portrayal of Robert Langdon is a bit stiff and lacks emotion. Something a little more common; you may be teaching in a classroom where a student states that we have a black president, so racism doesn’t exist anymore. This is a difficult conversation to have and our fight/flight response kicks in pretty quickly. How can we better engage in dialogues about diversity when they can produce so much anxiety and fear?

 

Dr. Maura Cullen offers a few suggestions for de-escalating (without disengaging) uncomfortable or challenging situations. B.A.R. (Breathe Acknowledge Respond) is a quick technique to help diffuse emotionally charged situations and work through uncomfortability productively.

  • Breathe – Take a deep breath. It’s a simple way to calm you immediately.
  • Acknowledge – Acknowledge what the person is saying through active listening or asking questions to further your understanding of their perspective. You may not agree with what they are saying and it’s important to acknowledge and/or validate their feelings or context.
  • Respond – After taking a deep breath, acknowledging what the person is saying, you give yourself a better chance of responding with thought and empathy than simply blurting out your gut reaction.

There are proactive measures you can take as well! Co-creating expectations between colleagues, students, volunteers, and others can help provide a shared understanding of how difficult conversations will go. These expectations can be used to model positive dialogue behaviors, de-escalate situations when they become harmful, and guide necessary follow-up.

For additional resources on having difficult dialogues, please visit the following:

OEDI Sway: Difficult Conversations in the Classroom

Responding to Difficult Moments

Start Talking Handbook

Handbook for Facilitating Difficult Conversations in the Classroom

Seven Bricks to Lay the Foundation for Productive Difficult Dialogues

 

Transgender Employees and Overcoming Barriers to Employment

“Don’t let anyone tell you what you can and can’t do or achieve. Do what you want to do and be who you want to be. Just encourage and include each other, don’t ostracize the gender in front of you.”
― Emma Watson

Just over a year ago, Caitlyn Jenner graced the headlines with the simple proclamation: “I am Cait.” Since then, North Carolina proposed and passed HB2, forcing transgender people to use the gendered bathroom aligned with the sex they were assigned at birth instead of the one they identify as now. The Department of Education released the Dear Colleague Letter on Transgender Students, specifically those in K-12 schools, outlining institutions’ responsibilities under Title IX. Several states (spearheaded by Texas and including Wisconsin) are challenging the DOE’s guidance and refusing to follow it. So, what does any of this have to do with our work?

Everything. And, here’s why.

Transgender people are simply people who identify and live as a gender other than the one assigned to them at birth. Some trans people go through a complete medical and legal transition, continuing their life as stealth with no one ever knowing they were born another gender. Some trans people don’t legally or medically transition at all, either because they don’t desire to do so or they cannot for various other reasons. And trans folk are everywhere else in that spectrum.

Looking around the UW Systems, one of my first questions was “were are all of the trans folk?”  Honestly, if the problem was that UW refused to hire trans people, the solution would be simple: Hire trans people. Obviously, that’s not the case (go us!), and the problem is much more complicated than that.

Some, or most, trans people face barriers that their cisgender counterparts don’t, even when we consider the intersections of other social identities, such as age, race/ethnicity, class, etc. Cisgender simply refers to people who still identify as the gender they were assigned at birth. These barriers make it harder for trans people to survive, earn a degree, and land a job. So what are these barriers?

Individual trans people can tell you their own experiences and share the commonalities within their own community, if they have one at all. Some trans folk don’t. The results of the National Transgender Discrimination Survey were released in 2011 by the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National LGBTQ Task Force, with the next survey’s results to be released later this year. This survey found (or rather confirmed) that trans people experience discrimination, harassment, and violence in almost every aspect of their lives and usually at rates much higher than their cisgender counterparts. Below are some key findings, and you can find the link to the full report in the references section:

SCHOOL

  • Those who expressed a transgender identity while in grades K-12 reported alarming rates of harassment (78%), physical assault (35%) and sexual violence (12%); harassment was so severe that it led almost one-sixth (15%) to leave school or college.

EMPLOYMENT

  • Survey respondents experienced unemployment at twice the rate of the general population at the time of the survey, with rates for Black transgender people being four times the national rate, and other trans people of color at elevated rates.

WORK

  • Ninety percent (90%) of those surveyed reported experiencing harassment, mistreatment or discrimination on the job or took actions like hiding who they are to avoid it.
  • Over one-quarter (26%) reported that they had lost a job due to being transgender or gender non-conforming and 50% were harassed.
  • Sixteen percent (16%) said they had to work in the underground economy for income such as doing sex work or selling drugs.
  • The vast majority (78%) of those who transitioned from one gender to the other reported that they felt more comfortable at work and their job performance improved, despite high levels of mistreatment.

SUICIDE

  • A staggering 41% of respondents reported attempting suicide, compared to 1.6% of the general population.

IDENTITY DOCUMENTS AND HARASSMENT

  • Of those who have transitioned gender, only one-fifth (21%) have been able to update all of their IDs and records with their new gender.
  • Forty percent (40%) of those who presented ID (when it was required in the ordinary course of life) that did not match their gender identity/expression reported being harassed, 3% reported being attacked or assaulted, and 15% reported being asked to leave.

HEALTH CARE

  • Nineteen percent (19%) of the sample reported being refused medical care due to their transgender status, with even higher numbers among people of color in the survey.

Many of these aspects of life feed into each other. Not graduating high school or college reduces opportunities for success in the workplace. Being refused medical care, even for non-transitional medical purposes such as injuries and illness, can affect one’s ability to go to school, work, or hold a job. Not being able to update all of one’s legal documentation can out a trans person and cause further discrimination in the interviewing and employment process. So on and so forth.

Now that we know some of the barriers, what can we do to eliminate them?

Individual Level:

  • Get into the practice of asking every one their pronouns when you first meet them. Include your personal pronouns on your email signature, on your nametags, in meeting introductions, on your business cards, and on/under your office name plate. If you need more practice with using pronouns, visit sites such as www.practicewithpronouns.com to review.
  • Learn about the trans experience by doing your own research. Start with a Google search and expand from there. Keep in mind that the trans experience is not monolithic, meaning that no all trans people experience the same things. Seek out diverse representations.
  • Listen to your transgender students and colleagues when they reach out to you, and affirm their experiences instead of debating them. Provide them with resources and be an advocate for them on our campuses.
  • You should alert security or police about suspicious behavior (peering over/in stalls, exposing self) in any facility, including restrooms, but trans people existing in those spaces is not suspicious behavior.
  • Reflect on conscious and unconscious biases around gender and gender identity. Give yourself room, grace, and compassion to grow. We cannot control the environments we were raised in, but we can control our thoughts and the behaviors we have now.

Office/Department Level:

  • Take initiative to ensure that everyone in the office is asking for pronouns, including them in emails, etc. Consider having professional development around gender and gender identity if members of the office are not familiar with this and do not have a grasp on why this is important yet.
  • Enforce policies against bullying, harassment, and violence (especially Title IX) in our work, living, and learning spaces. Have zero tolerance for slurs, misgendering, misnaming, and general verbal/physically harassment. Support survivors/victims of these and enforce sanctions against perpetrators.

Institution Level:

  • Review our hiring and employment processes to ensure that transgender folk can use their name even if it is not their legal name throughout the entire process. Be transparent about where and when legal names must be used, and ensure that the fewest number of eyes possible has to see a legal name. This prevents outing that trans person.
  • Review any forms or surveys that ask for demographic information. Consider whether you need to know sex (Female, Intersex, Male) or gender (Man, Woman, Transman, Transwoman, Non-binary/Genderqueer, Agender, Other), or if either are needed at all. Make sure these options are inclusive of diverse identities.
  • Keep retention and graduation rates for transgender people, showing a commitment to them by counting them across the institution.
  • Review our benefits package and create a resource around transition-related health and medical care, including which services are and are not included in plans, trans-friendly doctors and facilities, and community resources.
  • Review our financial aid services to ensure we can provide options to trans students who no longer have financial support from their families.
  • Review restroom facilities in all buildings to ensure there are gender neutral or family facilities in every building. Build a map of these, and distribute it in various places.

“If anyone makes you feel less than you are, for the color of you skin, for where you come from, for the gender of the person you love, for the religion you have faith in, stand up, speak up, roar. No silence till we are equal.”
― Thisuri Wanniarachchi, COLOMBO STREETS

Starting Places to Learn More:

https://www.glaad.org/transgender/transfaq

http://www.glaad.org/transgender/allies

http://uwm.edu/lgbtrc/support/gender-pronouns/

http://srlp.org/resources/trans-101/

http://www.hrc.org/resources/understanding-the-transgender-community

References:

http://caitlynjenner.com/category/my-story/page/4/

http://www.ncleg.net/sessions/2015e2/bills/house/pdf/h2v4.pdf

http://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/letters/colleague-201605-title-ix-transgender.pdf

http://www.cnn.com/2016/08/22/politics/transgender-school-bathroom-policy/

http://www.transequality.org/issues/national-transgender-discrimination-survey

http://www.practicewithpronouns.com/#/?_k=pvyvvq

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