Disability Awareness Still Necessary?
After a busy year of delivering a record number of disability awareness training and disability equality training I took most of November off to take a holiday. The disability training I have delivered has been really well received which is obviously great to hear as a disability awareness trainer. However, it is more than personally pleasing; it is also reassuring as I occasionally wonder whether aspects of disability awareness is stating the obvious.
Let me explain what I mean……surely most reasonable people in 2012 agree that talking to a companion of a disabled person, rather than the disabled person is patronising? Surely most people with an ounce of sense realise that a blind person will prefer verbal communication to unspoken visual gestures? Surely people know that you don’t need to look disabled to be disabled? From my personal experiences, and the experiences I hear from the disabled people I work with, I know that this is regularly not the case.
My view is that most people are not prejudiced, but that most people simply do not apply any disability awareness that they have to real-life situations. If you asked most people whether you should speak to a disabled person directly or to their companion, they will say to the disabled person. They would say that verbal communication is more beneficial than silent gestures to a blind person and they will agree that a disabled person does not need to appear disabled. They will likely answer these questions raising their eyes in indignation at being asked such obvious questions.
Most people would give good practice answers if asked direct questions like those above but in a busy, work setting good practice can often go out the window. Excellent disability awareness training and excellent disability equality training should put good practice into context and explain how it impacts on people; subsequently making it memorable. For a few hours I have a captive audience (and if they are not captive on arrival it is my job to convert their interest in a short space of time) to leave them remembering why the answers they already knew are important to make happen in reality.
I began by telling you I have just returned from holiday. Airports are my least favourite places as they are so busy and there are so many signs which I am unable to see. I avoided them for a long time after acquiring my sight loss as I knew they would be daunting and I heard so many stories about poor treatment of disabled people when travelling.
I avoid flying if an alternative is available, but a three week trip to Australia provides no alternative! Heathrow Airport superbly displayed the way not to treat a visually impaired person! As usual my assistance hadn’t been logged despite double checking. I honestly think this is because people look at me and feel I don’t need it. This was not the fault of Heathrow Airport but my treatment that followed could have been improved. When I needed to purchase another visa I had to be assertive to persuade staff that I needed someone to take me to the relevant desk. Reluctantly the line manager agreed to take me round the corner to the desk. Oddly he did not talk to me at all, but felt that pointing in the direction I needed to walk would be helpful! This despite using a white cane to symbolise my sight loss. Later the same manager was curtly to tell his staff to, ‘put her over there’. When I took issue he rephrased saying, ‘please escort our passenger to the access area’. Strangely enough this didn’t take any longer or put him out in any way! I also told him pointing wasn’t helpful when guiding and his response to this was, ‘whatever!’ in the tone of voice of a petulant teenager. I decided to cut my losses and accept one win would do! On being ‘escorted’ to the area for people requiring assistance the employee behind the desk asked the woman who had escorted me if I required a wheelchair, While I stood right next to her!
The sad thing is that this is minor compared to some of the experiences that some disabled people regularly experience. It confirms my belief that disability awareness training and disability equality training is necessary. Heathrow Airport is a mega busy airport but how you refer to someone has no bearing on the time taken to check someone in and has a big impact on how they are made to feel. This is why I often say in my disability training that some of the content is stating the obvious, but that I make no apologies for doing so.