For some people being inclusive and interacting with a person with a disability can seem daunting. You may be worried that you will say or do the wrong thing and embarrass yourself or the person with the disability. Although these concerns come from a good place, they are usually unnecessary.
Below is some information for individuals and organisations to help guide you through inclusion. The most important thing to remember is to treat each person with respect, regardless of whether they have a disability or not.
Guiding principles and models
There are a number of principles and models that will provide guidance and understanding on the rights of people living with disabilities and inclusive measures for both individuals and organisations. These include:
The United Nations
The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is an international agreement that sets out what countries need to do to ensure people with disabilities have the same rights as everybody else. The Conventions purpose is to promote, protect and ensure the human rights and freedoms by all people with a disability.
Social Model of Disability
This model seeks to change society in order to accommodate people living with a disability rather than changing a person with a disability to accommodate society. People living with a disability are not “objects” of charity, medical treatment and social protection but “subjects” with rights, capable of claiming those rights, able to make decisions for their own lives based on their free, informed consent and be active members of society. You can read more about the social model of disability from People with Disability Australia.
The National Disability Strategy outlines the national approach to supporting people with a disability to maximise their potential and participate as equal citizens in Australian society.
You can also visit our page on Rights for more information on the rights of people with disability.
If you have limited experience interacting with people with disability or you are meeting a new person with a disability for the first time, the most important thing is to be yourself. Give them the same respect you would expect. An example of this is always ask someone with a disability if they would like help, rather than just assuming the person needs you to help. They may not need or want your assistance and often they may be more capable of taking care of their own needs.
Other important disability etiquette tips include:
- Don’t ask personal questions about a person’s disability – they will tell you any information they feel you need to know
- Be patient and considerate – it may take a person with a disability longer to say something – don’t speak for them or over them.
- Use a normal tone of voice. Don’t raise your voice unless you are asked to.
The Australian Network on Disability has more information on disability etiquette.
The language you chose to use during a conversation can either include or exclude people with a disability. Inclusive language, or language that avoids the use of certain expressions or words that might exclude certain people, can change over time. Predominantly in Australia, person-first language is used when referring to a person with a disability. This means focusing on the person and not on their disability. Person-first language uses terms such as ‘person with a disability’ or ‘person with a lived experience of a disability’, rather than ‘disabled person’. However, it is important to be led by the person with the disability and respect their choice of language.
For more information on inclusive language:
- Australian Disability Network has information about inclusive language
- People with Disability Australia’s language guide: What do I say? A guide to language about disability
- Disability Advocacy Resource Unit’s booklet: How to be Disability Inclusive
Employing a person with a disability
There are many reasons why employing a person with a disability will be beneficial to your organisation. In addition, there are a number of programs to provide you will support and guidance. For more information visit our page for Employers.
Consulting with People with a Disability
Nothing About Us Without Us is a popular slogan used to communicate the idea that no policy should be decided by a Government or organisation, without the full and direct participation by members of the group affected by that policy.
In recent times, it has been used by disability activists to ensure that any decisions that impacts on them, they have been included in making.
The International Association for Public Participation has developed the Spectrum for Public Participation. This Spectrum outlines the different levels people can be involved in the decisions that impact on them. There are a variety of levels that people can participate in. It is important to recognise that people living with a disability are experts in their own lives and therefore deserve the respect provided to other consultants that organisations or governments might use.
Consultation is a more traditional form of participation where organisations or governments obtain public feedback and are committed to listening to the concerns and aspirations of the group impacted by the decisions. The process keeps people informed and provides feedback on how the public input influenced a decision.
For information on consulting with people with a disability:
- Disability Advocacy Resource Unit has a booklet called Inclusive Consultation and Communication with People with Disability
- Victorian State Government Health and Human Services has information available to help you Communicate and consult with people with a disability
- National Disability Authority (Ireland) provides the Ask Me Guidelines for Effective Consultation with People with Disabilities
- Plan International has Guidelines for Consulting with children and Young People with Disabilities
Co-design is a concept that is gaining popularity within the disability community. Co-design goes beyond consultation and looks at organisations or governments collaborating with people with a disability in shared decision-making in each aspect of the project, policy or issue, including the development of alternatives and the identification of the preferred solution.
For more information on co-design including a training toolkit for organisations co-designing with people with disability, see People with Disability WA’s Connect with Me resources.