Tuesday, 14 June 2011

"But You Don't Look Like You've Got a Disability"

Invisible Disabilities in Society

Someone left a comment about invisible disabilities the other day, and it really got me thinking.

In both my career and my personal life, I’ve worked with a lot of people that, unless you spent a bit of time with them, you wouldn’t know that they’re living with disabilities. Some of them have had very mild intellectual disabilities; hearing or vision impairments; developmental disabilities like Asperger’s Syndrome; mental conditions like Obsessive Compulsive Disorder; or learning disorders or ADD/ADHD.

We call these sorts of disabilities invisible disabilities. All you may notice, if anything, is that the person seems a little “different”, but nothing you can really put your finger on. I've got some invisible disabilities myself.

Society can be just as inaccessible for people with invisible disabilities as it is for people with physical disabilities. Even a grocery store can be pretty daunting if you don’t know how much money to give the cashier, or your vision is bad and you can’t read the signs, or you can’t hear what the cashier is trying to say to you, or you’re totally overwhelmed by crowds or by the idea that idea that people have touched things before you, or you thought that you had a list but you left it at home along with your bank card because you find it difficult to stay organized…

Simple Ways to Increase Accessibility for People with Invisible Disabilities

Fortunately, there are many ways that people in the retail and service sector can make places like stores and hotels more comfortable places for people with invisible disabilities, and it all really boils  down to good customer service. Simply asking when someone gets to the cash register “Did you find everything that you need today?” gives a shopper a chance to ask for help without having to say, “I can’t find the ice cream that’s on sale because I can’t read the cartons.” Stepping up to the person who’s standing in the aisle looking lost and asking “Can I help you find something?” accomplishes the same thing. You don’t have to know why they’re looking lost and they don’t have to tell you – whatever the reason is, if they need help, there’s an opportunity to get it.

Many large corporations offer disability sensitivity training. Employees learn about the signs that someone they’re serving may have an invisible disability and the best ways to make that person feel comfortable. If you can’t find a course in your area, Google “disability sensitivity training” to find several downloadable resources. This sort of information is particularly useful for businesses, but it doesn't hurt any of us to know about the basic concepts in disability sensitivity; it's another, really easy way to make society easier to navigate for all of us.

Have a great Wednesday!

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