Communication about disabilities

Disability Services Queensland has put together some great resources about how to communicate with people with disabilities, and additional tips about guide/hearing/assistance dogs.  Towards the bottom of the page, there are several links- two in particular are exceptional.

The first is “A way with words: Guidelines for the portrayal of people with a disability”.

The purpose of this booklet is to promote inclusiveness and the fair and accurate portrayal of people with a disability.  It is intended as an aid for professional communicators, such as journalists, writers, producers and broadcasters, and provides suggestions for appropriate language, interviewing techniques and media coverage involving people with a disability.  

While that description does sound rather dry, the booklet is very engaging and readable, with great cartoon illustrations throughout.  Some of the recommendations include emphasising individuality (eg emotions, interests, problems, talents, frustrations, faults and roles), not disability; avoiding superhuman or excessively emotive portrayals, and not focusing on the person’s disability unless it is important to the story. There is also a list of words to avoid, with acceptable alternatives.  One suggestion given was to use the phrase “uses a wheelchair” instead of “confined to a wheelchair” or “wheelchair bound”, because a wheelchair provides mobility, not restriction.

The other link that I found useful was the Medical Signing Board.  There are Yes/No/I Don’t Know options across the top, front and back models of the body in the middle, 15 options for medical issues on the left (eg hot, cold, vomit, headache, bleeding, broken, seizure), 12 communication options on the right (eg need more information, call someone, worried, too loud, hungry), and a visual 1-10 pain scale at the bottom.  The second page lists some things paramedics might do (eg blood pressure, take temperature, bandage, medicine), a short social story, visuals for wait/be still/calm down, and some interaction tips for the paramedics.  Very thorough- wish I’d had this for Abi’s last admission!

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