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Understanding The Needs Of Persons With Disabilities (PWD’s)

Defining disability

The
Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005
uses the same definition of “disability” as the
Ontario Human Rights Code:

  • Any degree of physical disability, infirmity, malformation or disfigurement
    that is caused by bodily injury, birth defect or illness and, without limiting
    the generality of the foregoing, includes diabetes mellitus, epilepsy, a brain
    injury, any degree of paralysis, amputation, lack of physical co-ordination,
    blindness or visual impediment, deafness or hearing impediment, muteness or
    speech impediment, or physical reliance on a guide dog or other animal or on
    a wheelchair or other remedial appliance or device;
  • A condition of mental impairment or a developmental disability;
  • A learning disability, or a dysfunction in one or more of the processes
    involved in understanding or using symbols or spoken language;
  • A mental disorder; or
  • An injury or disability for which benefits were claimed or received under
    the insurance plan established under the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act,
    1997 (“handicap”).

Disability and the Ontario Human Rights Code

Persons with disabilities may face challenges because of the physical or mental
limitations. But the attitudes of other people may also create barriers.
Understanding this social aspect of disability is essential.

The Ontario Human Rights Code protects the rights of persons with disabilities
to equal treatment in employment, housing, goods, services, facilities, contracts
and membership in trades or vocational associations. The Code provides a basic
definition of “handicap” to include conditions that have developed
over
time, those that result from an accident, or have been present from birth. It
includes physical, mental, and learning disabilities and it does not matter
whether the condition is visible. For example, persons with mental disorders,
sensory disabilities (such as hearing or vision limitations) and epilepsy
are all protected under the Code.

Protection for persons with mental disabilities deserves special attention.
These persons have the same rights as persons with any other kind of disability.
They may, however, have trouble expressing themselves or even identifying that
they have a disability.

The Code protects people from the unequal effects of discrimination. For example,
a person may not actually have a disability, but may be perceived to have
one. The Code will protect a person who is the victim of discrimination because
another thinks that the person has a disability.

(This information is provided as a public service by the Ontario Human Rights
Commission.)

There are many kinds of disabilities, including physical, sensory, hearing,
mental health, developmental and learning. Disabilities can be visible or non-visible.

How To Welcome Customers With Disabilities

Did you know that just over 13.5% of Ontarians have a disability? That’s
1 in every 7 Ontarians and as the population ages that number will grow.

People with disabilities travel, shop and do business in your community with
their friends and families, just like everyone else. By providing service that
welcomes people with disabilities, you can offer better service to everyone.
Treating all your customers with individual respect and courtesy is at the
heart of excellent customer service.

You can broaden your customer base by welcoming everyone to your store, restaurant
or services, including customers with disabilities. By learning how to
serve people with disabilities, you can attract more customers and improve your
service to everyone.

Treat people with disabilities with the same respect and consideration you
have for everyone else.

Here are some ways you can provide better service to your customers with disabilities

  • Patience, optimism, and a willingness to find a way to communicate
    are your best tools.
  • Smile, relax, and keep in mind that people with disabilities are
    just people.
  • Don’t make assumptions about what type of disability or disabilities
    a person has.
  • Some disabilities are not visible. Take the time to get to know
    your customers’ needs.
  • Be patient. People with some kinds of disabilities may take a little
    longer to understand and respond.
  • If you’re not sure what to do, ask your customer, “May I help
    you?”
  • If you can’t understand what someone is saying, just politely
    ask again.
  • Ask before you offer to help – don’t just jump in. Your
    customers with disabilities know if they need help and how you can provide it.
  • Find a good way to communicate. A good start is to listen carefully.
  • Look at your customer, but don’t stare. Speak directly to
    people with disabilities, not to their interpreter or someone who is with them.
  • Use plain language and speak in short sentences.
  • Don’t touch service animals – they are working and have
    to pay attention at all times.
  • Ask permission before touching a wheelchair or a piece of equipment.
  • Every business should have emergency procedures for customers with
    disabilities. Make sure you know what they are.

Deaf, Deafened or Hard of Hearing

Everyone is different in some way. Each of us has a different way of doing
things and there are some things we can’t do without some help from people,
or
from machines and products that are easy to use.

People who have hearing loss may be deaf or hard of hearing. Like other disabilities,
hearing loss has a wide variety of degrees. Remember, customers who
are deaf or hard of hearing may require assistive devices when communicating.

Here are some tips on serving customers who are deaf or hard of hearing:

  • Always ask how you can help. Don’t shout.
  • Don’t refer to the disability, and never use phrases like “handicapped”.
  • Attract the customer’s attention before speaking. The best
    way is a gentle touch on the shoulder or gently waving your hand.
  • Make sure you are in a well-lighted area where your customer can
    see your face.
  • Look at and speak directly to your customer. Address your customer,
    not their interpreter.
  • If necessary, ask if another method of communicating would be easier,
    for example a pen and paper.
  • Don’t put your hands in front of your face when speaking.
  • Be clear and precise when giving directions, and repeat or rephrase
    if necessary. Make sure you have been understood.
  • Don’t touch service animals – they are working and have
    to pay attention at all times.
  • Any personal (e.g., financial) matters should be discussed in a
    private room to avoid other people overhearing.
  • Be patient. Communication for people who are deaf is different because
    their first language may not be English. It may be American Sign Language (ASL).
  • If the person uses a hearing aid, try to speak in an area with few
    competing sounds.
  • Every business should have emergency procedures for customers with
    disabilities. Make sure you know what they are.

Deaf/Blind Disabilities

A deaf-blind person cannot see or hear to some extent. This results in greater
difficulties in accessing information and managing daily activities. Most
people who are deaf-blind will be accompanied by an intervenor, a professional
who helps with communicating.

Intervenors are trained in special sign language that involves touching the
hands of the client in a two-hand, manual alphabet or finger spelling, and may
guide and interpret for their client.

Here are some tips on serving customers who are deaf-blind.

  • Don’t assume what a person can or cannot do. Some deaf-blind
    people have some sight or hearing, while others have neither.
  • Don’t refer to the disability, and never use phrases like” handicapped”.
  • A deaf-blind customer is likely to explain to you how to communicate
    with them or give you an assistance card or a note explaining how to communicate
    with them.
  • Speak directly to your customer as you normally would, not to the
    intervenor.
  • Identify yourself to the intervenor when you approach your customer
    who is deaf-blind.
  • Don’t touch service animals – they are working and have
    to pay attention at all times.
  • Never touch a deaf-blind person suddenly or without permission unless
    it’s an emergency.
  • Every business should have emergency procedures for customers with
    disabilities. Make sure you know what they are.

Intellectual Disabilities

People with intellectual disabilities may have difficulty doing many things
most of us take for granted. These disabilities can mildly or profoundly limit
one’s ability to learn. You may not be able to know that someone has this
disability unless you are told, or you notice the way people act, ask questions
or use body language. Be supportive and patient.

As much as possible, treat your customers with an intellectual disability like
anyone else. They may understand more than you think, and they will appreciate
you treating them with respect.

Here are some tips on serving customers who have an intellectual disability.

  • Don’t assume what a person can or cannot do.
  • Don’t refer to the disability, and never use phrases like “handicapped”.
  • Use simple words and short sentences.
  • Make sure your customer understands what you’ve said.
  • If you can’t understand what’s being said, don’t
    pretend. Just ask again.
  • Give one piece of information at a time.
  • Be polite and patient.
  • Speak directly to your customers, not to someone who’s with them.
  • Every business should have emergency procedures for customers with
    disabilities. Make sure you know what they are.

Learning or Cognitive Disabilities

Learning disabilities can result in a host of different communications difficulties
for people. They can be subtle, as in having difficulty reading, or
more pronounced, but they can interfere with your customer’s ability to
receive, express or process information. You may not be able to know that someone
has one of these disabilities unless you are told, or you notice the way people
act, ask questions or body language. Be supportive and patient.

Here are some tips on serving customers with learning disabilities.

  • Patience and a willingness to find a way to communicate are your
    best tools.
  • When you know that someone with a learning disability needs help,
    ask how you can best help.
  • Speak normally and clearly, and directly to your customer
  • Take some time – people with some kinds of disabilities may
    take a little longer to understand and respond.
  • Try to find ways to provide information in a way that works best
    for them. For example, have a paper and pen handy.
  • If you’re dealing with a child, be patient, encouraging and
    supportive.
  • Don’t refer to the disability, and never use phrases like “handicapped”.
  • Be courteous and patient and your customer will let you know how
    to best provide service in a way that works for them.
  • Every business should have emergency procedures for customers with
    disabilities. Make sure you know what they are.

Mental Health Disabilities

People with mental health disabilities look like anyone else. You won’t
know that your customer has a mental health disability unless you’re informed
of
it. And usually it will not affect your customer service at all.

But if someone is experiencing difficulty in controlling their symptoms or
is in a crisis, you may need to help out. Be calm and professional and let your
customer tell you how you can best help.

Here are some tips on serving customers who have mental health disabilities.

  • Treat people with a mental health disability with the same respect
    and consideration you have for everyone else.
  • Be confident and reassuring, and listen to your customers with a
    mental health disability and their needs.
  • If someone appears to be in a crisis, ask them to tell you the best
    way to help.
  • Take your customers with a mental health disability seriously, and
    work with them to meet their needs.
  • Every business should have emergency procedures for customers with
    disabilities. Make sure you know what they are.

Physical Disabilities

There are many types and degrees of physical disabilities, and not all require
a wheelchair. People who have arthritis, heart or lung conditions or amputations
may also have difficulty with moving, standing or sitting. It may be difficult
to identify a person with a physical disability. Be patient. Customers will
identify their needs to you.

Here are some tips on serving customers who have physical disabilities.

  • Speak normally and directly to your customer. Don’t speak to
    someone who is with them.
  • People with physical disabilities often have their own ways of doing
    things. Ask before you help.
  • Don’t refer to the disability, and never use phrases like “handicapped”.
  • Be patient and be sure you understand their needs.
  • Don’t touch any assistive devices, including wheelchairs, unnecessarily
    unless it’s an emergency.
  • Provide your customer information about accessible features of the
    immediate environment (automatic doors, accessible washrooms, etc.).
  • Every business should have emergency procedures for customers with
    disabilities. Make sure you know what they are.

Speech Impediments

Some people have problems communicating. It could be the result of cerebral
palsy, hearing loss, or another condition that makes it difficult to pronounce
words, causes slurring or stuttering, or not being able to express oneself or
understand written or spoken language. Some people who have severe difficulties
may use communication boards or other assistive devices.

Here are some tips on serving customers with speech impediments.

  • Just because a person has one disability doesn’t mean they
    have another. For example, if a customer has difficulty speaking; don’t assume
    they have an
    intellectual disability as well.
  • If you don’t understand, ask your customer to repeat the information.
  • Don’t refer to the disability, and never use phrases like “handicapped”.
  • If you are able, ask questions that can be answered ‘yes’ or ‘no’.
  • Take some time. Be patient and polite, and give your customer whatever
    time he/she needs to get his/her point across.
  • Don’t interrupt or finish your customer’s sentences. Wait
    for them to finish.
  • Patience, respect and a willingness to find a way to communicate
    are your best tools.
  • Every business should have emergency procedures for customers with
    disabilities. Make sure you know what they are.

Visual Disabilities

Visual disabilities reduce one’s ability to see clearly. Very few people
are totally blind. Many have limited vision such as tunnel vision, where a person
has a loss of peripheral or side vision, or a lack of central vision, which
means they cannot see straight ahead. Some can see the outline of objects while
others can see the direction of light.

Visual Disabilities can restrict your customers’ abilities to read signs,
locate landmarks or see hazards. In some cases, it may be difficult to tell
if a person
has a visual disability. Others may use a guide dog or white cane.

Here are some tips on serving customers who have visual disabilities.

  • Identify yourself when you approach your customer and speak directly
    to them.
  • Speak normally and clearly.
  • Don’t refer to the disability, and never use phrases like “handicapped”.
  • Never touch your customer without asking permission, unless it’s
    an emergency.
  • If you offer assistance, wait until your receive permission.
  • Offer your arm (the elbow) to guide the person and walk slowly.
  • Don’t touch service animals – they are working and have
    to pay attention at all times.
  • If you’re giving directions or verbal information, be precise
    and clear. For example, if you’re approaching a door or an obstacle, say
    so.
  • Don’t just assume the individual can’t see you.
  • Don’t leave your customer in the middle of a room. Show them to
    a chair, or guide them to a comfortable location.
  • Identify landmarks or other details to orient your customer to the
    environment around them.
  • Don’t walk away without saying good-bye.
  • Be patient. Things may take a little longer.
  • Every business should have emergency procedures for customers with
    disabilities. Make sure you know what they are.

Tips On Dealing With Customers With Disabilities Over The Phone

  • Speak normally, clearly and directly.
  • Don’t worry about how their voice sounds. Concentrate on what’s
    being said.
  • Don’t refer to the disability, and never use phrases like “handicapped”.
  • Be patient, don’t interrupt and don’t finish your customer’s
    sentences. Give your customer time to explain him/herself.
  • Don’t try to guess what your customer is saying. If you don’t
    understand, don’t pretend. Just ask again.
  • If you’re not certain what was said, just repeat or rephrase
    what you’ve heard.
  • If a telephone customer is using an interpreter or a TTY line, just
    speak normally to the customer, not to the interpreter.
  • If your customer has great difficulty communicating, make arrangements
    to call back when it’s convenient to speak with someone else.

Tips on Serving Customers With Disabilities at Home.

  • Don’t arrive unexpectedly, and confirm the details before you
    arrive.
  • Be patient. You may need to wait a few moments for your customer
    to open the door.
  • Don’t refer to the disability, and never use phrases like “handicapped”.
  • Introduce yourself clearly. Some customers may not be able to read
    identity cards and may instead have a password. Check before you visit.
  • Keep your customer up to date on what you’re doing.
  • If you need to move some of your client’s possessions, make sure
    that you leave the customer’s house exactly as when you arrived. For example,
    you don’t
    want someone with a visual impairment to trip because you moved the sofa.
  • If you can’t complete the job, clearly explain what will happen
    next. Make another appointment, and leave a contact number in case there are
    problems.