Attitudinal disability barriers happen when non-disabled people do not understand how disabilities affect people’s lives. These misunderstandings can lead to false assumptions about what people with disabilities can do, want, or need. Businesses do not create attitudinal barriers purposely. Instead, barriers happen because businesses are unaware of how or why someone with a disability would access their services. In other words, attitudinal barriers happen because of stereotypes or lack of awareness.
Many people do not have friends, family members, or colleagues with disabilities. As a result, they do not know what it is like to have a disability. Instead, they try to guess how different disabilities affect people’s lives. For instance, they might guess that someone using a wheelchair cannot do things commonly done while standing, such as:
- Cooking and housework
- Playing sports
Similarly, they might assume that someone who is blind cannot do things they do using their eyes, such as:
- Travelling safely
- Using computers
Likewise, they might imagine that someone with a speech disability cannot understand them.
Surprise and False Complements
These guesses may cause service providers to speak strangely to people with disabilities. For example, a service provider might express surprise that someone using a wheelchair is buying a tennis racket. Similarly, they might complement a customer who is blind for their ease moving around obstacles. Likewise, they might speak to a customer with a speech disability slowly or loudly.
Guesses like these, based on limited disability knowledge, are often not accurate. On the contrary, people with disabilities have many methods of performing every-day tasks. For instance, many people using wheelchairs play sports, including:
Similarly, most people who are blind travel safely using white canes or guide dogs. Likewise, speech disabilities do not always affect people’s understanding.
As a result, surprise, complements, or modified speech do not make these customers feel valued or treated equally to other customers. Instead, these reactions only show that staff consider these customers different and strange. Staff should not express surprise at the items customers with disabilities buy, unless non-disabled customers’ purchases also surprise them. Similarly, staff should not complement a customer with a disability unless they would give the same complement to a non-disabled customer. Likewise, staff should speak to all customers in the same way, unless a customer requests different forms of communication.
More False Complements
Furthermore, service providers sometimes praise family members, friends, or colleagues spending time with people who have disabilities. Non-disabled loved ones or coworkers are often good people. However, they do not go out with people who have disabilities to perform good deeds. Instead, they are spending time with friends or loved ones whose company they enjoy. Service providers should not complement them for doing so, unless they complement all customers for spending time together.
In Part 2 of this article, we will consider more examples of attitudinal barriers and how to remove them.