Academic Ableism: Disability and Higher EducationSkip other details (including permanent urls, DOI, citation information)
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PLACES TO START: ONE-ON-ONE WITH STUDENTS
- If the student is coming to your office, ensure the office is arranged in such a way that a person with a mobility device has access. Remove obstacles and arrange furniture to give clear passage to where you will sit and conduct the meeting.
- Consider an assistive device as an extension of the person’s personal space; don’t hang or lean on a wheelchair, or other devices.
- Most power wheelchairs are controlled by a handheld device and should be left for the individual to control.
- If a conversation is expected to last longer than a few moments and your office is not able to accommodate a chair or scooter easily, suggest an area nearby that is comfortable for all parties to be seated.
- Speak normally, clearly and directly to the person in front of you.
- Some people may take a little longer to understand and respond, so exercise patience.
- Listen carefully and work with the person to provide information in a way that will best suit their needs.
- Remember that not all students are comfortable with direct eye contact.
- If you haven’t understood, do not pretend that you have; ask the person to repeat the information.
- Ask truly open-ended questions when possible and exercise a very high "tolerance for error"—students need to be given opportunities to think for themselves, think through questions with you, and to get things wrong.
- If students are having trouble communicating, avoid making remarks such as “Slow down,” “Take a breath,” or “Relax.” This will not be helpful and may be interpreted as demeaning. Avoid finishing the person’s sentences, or guessing what is being said. This can increase their feelings of self-consciousness.
- When you approach a person with a visual impairment make sure you identify yourself and speak directly to them. Do not assume that the person cannot see you.
- If you are leaving a room or the presence of someone with a visual disability, be sure to let them know that you are leaving and whether or not you will be returning.
- Ask permission before touching anyone, unless it is an emergency.
- If you are not sure what to do, ask, "Can I help?"
- Allow students to bring their service animal with them into your office or classroom; avoid talking to or petting a service animal, which distracts the animal from its tasks; do not feed or offer treats to the animal; avoid deliberately startling the animal; remember, not all service animals wear special collars or harnesses; if you’re not sure and you need to verify, it’s okay to ask the owner if it is indeed a service animal.
- If someone needs mobility assistance, offer your arm to guide the person—allow them the time to tell you whether they do or do not want help; walk at a normal pace if you are guiding someone; be precise and clear when giving directions or verbal information—for example, if you are guiding someone with a visual disability and you are approaching a door or an obstacle, say so; identify landmarks or other details to orient the person to their environment.
- If you are communicating through an interpreter, look at and speak directly to the person, not their interpreter; speak as you would regularly; make sure you are in a well-lit area where the person can see your face; keep hands away from your face; if in doubt, ask for clarification to ensure you have been understood; try to hold your conversation in a quiet area, as background noise may be distracting.
- Be patient. If the person’s first language is a visual language (American Sign Language (ASL) or Langue des signes québécoise [LSQ]), or is not, in this case, French or English, communication may take longer or be approached slightly differently than you are anticipating. Remember, the person is actually communicating in a second or third language.
- Repetition, clear enunciation, and plain language can help everyone you speak with.
- Help students take notes as you speak with them, or take notes for them—don't assume they will simply remember everything you say to them.
- Treat a person with a mental or psychological disability with the same respect and consideration that you do anyone else; be confident and reassuring; listen carefully and work with the person to meet their needs; if someone appears to be in a crisis, ask them to tell you how you can be most helpful; you can refer the student to counseling, offer to call on their behalf, or walk them over in person.
- Learn about the resources available on campus or in the community to assist persons with mental health disabilities.