Labels for People with Disabilities is much more contentious than many HR Professionals, Directors and Business Owners realise.
Says who? I do for one…
This month’s Post is relatively short when compared to many of my others for a good reason, it is Bank Holiday Monday and I promised to take the kids to Crealey. It is also a departure from the usual things I write about and intended to present an insight into what I and some other people with disabilities think. However, anyone who regular reads my Posts will know, I don’t say things without providing some explanation behind them.
So here we go…
Before we get started, I have a question for all of you. I describe you as HR Professionals, Directors and Business Owners because you are the intended audience and should gain something useful from what I say. How accurately does the labels I have assigned to you actually describe your roles? For those of you whose answer is that it doesn’t, what would you use to describe what you do?
I have already made a point about labelling different types of disability albeit in an indirect way. I made a judgement, but accept that the people who should actually define who they are, are the people themselves.
I going to use a story from my past to illustrate what I am saying.
Back in the late 1980s early 1990s I worked for RNIB’s National Rehabilitation Centre in Torquay. At this time unbeknown to me academia and many in social services felt that the terms partially sighted and blind were medical descriptions of the impact of disability and came up with the PC term, visual impairment. Up until this point in my life I would describe myself if asked as Chris. If pushed, I would say partially sighted. People could get this and were able to realise that I had some vision and would then ask about what I could see. No problems, always pleased to talk at length about this. I was advised that as my visual acuity (the Snellin Chart used at your Opticians to determine if you should drive) was at a level where My Ophthalmologist said it maybe beneficial to be registered as blind. Now this was a big deal for me, but why? It was a label that real blind people were given because they could not see and I could see, so not one that I would use. To make matters worse, RNIB said I had a visual impairment.
So I had two new labels and a label I used to describe myself when I did not use the answer Chris!
But some of you will be thinking, but Chris we now work in diverse and inclusive world and that is just the way it is. So let me update you about where we are right now. The current academic thinking supported by social services think has added a new term – severe sight loss. I know this because this is what I am told when undertaking workplace assessments. So we now have two terms for People with Buggered Up Eyes – visual impairment and severe sight loss. So there are now four possible labels. I asked a Social Worker what severe sight loss actually meant. They explained that nobody really understood what visual impairment meant so it was felt that we needed a new term to describe being blind or have no functioning vision – severe sight loss was the answer apparently.
So what is the point I am making here?
Its really simple. People with disabilities have labels allocated to them, which I suspect are not based on any survey of what people with disabilities would want to use. Is this down to what I believe is institutional discrimination. If you are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender you can call yourselves LGBT. I have been told by a friend of mine who is gay that this terminology is based on consultation by leading charities in this sector. Interesting, he feels that group labelling misses the point of diversity and inclusion entirely. Successful people come from all walks of life.
When I was last employed I used to be corrected when referring to myself as partially sighted in preference to the pointless term visual impairment. I was even told that I could be given a verbal warning as my opinion was discriminatory. The argument was that I was using an offensive outdated term and visual impairment is what you are. You can imagine it was like if you were on a Diversity Course with me. It seems that rather than valuing diversity of people with disabilities we are moving towards an homogenised view where behaviours of people with disabilities must conform to what is expected – after all we all think the same way don’t we?
What is the Message Here?
It is really simple. When it is obvious in your role that you are working with a person with a disability ask them to explain what they see their disability as. Use their terms, not those that some Trainer told you, you must use. Listen to what is being said and be honest and admit that you don’t know how to help, but you want to genuinely understand and accept that they do know what is best for them.
Come on then, lots of controversy this month so lets have some comments to round off the Summer.
If you would like to chat to me about this, you can contact me here.