Yesterday courtesy of the Big Fag (thanks guys!), I attended a course on disability training at Accessible Arts run by Amanda Tink.
This was instigated by my project with John Demos, who's been doing a residency with our Press, funded by Arts NSW and administered by Accessible Arts.
There were quite a few things I learnt that I didn't know before. I generally treat everyone around me with respect, but when it comes a person with a disability, it's important to understand life from their perspective and make sure you know what phrases to use and how to approach them.
The section on stereotypes was one I was already very familiar with, but the section on communication was an important one for me. The difference, for example, between saying to a person who uses a wheelchair "do you need some help?" and "would you like some help?" is a good example because the idea of need perhaps takes away a little of their feelings of independence. That said, a person with a disability is not necessarily always in need of help - and they probably get asked that question about 10 times a day.
There's also many disabilities that are invisible. In fact, 1 in 5 Australians identify with having a disability, but the most prominent kinds of disabilities are psychological or health related. These people may find it difficult in work places as to whether or not to disclose their disability. Disclosure may mean they for example, would not prevail in a job interview. However should they not disclose, their disability may cause them difficulty at work.
Amanda played us this amazing video from the UK Disability Rights Commission: (you can find the second part on YouTube)
Language was also a key factor of the training session. Personally, I would never use words like spastic or retard, but I wasn't aware that perhaps a word like "handicapped" might cause offence. The best way to refer to people with impairments is to first regard them as a person, and to not assume anything about their life. So for example, you should say a "person with cerebral palsy" not "he suffers from cerebral palsy". You should not say "the deaf man", you should say "person who is deaf/ hearing impaired". And generally, it's better to find out a person's name! Also never talk about them as if they are not present, obviously. There's also things like being honest if you haven't understood what a person has said, and knowing the difference between simple language and moderate speed as opposed to talking to someone as if they were a child.
One thing that came up was how some people who are deaf sometimes don't consider themselves to have an impairment at all. Rather, that their ability to use sign language simply places them in a separate linguistic culture, one which has been extensively developed. I didn't know that before.
50 years ago being left handed was considered something of a disability. 20 years ago being gay meant you had a psychiatric condition. It's the society and world that shifts. It was interesting to look at how society has treated the issue of disability over time, beginning with a religious perspective that a person with an impairment must be so because he had sinned, or his family had sinned. Then from a medical perspective we would do the best for a person we could medically, and then they would just have to do the best they could to try and integrate within their family and get by.
The current model stemmed from the UK in the 70's where we think of people who have an impairment as not them being disabled, but rather than society itself is disabling them because of all the barriers they face, taking a wheelchair up stairs, or trying to find a cinema session that has audio captions.
Not many organisations have Disability Action Plans - only about 40% of arts organisations in Australia. It's important to understand that it's not a matter of building a ramp and hanging some audio tour headphones on the walls, it's about creating an environment that is entirely welcoming and not hostile through a range of means, both physical and emotional, and then, making the community of people with disabilities aware of those changes.
Anyway, I learnt a lot at the training session and I'm sure it will help me in my many current endeavours!