We all Meet Together: Creating an Inclusive Environment for ALL Kinds of Communicators

Oct 12, 2022

People of all abilities can and should be able to participate in all of life together.  With some planning and creativity, all people can be included in all parts of
society no matter what their ability.

Please note: this is not an exhaustive list of things you should do but rather some
ideas to get you started. Always ask the person with a disability what they need
to fully participate in all that you are doing.

These tips were put together by Naomi Herman and Lucas Harris:

General Guidelines:

● Ask before helping people. If they say no, don't help. People who have
disabilities want to be as independent as possible-let them.

● Do not touch or move assistive devices such as wheelchairs, communication aids and the like without permission. Assistive devices are an extension of a person’s body.

● Respect the person's body. Do not touch people without their permission
(even holding their hand).

● Don't make the assumption that because you don't see people who have a disability that no one with a disability is present. Some disabilities are invisible.

● Treat all information that is shared with you by people with disabilities and their support people as private. Do not share that information with others without the permission of the PERSON WITH THE DISABILITY.

● Deal with access issues before someone brings them up if at all possible.

● All parts of your meeting place, inside and outside, should be accessible to all people, including performance/stage areas and play areas.

Support the Supporters:

Support people are not there to participate. Their role is to enable the
person with disabilities to participate in the activity at hand. Be mindful of
this-here are some areas to notice:

  • Don’t talk to support people about people who have disabilities. Talk to the person directly. This includes young children.
  • Talking to a support person could take time away from or distract them from doing their job. They are not there to socialize.
  • Conversation can be overtaken by support people, leaving the person who is being left supported out. Some people will want their support people involved in the activities, others will want them there simply to support them. Honor their choice.
  • Speak to the person with the disability and not their support people. Have people who have disabilities on leadership teams, building committees, and planning committees. include those with intellectual or developmental disabilities.

“A barrier for one is a barrier for all.”

This quote is from a training session put on by the Disability Concerns Committee of the Christian Reformed Church and the Reformed Church of America August 2020 or 2021

AAC Users and Others With Communication Disorders

*The use of the word speech and related words refer to any form of

● People use many forms of communication. AAC users may use mouth words or signing systems as well as body language and other means of communication during a single interaction. Accept all forms of communication.

● See all forms of communication as equal and valid and valuable.

● If you do not understand someone, ask for clarification. It is up to the speaker how they clarify.

● Leave wait time (about 5-10 seconds of silence) to allow for an AAC user to speak. It takes time to communicate using AAC. Be mindful that the AAC user is a part of your conversations.

● Have light-tech AAC available in your meeting place.

● The use of symbol-based AAC or text-based AAC is a personal choice. It does not say anything about the intellectual ability of the user.

Deafness and Hard Of Hearing

● Have sign language interpreters or cued language translators available if you can and whenever requested.

● Close caption any spoken words if possible, if not make a transcript available at the end.

● Face people when you speak to them.

● If you are in regular contact with someone who communicates using sign language learn to speak to them directly.

Physical Disabilities

● Make sure your entire meeting place is accessible for the mobility equipment the person uses.

● Speak at eye level with a person who is using a wheelchair or seated.

● If you are standing in your meeting make sure people who are seated can see the front of the room. Ask people to remain seated if they will block the view of others.

● Make sure you give notice of blocked ramps and broken elevators. Do it as far in advance as possible, verbally, online, and with clear signage.

● A person’s ability to control their body is not an indication of their cognitive abilities. Don’t assume someone with a physical disability also has an intellectual or developmental disability.

● If your group gathering involves standing and sitting or movement, invite people to participate in whatever way they are able or feel comfortable or to just observe.

Blindness and Visual Impairment

● Introduce yourself each time you speak to someone who is blind or visually impaired. This allows them to know who they are speaking with and to tell where you are.

● Make all information shown on a screen or handed out available in accessible formats. This enables people to participate and to choose where they will sit rather than having to always sit at the front of the room.

● Make online content screen reader accessible.

Invisible Disabilities

● Some disabilities and chronic health conditions can not be seen. If someone asks for an accommodation or modification that will allow them to more fully participate, do what you can to meet the need.

● Give permission for movement at all times. People who have attention deficit disorder or chronic pain and other issues often need to move to be comfortable and process information.

● Be aware that what you see might not be how the person is actually feeling. Listen to what they say.

Developmental and Intellectual Disabilities

● Have many different ways for people to learn and participate.
○ Music
○ Art
○ Movement
○ Story telling
○ Serving/helping out
○ Background work

● Use language that everyone can understand. Try to break down big words
and concepts. Don't use baby talk, just think about making things so that
all can understand.

● Include people who have developmental and intellectual disabilities in
leadership and planning committees.

● Have sensory tools available for everyone such as fidget toys and weighted blankets or lap pads.

● Have a quiet space available where people can go if the large group
gets overwhelming. Make it known that this space is available for anyone who needs it.

● People are their chronological age.  Honor this by treating them in an age
respectful way.

○ Don’t assume anyone is always interested in the things others their age are. Those with intellectual or developmental disabilities may like things you would expect for their chronological age or not. Learn about and honor their individual interests.

○ don’t use baby talk for anyone for whom it is not chronologically/age appropriate.

Attitude is everything. Everyone comes with both needs to be met and gifts and talents to be shared. Without understanding this, anything you do to make the environment more accessible may fail.

All people deserve equal treatment. Respecting each other and treating each
other with dignity is the most important part of making any large group gathering

Naomi Herman

Naomi is from Ontario Canada. She is a part-time AAC user who participates in her church community and has worked with kids and adults who have various abilities including those who use AAC.