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Best Practices for Entities on Engaging People with Disabilities

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This document contains best practices for how to respectfully engage people with disabilities and Deaf people, as identified by co-design participants.

Always ask - don’t make assumptions

  • There is incredibly diversity within different disability communities and cultural communities

  • Individuals with the same disability may not have the same access needs and they may need completely different access support

  • Disability is not experienced in a static way and it depends on a large number of factors and it can be in flux

  • A person’s outwards appearance may not reveal the type of support they need

  • Indigenous communities are incredibly diverse and each may want to be approached differently

  • Start over every time you enter a new community or interact with a new person - wipe the slate clean from any assumptions. First sit down and ask questions, and listen:

  • What are your access needs? What accommodations do you need?

  • How do you like to communicate?

  • What technology is accessible for you?

  • If you plan to engage with a community, talk to the community groups and nonprofits working with that community to ask questions and better understand that community

Reflect on your position in the world

  • To prepare, do some self reflection on what it means for someone with more privilege in life to prepare themselves for this process. What do you know? What do you not know yet?
  • Understand what it is to decolonize language, practices, and worldview when working with Indigenous communities and communities of colour

Meet people where they’re at

To make things as accessible as possible, try to meet where people are at in a variety of different ways. For example:

  • Go into the community where people are, instead of asking people to come out. For example, long term care homes that tend to be disconnected from the rest of the community.

  • Use the language that people use - whether that be Sign Languages like ASL, LSQ, or ISL, or a language that is not English or French. Provide interpretation and translation. This can also include the way you communicate, like using plain language instead of technical jargon.

  • When hiring a translator or interpreter, make sure they have the expertise for the particular area you’re discussing. For example, a medical interpreter.

  • Use technology that people already have access to, or can afford

  • Use the way of interacting that people prefer (ex. Pre-recording video vs in-person meeting)

  • Go at a pace that the other person prefers (ex. If they need extra time to make a decision or respond)

  • Communicate directly with people with significant disabilities - provide extra support if necessary - instead of solely communicating with their supporters

  • Include supports for consultants who are non-verbal, or have barriers articulating their thoughts easily, and people who are not comfortable using the language used for the consultation

  • Have facilitators from your consultants’ communities, people they can relate to and share experiences with.

  • Ask questions to help you meet the consultants where they are at:

  • “How can I best serve you as your (bank, etc)?”

  • “What annoys you?”

  • “What makes you feel excluded when you walk into a business?”

  • “What are you looking for, what do you need?”

Tackle consultation fatigue

  • Consultation fatigue happens when people have been repeatedly consulted, but no change comes from it - or they don’t know what happened to their feedback.
  • To avoid giving your consultants consultation fatigue, be transparent: communicate and share progress with people who have consulted with you, and what you are implementing and what you are not

Be cautious about safety and privacy

  • Take extra care when asking for sensitive information, especially for people with significant disabilities
  • Since disabilities can be invisible, some people may come off as understanding what you are saying when they do not, and need a supporter to help with communication
  • If you are meeting someone online or over the phone, take extra care that there’s no one overhearing your conversation on either end
  • When hiring interpreters, take extra care that the person may not be coming from the same small community as consultants.
  • Make the use of pronouns optional - asking pronouns may force someone to come out before they are ready

Frame your work using the social model of disability

  • The medical model says that there is a deficit with people with disabilities and that they need to be fixed, whereas the social model recognizes that it is the environment or attitudes that are disabling
  • When framing your work, communication, or mindset around accessibility and inclusion work, many people with disabilities consider the social model of disability as respectful and appropriate