Disability Etiquette: University of Guelph Accessibility Conference

Posted on Wednesday, 5 June 2019 by John McNabb

The University of Guelph recently held their 11th Annual Accessibility Conference. The theme this year was “Learn, Share, Grow”, which covered topics such as: Understanding Accessibility Barriers, Web and Document Accessibility, Assistive Technologies, Disability Accommodation, and Education.

My talk was entitled, “Disability Etiquette – Working with Colleagues and Clients Who Have Disabilities”. It touched on topics like: types of disabilities, people-first language, permanent / temporary / situational disabilities, invisible disabilities, Social Model vs. Medical Model, Curb Cut Effect, how to work with colleagues / customers with disabilities, Spoon Theory of chronic illness, whether to disclose a disability, etc.

The audience participation was great, which I was grateful for. As I read the statistic that “43% do not personally know anyone who is disabled”, at least one attendee audibly scoffed at this. I agree it’s unlikely that so many people don’t know anyone who is disabled. And yet this perception is not uncommon. Possible reasons for this are:

  • Some disabilities are invisible
  • Some people hide their disabilities to avoid awkward situations, or to avoid assumptions about their capabilities at work
  • Some people avoid co-workers with disabilities, for fear of saying the wrong thing

One presentation slide included a photo of a politician patting a wheelchair user on the head, and several attendees reacted with moans. One attendee said people often put their hands on her wheelchair without her permission. I also shared a tip from a wheelchair user who asked that people not kneel down to talk to him, because it’s awkward. Then another attendee, also a wheelchair user, said that she appreciates when people pull up chair to sit and talk with her.

I’d like to praise Scope, a UK-based disability equality charity, for their great campaign called “End the Awkward” – it’s aimed at helping people feel more comfortable about disability, and it uses humor to get people thinking differently.

Finally, I recommend looking for the following hashtags on Twitter, because they often point to some interesting anecdotes and discussions:

Slides are online at SlideShare and also embedded below.

Tweets about the Guelph conference can be found by looking for the hashtag #AccessConf2019.

About John McNabb

John McNabb (@JohnKMcNabb) is an Accessibility Engineer at The Paciello Group. Prior to TPG he worked in the banking and telecom sectors on web and mobile accessibility. John volunteers with #a11yTO, which organizes accessibility meetups in Toronto, as well as a yearly camp and conference.

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