Monday, August 29, 2011

Positive Communication for Accommodations

I was at the grocery store the other day waiting in line, and overheard a conversation between the next cashier over and a gentleman in a wheelchair. He was asking the cashier questions like, "Have you ever been in a wheelchair? Have you ever needed to use the handicapped stall in the bathroom? When you go into the restroom can you turn around easily to close the door? Would you ever use the restroom without closing the door?"

Photo from 5150fantast on Flickr.
The cashier couldn't figure out what he was getting at, but finally he made it clear that the door to the accessible stall in the restroom opened the wrong way. When a person in a wheelchair entered, the door was in such a position that made it very difficult to easily close the door. It was a problem that could easily be solved by switching the door to open outwards rather than inwards. The cashier promised to find out how to make a maintenance request to modify the door.

What struck me was how long the gentleman took to get his (perfectly valid) point across. The cashier was extremely confused by the end of his line of questioning and not sure at all what he was getting across. Had he simply approached the cashier or customer service desk and said "The door to the accessible stall in the restroom is opening in such a way that makes it difficult for me to close the door once I'm inside," he would have made his point more easily and with a minimum of confusion.

Going back to what I wrote in my blog post Different Perspectives, I think it is very easy for people to think that their experiences are shared by everyone or that everyone can see issues that may be more personal than they think. If you do not have experience with wheelchairs you may not think about the way the bathroom door opens - if you do not have experience with hearing loss you may not think about making captions available for people.

I think a lot of it goes two ways. Yes, people in businesses, the government, and organizations should be aware of what the laws require and how to be accessible for people, but at the same time we can only achieve what we want through education and increasing knowledge of what is needed. It's one thing to demand captions but another to actually explain why they are needed. Communication is important on both sides, and it's important to recognize areas where communication can break down, or when you're not approaching the right person, or when you may be causing more confusion than actually educating people.

When talking to someone at a business I think it is important to make sure you are talking to the right person and explain fully why you need some kind of accommodation. I usually explain I am deaf and it would help greatly for (whatever) to happen. I state things simply and don't repeat myself over and over (which I think is a major downfall of communication) unless it's needed. I don't give my whole back story or complain about other unrelated things. Thank-yous are always appreciated... working with the public I know what it is like to do something for someone and receive no acknowledgment in return.

What do you think? What are some strategies you have found for approaching people to get reasonable accommodations or explain a problem?

1 comment:

  1. Hi Megan,
    I have just written a post in response to yours. Let me know what you think.


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