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Ms. Rose

ADA Compliance

ADA Sensitivity Issues

By Clara Rose, President & Creative Director, Creative Alliance

Discrimination - especially subtle discrimination - continues to thrive. It is the everyday stereotypes and assumptions about our differences that are the basis for most unintentional discrimination and the lack of training about sensitivity issues that can result in these inadvertent offenses.

The broad mandate for equal access by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), allows it to affect every aspect of our society. Restaurants, hotels, theaters, doctors' offices, pharmacies, retail stores, museums, libraries, parks, private schools and daycare centers; are all considered a place of Public Accommodation and therefore are covered under the ADA.

In the hospitality industry, which is considered a public accommodation by the ADA, this includes most of the accommodations, recreational facilities and amenities… as well as the daily practices that the businesses are comprised of.

For Americans with different abilities, equal access means simply being able to use, enjoy and participate in the everyday aspects of life, including working, commerce and leisure activities. In other words, can those with different abilities access the entire property - to use and enjoy it -or will they feel excluded? Exclusion is a sensitivity issue.

With an estimated 18% of the American population having an impairment that offers them protection under the ADA, the hospitality industry has a vested interest in understanding and meeting the needs of that significant number of potential customers.

Where to start

An individual with a disability wants the same respect and dignity offered any other person. They do not interpret behaviors and actions differently; personal attention and proximity are universal messages. They can sense if the other person is comfortable in their presence; is focused on them, not the disability, and is willing to extend the same courtesies that they would extend to those who are not disabled.

It is easy to focus on the requirements and rules for public accommodations instead of the needs of the individuals that the ADA was written for. The first step to an atmosphere of sensitivity is to understanding the usage of "people first" language.

If you look beyond the disability, you'll see an individual whose life is more similar to yours then it is different. Their different ability is one small fact about the person; just like eye color, hair color or wearing glasses. They are moms, dads, brothers, sisters, athletes, leaders, employees and employers; who want to live and enjoy their lives.

Most persons with different abilities are not sick or fragile and are capable of being fully independent, productive members of society. Focusing on the person rather than the disability will help employees to relax and act naturally. Common expressions such as "see you later" or "let's run over there" are perfectly acceptable and should not cause embarrassment.

To simplify this process, let's compartmentalize. ADA sensitivity falls into two main categories: the physical issues and communication.

Physical Issues

Some physical issues are obvious; such as, can the individual with different abilities gain access to the facility and all the amenities for enjoyment and participation. Poor access; or a lack of access, that results in exclusion is frustrating for the individual and will be seen as a lack of sensitivity on the part of the property or business.

Hospitality room configurations can also be a source of inconvenience for those with different abilities. Adequate turning radiuses are required to maneuver comfortably and appropriately placed light switches, thermostats and television remotes are greatly appreciated. A great way to ensure your property is "sensitive" is to rent a wheelchair and a set of crutches, and then assign a staff member to spend the day using these mobility devices. The experience gives valuable insights and new perspectives.

Dignity issue may not be as apparent but often have a greater impact on those with different abilities. We all have the same basic needs; a drink of water, the restroom or the use of a telephone. Proper navigational signage should be displayed and staff members should be aware of the locations of ADA amenities and services that are available. Guests with different abilities expect equal treatment, not special treatment.

Communication Issues

From a sensitivity stand point, staff training is the key component to success. Any staff members that come into contact with the guests… need to have sensitivity training. A good sensitivity training program will cover effective means of communicating and provide useful tools for doing so.

Reception and greetings are an important part of the hospitality industry; the very name indicates that one can expect its employees to be hospitable. When communicating with a person that has different abilities, the same rules of acceptable conduct apply… only the means of communicating may differ.

For example; the person who is visually impaired will need verbal cues to replace common body language and gestures, since more than 50% of communication is nonverbal facial expression and body language. For instance: "I am Jane Doe, on my right is John Smith." This gives them a point of reference for John's location. Employees must be sure to announce movement from one place to another and to indicate in advance to whom they are speaking. It is also a good idea for them to make it clear when the conversation has concluded.

A hearing impaired guest might read lips or may request an interpreter and a visually impaired guest could use audio or Braille literature to gain information but the ultimate goal is effective communication.

Assisting persons with different abilities will vary depending on their individual communication needs but some things are universal.

  • Employees should always make eye contact and speak directly to the person, even if they are visually or hearing impaired.
  • If they are part of a group, the employee should be sure to include them in the greeting in the same manner as the rest of the group.
  • Common sense plus common courtesy, equals proper etiquette and good customer service.

Communication is the foundation of interaction in daily life. People convey to those around them - their intentions, needs and desires - all through some form of visual or verbal communication. In work interactions, it is important for employees to be aware of how visual and verbal communications are perceived. A person's self-image is strongly tied to the words used by others to describe them. Employees must be careful, words and actions can pack a punch.

How something said is as important as what was said. The language used when talking to - or about - a person with a different ability, conveys how one feels about disabilities. Common courtesy dictates that all individuals deserve equal treatment, regardless of their abilities.

Some terms are unacceptable and should be avoided when referring to people with different abilities because the terms have negative connotations. Avoid using terms or phrases that are offensive or derogatory, remember, the individual is a person that just happens to have a disability.

Unacceptable terms:

  • Handicap / Handicapped
  • Cripple / Special
  • Victim
  • Deaf and Dumb or Mute
  • Afflicted With / Suffers From
  • Birth Defect
  • Spastic / Retarded
  • Wheelchair Confined / Bound

Preferred ADA friendly terms reflect a positive attitude in portraying disabilities and those individuals with different abilities. People first language describes what a person HAS, not what a person IS. It always puts the person before the disability.

Preferred terms:

  • Disability / Disabled
  • Physically Disabled
  • Blind / Visually Impaired
  • Amputation / Amputee
  • Developmental Disability
  • Spinal Cord Injury
  • Spina Bifida
  • Paraplegic / Quadriplegic

Using people first language can influence society's views and treatment of people with different abilities. Mark Twain said: "The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightening and the lightening bug."

The next step

As with most desired change, proactive planning is the prudent course of action. Sensitivity training is available from a number of sources but we do invite you to consider the ADAF rating system, which offers a sensitivity training program.

As the hospitality industry moves toward compliance with the new ADA regulations, ADAF is working hard to offer tools to facilitate these improvements, while changing attitudes about the treatment of those with different abilities. We invite you to join us in making a difference.

Clara Rose is the founder of Creative Alliance and co-founder of Nationwide Compliance Alliance. She believes that business success is not accidental, merely the implementation of a sound strategy and the correct tools. Ms. Rose finds great reward in equipping entrepreneurs and business owners with the tools and pieces for business success. As a professional speaker, trainer and author; Clara works with teams to help them create a culture of understanding and sensitivity in the workplace and equips professionals with tools and insights. Additionally, she speaks and writes about the different forms of communication that are an integral part of business life with Customers, Colleagues and Co-workers. Ms. Rose can be contacted at 941-284-8640 or Clara@ClaraRose.com Extended Bio...

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