By Betty Berry, Tuesday, June 14, 2011  Q: I am a disabled senior active in a number of activities. However, I’m considering dropping out, as my disability seems to make those around me uncomfortable. Before I do that, I wonder if there is anything I can suggest to others to make them more comfortable in my company?

A: First, I want to commend you on remaining active despite having a disability and to encourage you to continue doing what you do. Remaining active allows you to enjoy a productive life, which many who have disabilities do not.

I spoke with several people who had some type of disability, and they suggested a few simple ways to help make others more comfortable when in their company. Since you did not mention what your disability is, I hope that one of these suggestions will help you.

First, let’s address meeting someone with a visual impairment. When you first encounter someone with a vision problem, they are at a disadvantage, since they cannot see or identify the person approaching them. It was suggested that you should always identify yourself when greeting them. If group conversation is taking place, it is more helpful if each speaker names the person to whom he or she is speaking. This helps eliminate a lot of confusion.

When meeting with someone who is hearing-impaired, you should always face them directly when speaking. You should speak clearly, and please don’t shout, as that makes hearing even more difficult. Speak at a normal speed, enunciate clearly, and keep objects and hands away from your mouth. Most hearing-impaired people as well as many non-hearing-impaired people read lips as part of the listening process.

In both vision and hearing-impaired encounters, don’t worry about using common everyday phrases in your conversation. The person with a vision problem won’t take offense if you say, “did you see,” and the person with a hearing problem won’t be upset if you say, “have you heard.”

When in the company of a person with a speech impediment, be a patient listener. Listen attentively and don’t interrupt or try to finish sentences for him or her. If you need to ask questions, word them so that short answers can be given. However, don’t pretend you understand if you don’t. Just repeat what you heard and let the other party respond to or correct what he or she said.

If the speech-impaired party uses an interpreter, you should remember to speak directly to the impaired party, and never the interpreter. Your conversation is not taking place with the interpreter.

Someone in a wheelchair is at a disadvantage in a conversation situation if you are standing while they are seated, since this requires the person in the wheelchair to continually look up. If possible, sit down so you are both at the same eye level. Also, while standing, it is a no-no to lean on someone’s wheelchair. Consider the chair to be part of the person’s body and treat it appropriately.

If you feel you need to offer some type of assistance to a disabled person, ask if assistance is wanted and wait until that assistance has been accepted before acting. The person may or may not want or need the help you are offering, or there may be a particular method that should be used.

Never attempt to move someone in a wheelchair without telling them what you plan do. A sudden unexpected movement can be very unnerving.

Anxiety usually arises because someone doesn’t know if they should or shouldn’t mention the disability. It is suggested that the safest route is to not mention the disability unless it comes up naturally in the conversation.


Friday, 1:30-3 p.m.: Seminar, “Understanding Your Medicare Coverage,” Goebel Senior Adult Center, 1385 E. Janss Road in Thousand Oaks. To be facilitated by Senior Concerns advocate. For information and reservations, call 381-2744.

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