QUESTION: Some time ago you wrote a column about how to help or give assistance to a person who has a vision problem. I found it very informative and wonder if you have any suggestions when encountering those with other types of disabilities. Many times I find I want to offer assistance but do not want to offend. Do you have a thought or two?
ANSWER: Many people want to assist and yet don’t know what to offer or if help is needed or wanted.
To find out what is needed or wanted I spoke with several individuals who had some type of physical challenge and they willingly provided some simple ways to make everyone more comfortable when in such a situation.
When you meet someone who is hearing impaired you should always face the person 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.
A fact not normally known is that many non-hearing impaired people as well as most hearing impaired people read lips as part of the listening process. Perhaps this explains why I personally hear better while wearing my glasses.
When encountering a person who is hearing impaired or visually impaired don’t worry about using common very day phrases in your conversation. The person with a hearing problem will not be upset if you ask, “have you heard.” A person with a vision impairment will not take offense if you say, “did you see.”
If you find yourself 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 what has been said if you don’t. Just repeat what you have heard and let the other party respond to or correct what really was said.
Of most importance—if the speech impaired party uses an interpreter you should always remember to speak directly to the impaired party never to 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 that 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 the need to offer some type of assistance to a disabled person ask if assistance is wanted or needed and then wait until that assistance has been accepted before acting. The person may or may not need or want the specific help you are offering. There may be a particular method of assistance that should be used or another type of assistance that would be more appreciated.
For those who may not have read the column you mentioned a few suggestions when meeting with someone who is visually impaired. When first encountering someone with a vision problem they are at a disadvantage since they likely cannot see or identify the person approaching. I suggest that you should always identify yourself when greeting them.
If group conversation is taking place it is most helpful if each speaker name the person to whom he or she is speaking. This helps eliminate a lot of confusion.
Anxiety usually arises because someone doesn’t know if they should or should not mention the disability. It is suggested that the safest route is to not mention the disability unless it come up naturally in the conversation.
SATURDAY – July 20 – 6:00 to 10:00 pm – Ballroom Dance – at Goebel Adult Community Center, 1385 E. Janss Road in Thousand Oaks. Dance to the music of Ralph Mathis – doors open at 6:00 – dance lesson (East Coast Swing) – 6:30 to 7:20; dance begins at 7:30. Tickets are $10.
FRIDAY – July 26 – doors open at 4:00 pm- Friday Night BINGO – at Goebel Adult Community Center. Bingo starts at 6:30 – sales stop promptly at 6:00. Food will be available for purchase.
WEDNESDAY – July 31 – 3:30 pm – Summer Ice Cream Shindig – at Goebel Adult Community Center – join in the intergenerational fun. Tickets are $5 and on sale at Goebel’s front desk.
THURSDAY – August 1 – 9:00 am to 1:30 pm- AARP Refresher (1-day) Smart Driver Course – at Goebel Adult Community Center – cost $15 for AARP members – $20 for non-members. To make a reservation call (805)381-2744.
Betty Berry is a senior advocate for Senior Concerns. The advocates are located at the Goebel Senior Adult Center, 1385 E. Janss Road, Thousand Oaks CA 91362 or call (805) 495-6250 or e-mail (please include your telephone number. You are invited to submit questions on senior issues.

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