Disability Awareness

Overview

The population of Western Australia at the last count was 1,964,100. An estimated 405,500 West Australians have disabilities (20.6% of the population) and 246,800 West Australians are carers for people with disabilities (12.6% of the population).

A disability is recognised as a condition which:

  • is attributable to an intellectual, psychiatric, cognitive, neurological, sensory or physical impairment or a combination of those impairments
  • is permanent or likely to be permanent and
  • may or may not be of a chronic or episodic nature.

Disabilities can result in a person having a substantially reduced capacity for communication, social interaction, learning or mobility and a need for continuing support services in daily life. With the assistance of appropriate aids and services, the restrictions experienced by many people with a disability may be overcome.

Types of disability

The main categories of disability are physical, sensory, physiological and intellectual. A physical disability is the most common, followed by mental/behavioural and sensory. Physical disabilities generally relate to disorders of the musculoskeletal, circulatory, respiratory and nervous systems. Sensory disabilities involve impairments in hearing and vision. Mental/behavioural disorders include intellectual and developmental disabilities which relate to difficulties with thought processes, learning, communicating, remembering information and using it appropriately, making judgments' and problem solving. They also include anxiety disorders, phobias or depression.

Communicating with people with disabilities

When communicating with a person with a disability, rely on your common sense. Ask yourself how you would want to be treated and always be willing to adapt to a person's individual preference. The basic principle is to put the person before the disability. Communication skills are vital in developing relationships with people with and without disabilities. Common sense and courtesy tells us to treat people with respect – be patient and listen attentively, speak directly to a person with a disability even if accompanied by an interpreter or companion, never make assumptions about what people can do, don't attempt to speak, or finish a sentence for the person you are speaking to and never ask, "What happened to you?".

Communication about people with disabilities

Language plays a critical role in shaping and reflecting our thoughts, beliefs and feelings. The way we refer to people can affect the way they are seen by others and the way in which they feel about themselves. Some people prefer the term 'people with disabilities' because it puts the person first. A person with disabilities is not defined by their impairment. Nobody wants to be given a medical label. References such as 'an epileptic' or 'a diabetic' are dehumanising. Instead, if you need to refer to a person's condition, say a person who has epilepsy or a person who has diabetes. Avoid using language such as 'sufferers from' or 'a victim of' that suggests people with disabilities are frail or dependent on others, or which could make them objects of pity. Do not use collective nouns such as 'the disabled' or 'the blind'. These terms imply people are part of a group which is somehow separate from the rest of society. However, there is one exception and that is 'the deaf'. This is the preferred term for many people who are deaf who use AUSLAN and see themselves as a cultural minority rather than part of the disabled community.

Disability etiquette

  • Never assume you know what assistance, if any, a person with a disability requires.
  • Ask if, and what, assistance may be needed.
  • Treat a person with a disability in the same manner and with the same respect and courtesy as you would anyone else.
  • Speak directly to the person rather than through the companion, attendant or sign-language interpreter who may also be present.
  • Never speak about the person as if they are invisible, can't understand what is being said or that they can't speak for themselves.
  • Do not put people with a disability on a pedestal or talk to them in patronising terms as if their performing normal, everyday activities were exceptional
  • Always respect the person's dignity, individuality and desire for independence
  • If help is required in a given situation, do not assist without asking first
  • Treat adults as adults; and
  • Refer to adults with a disability in the same way you would refer to any other adult.

 

Related Links:

Disability WA

 

Documents 
Disability Access and Inclusion Plan 2013/18

Documents

Disability Access and Inclusion Plan 2013/18