Make your services more accessible

8.DoorsEPATo provide a good service to customers with disabilities, just ask them what they need and how you can help.

Consider how you can change your services to make them more accessible to everybody. Also, consider the types of assistance that you will need to arrange on request.

Be polite to customers with disabilities

  • Treat a person with a disability as considerately as you would like to be treated.
  • Never patronise a person with a disability. Treat them as you treat other adults and address them as you address other adults.
  • If a person with a disability is accompanied by another person, look at and speak directly to the person with the disability.
  • Find out—as early as possible—how the person prefers to communicate. If necessary, ask the person’s family member, carer, or support person to explain how the person prefers to communicate, and to explain the person’s communication aids or devices. Let relevant colleagues know how the person communicates, so that the person does not have to repeatedly explain it.
  • Do not assume that a person with a disability needs help. Ask the person whether they would like help, and then ask how you could help. Do not be offended if your help is not accepted: many people do not need any help.
  • Do not assume that a person with a disability is more fragile than others.Ask the questions that you need to ask.

Help customers who have difficulty in remembering and concentrating

  • Provide information that is simple and easy-to-follow.
  • Provide written information that the customer can keep. Consider emails, letters, text messages, webpages, and so on.
  • Provide reminders.

Help customers with intellectual disabilities

  • Do not make assumptions about ability and disability.
  • Provide information in an “Easy to Read” format.
  • Use simple directions and signs with pictures.
  • Consult customers with intellectual disabilities directly about problems.
  • Allow extra time for the customer to reply, comment, and formulate their questions or answers. Pay attention to any visual cues that they use, such as objects, pictures or diagrams, and to their and facial expression and body language.

Help customers with physical disabilities

  • Provide automatic doors.
  • Make sure that your toilets are accessible. For example, make sure that customers can operate taps with their elbows.
  • Make sure that a member of staff can help a person with a physical disability, if appropriate.
  • Locate information leaflets, intercom buzzers, door bells, lift buttons, and similar objects where everybody can use them.
  • Make sure that your building is accessible. Follow the advice in publications such as Building for Everyone: A Universal Design Approach and Technical Guidance Document Part M — Access and Use (2010).
  • If necessary, arrange to provide your service in another, accessible building.
  • Be aware of personal space and safety: don’t touch, move, or lean on anybody’s mobility aid, such as a wheelchair, walker, or cane.
  • When speaking with a customer who uses wheelchairs or crutches, place yourself at eye-level in front of the customer so that they do not need to strain their neck to speak to you.
  • If the customer needs to sign a document, offer a clipboard to hold the document. Be ready to hold the document where the customer can easily sign it.
  • If the customer cannot turn the pages of an important information booklet, offer to help.
  • Ask the customer if they would like help to complete forms. If the customer wants their companion to help them to complete forms or take notes, accommodate that.
  • When meeting a customer who uses a wheelchair, meet in a room with enough space for the customer to get in and move around.

Help customers with pain

  • Provide chairs and comfortable waiting areas.
  • Minimise waiting times by using an appointment system or by prioritising customers with pain.
  • Arrange to take breaks as necessary.

Help customers with hearing difficulties

  • Provide queuing systems that do not rely on customers’ ability to hear.
  • To help people who lip-read, make sure there is no shadow on your face while you speak.
  • Provide induction loop systems—and test them regularly.
  • Make captions available for videos, and make transcriptions available for audio information.
  • Provide written versions of any audio notices and communications.
  • Allow customers to use text messages and e-mail to make appointments.
  • Provide ISL (Irish Sign Language) interpretation to customers who request it.
  • Make sure that only one person speaks at a time.
  • When working with an interpreter:
    • talk directly to the Deaf person, and not the interpreter
    • Do not ask the interpreter’s opinion
    • Make sure that the interpreter sits next to you and that the Deaf person can see both of you clearly.
  • The Irish Deaf Society have 10 Commandments For Communicating with Deaf Person for situations where a person cannot use ISL or where an interpreter is not present. They are:
    1. Always ask the Deaf person how they want to communicate; never assume.
    2. Make good eye contact. Look directly at the Deaf person. Don’t look away, cover your face, chew gum, or have a pen in your mouth while communicating with a Deaf person.
    3. Ensure the Deaf person is looking at you before you attempt to communicate.
    4. Don’t stand with a light or a window behind you. The light needs to be on your face — if not sure regarding the location, ask the Deaf person.
    5. Be responsive: nod rather than saying “hmmm”. Use gestures, body language and facial expressions to communicate the emotion of a message where appropriate (hint: avoid being overdramatic).
    6. If this Deaf person wants to communicate by speech, you speak clearly and at a slightly slower pace, but don’t shout or over-enunciate mouth movements as this will distort your lip patterns. Keep your head fairly still.
    7. If this person wants to communicate by note-writing, relax and be patient. You are obliged to respect his/her wish [and] respond by writing.
    8. Be prepared to repeat and rephrase information, if necessary (only for basic information); if information is more complicated, book an ISLinterpreter.
    9. Refer to visual information (drawing, diagrams or photographs) during conversations; if the subject is getting complex, book an ISL interpreter.
    10. Best of all: learn some ISL!

Help customers who have sight difficulties or are blind

  • Face the person when you speak to them. Make sure that it is bright enough for them to see you.
  • Provide queuing systems that do not rely on customers’ ability to see.
  • Be prepared to provide information in large print, electronic format, or Braille, as necessary.
  • Present information clearly.
  • Allow customers to request information in a format that suits them.
  • The NCBI (National Council for the Blind of Ireland) have Simple do’s and dont’s, including these hints and tips on ways you can assist a person with vision impairment:
    • Greet a person by saying your name, as he or she may not recognise your voice. Do not ask or expect them to guess who you are, even if they know you.
    • Talk directly to the person rather than through a third party. It’s easier if you know the person with sight loss by name — say their name when you are speaking to them. If you don’t know their name don’t be afraid to ask, as well as giving your own name.
    • Do try to speak clearly, facing the person with sight loss while you do so.
    • In a group situation, introduce the other people present. Address the person with sight loss by name when directing conversation to them in a group situation.
    • If someone joins or leaves the group, tell the person with sight loss that this has happened.
    • Don’t be afraid to use terms like “see you later”. People with sight loss use these expressions too.
    • Before giving assistance, always ask the person first if they would like help, and if they do, ask what assistance is needed. Do not assume what help they need.
    • If a person with sight loss says that they would like to be guided, offer your elbow. Keep your arm by your side and the person with sight loss can walk a little behind you, holding your arm just above the elbow.
    • When assisting, it is helpful to give commentary on what is around the person, for example, “the chair is to your right”.
    • If you are giving directions, don’t point. Give clear verbal directions, for example “the door is to your left”.
    • Don’t assume that because a person can see one thing that they can see everything. If necessary, ask the person if they can see a particular landmark or object.
    • Similarly, don’t assume that a person using a white cane or guide dog is totally blind. Many people with some remaining vision use these.
    • Never distract a guide dog when in harness.
    • Always let a person with sight loss know when you are approaching. A sudden voice at close range when they didn’t hear anyone approach can be very startling. Speak first from a little distance away, and again as you draw closer.
    • If you’ve been talking to a person with sight loss, tell them when you are leaving, so that they are not left talking to themselves.
    • If you have been guiding a blind person and have to leave them, bring them to some reference point that they can feel, like a wall, table or chair. To be left in open space can be disorientating for a person with no vision.
    • Be punctual. Unpunctuality can cause a person with sight loss unnecessary stress. Remember too that the person may not be able to see whether you have arrived.
    • Indoors: To avoid the possibility of someone banging their head, close all doors and cupboards.
    • Outdoors: if you see head-height obstacles ahead of a person using a white cane or guide dog, warn them. A cane cannot locate head-height obstacles and a guide dog might not always be able to do so.
    • If you need to move something in the home of a person with vision impairment, tell the person. If possible, replace the item where it was so that they can find it when you are gone. Remove any hazardous items.

Help customers who are Deafblind

  • Know that:
    • the deafblind alphabet is a system to fingerspell words onto a deafblind person’s hand
    • The deafblind peer advocate is a person whose touch and communication style is known to the deafblind person and who can relay information
    • A deafblind person needs a specialised interpreter who works with the deafblind peer advocate to make sure that the person is understood and understands what is being said
    • The deafblind cane has a red band around the stick
    • Guiding a deafblind person is different from guiding a blind person.
  • Communicate in a way that suits the person’s level of independence and/or need for support.
  • When guiding a deafblind person:
    • approach the deafblind person from the front
    • Speak slowly and clearly; if they do not respond to this, gently place your hand on their shoulder or hand and leave it there giving the person time to respond
    • Keep the person in close to your body, so that they can detect changes in direction
    • When approaching steps, pause slightly before you start to climb
    • Raise or lower your arm slightly to indicate a step in the relevant direction
    • When guiding through a narrow space, pass your guiding arm behind your back and the person will fall in single file behind you
    • When guiding to a chair, place their hand on the back of the chair; some may then locate the chair for themselves while others might like you to guide them further

Help customers with breathing difficulties

  • Provide drop-off points and accessible car parking spaces close to the entrance to your building.
  • Pay attention to air quality.
  • Consider safe evacuation for people who may be overcome early by smoke.

Help customers with speech difficulties

  • Ask the person to help you to communicate with her or him. If the person uses a communication device such as a manual or electronic communication board, ask the person how best to use it.
  • Allow extra time as necessary.
  • Listen attentively. Do not speak for the person. If necessary, ask short questions that require short answers, such as a nod or a shake of the head.
  • Ask the customer to repeat what they have said, if necessary.
  • Do not pretend to understand. Instead, repeat what you have understood and allow the person to respond. The response will guide your understanding.
  • Provide alternative ways of communicating with customers, such as text messages, email, and letter.

Help customers who are anxious or depressed

  • Allow extra time for customers who need it.
  • Allow for customers to bring an advocate, or a friend or family member, to appointments.
  • Show empathy with the customer.
  • Arrange to take breaks as necessary.

Tips for making your information more accessible

  • Consult customers with disabilities to find out what information they need and what formats they want.
  • Use clear, user-focused language.
  • Make sure that relevant staff know how to get alternative formats of information, including Irish Sign Language.
  • Develop and publicise an Accessible Information Policy.