How can international professionals best address the needs of persons with disabilities? It all begins with communication, and that means being direct, asking questions, and using disability-positive language.
- Be direct. People with disabilities are used to answering questions about their disabilities. Especially when determining accommodations and other logistics, it may be necessary to ask disability-related questions to ensure that the program runs smoothly. Include the individual in all “what if” discussions and accessibility planning.
- Don’t assume. Two people with similar disabilities may use different accommodations and have completely different needs. For example, one person who is deaf may use sign language interpreters while another may use lip-reading and CART translation services. The best way to avoid assumptions is to ask questions, use accommodation forms to guide the conversation, and work directly with people on their individual needs.
- Avoid paternalism. Professionals are experts on the international programs they run, while people with disabilities are experts on their own strengths and limitations. While it is appropriate to inform people with disabilities of potential challenges on an exchange program, it isn’t appropriate to decide for them whether or not they can address those challenges.
- Use disability-positive language. It is fine to say “person with a disability,” but terms like “challenged” and “the disabled” have fallen out of favor. Avoid negative terms such as “afflicted,” “victim,” or “confined.” For example, it is inappropriate to say a person is “confined to a wheelchair” or “wheelchair-bound.” The appropriate term is “wheelchair user” or “uses a wheelchair.