Reflecting on recent experiences, the following blog makes some suggestions about how to work effectively with disabled people. I say with deliberately, as above all in order to be effective, any service provided for disabled people must be provided in collaboration with them. In this day and age, it is not acceptable for disabled people to be ‘done to’ as merely passive recipients of a service over which they have no say, choice or control. This blog is intended to help service providers in all manner of social care settings and beyond.
In this blog, I’ve focussed more on the principles of service provision rather than specific nuts and bolts, but will happily expand if asked to do so. Feel free to get in touch if you have a particular question.
What not to do
- Make Assumptions – the first and probably most fundamental thing that is needed is to engage with someone without having made your mind up first. In a spectacular example, a hospital consultant was shocked to find Fran attending a medical appointment on her own and asked where her carer was! As someone with a first class degree (which is better than mine, as she often reminds me!) she was both shocked and offended. Don’t assume. Get to know the person.
- Have values and then don’t live up to them – The values of the organisation you are engaging with are key. They set expectations and should establish the tone. When I looked up the values for the wheelchair service we are dealing with they were listed as “care, innovation and compassion with fun.” I did a double take and wondered if this was ironic – as the experience to date has been the precise opposite in every sense. What is the point of having values when you don’t live up to them? At best it is unhelpful, at worst it looks cynical and destroys trust.
- Be inaccessible – This one works on lots of different levels including a) Physically – If I can’t get into your service then I won’t be able to use it b) Practically – life is busy so when providing a service for busy people doing things like giving all day appointment windows is not helpful in the least c) in terms of quality assurance – so many services have complaints procedures that are difficult to engage with and providers miss out on valuable feedback as a result.
What to do
- Listen – Listen to what your customers tell you. If you do that and work with them, this will go a long way to ensuring that a service is provided that a) meets the needs of the needs of the customer and b) leaves them satisfied with the result so chances are that c) they will have faith in what you do and how you do it. In so many instances, this basic act of listening doesn’t happen and I find this mystifying, especially when people wonder why the outcome or service provided hasn’t met the mark.
- Learn – Be prepared to learn with your customers and do things differently. This may entail doing things a bit differently on both parts and learning as you both go – but through the act of working together and learning from each other, both provider and customer will be better off as a result. Most importantly is learning where things have gone wrong and how to make them better. Generally, unless we’re talking utter gross negligence, its ok to make mistakes in order that things are done better next time.
- Have flexibility – I love a good process and set of rules as much as the next person, but sometimes those rules need to be adopted for good reason. A recent example is Fran’s wheelchair, where the cost of adapting the house and the time spent with professionals to date as a result has cost more than what was being asked for (with good reason) with little progress made. With flexibility (and dare I say it, common sense!) there can often be better outcomes achieved in a more efficient way.
With a bit of thought, providing a good service for disabled people is totally doable and there are loads of examples of good practice out there. An example of this is The Crucible Theatre in Sheffield. Fran and I have been there on two occasions for the Snooker World Championships. Here the staff are engaging, polite and well trained. They talk with you and are helpful, without being patronising or intrusive. The facilities are good and designed with thought for the needs of disabled customers. As a result, we’re eagerly anticipating our third visit already.
The moral of the story? Provide a good service with care and thought and everybody wins.