State Bar of Michigan
Volume 7, Issue 2, April 2012

Committee on Justice Initiatives and Equal Access Initiative Disabilities Project

Disabilities Project Newsletter

Snippets of Information for the Equitable Treatment of Persons with Disabilities
Contributed by the Members of the Equal Access Initiative Disabilities Work Group;
Collected by Lisa P. Lepine, ARC Services of Macomb, Inc.

The members of the Disabilities Work Group have put together the following collection of insights and suggestions for the fair and appropriate treatment of all persons with disabilities in the legal system, including but not limited to judges, attorneys, clients, witnesses, jurors, and staff members. They are also quite suitable in most other settings.

Treat everyone with dignity and respect.

Make sure your office and the available restroom are physically accessible.

Make sure all walkways are kept free of debris. This includes snow, ice, leaves, and uneven or torn carpet—clear walkways are important for many folks!

If providing something in written format to someone with sight challenges, make sure the font is large enough to read easily.

Always use people-first language, i.e., daughter with Down Syndrome rather than Down Syndrome daughter.

Don’t assume that all of your clients have access to the Internet, or that they will be able to navigate the Internet. If you are referring them to a website or making a suggestion to look something up on the Internet, they may be better served if you provided the information to them in writing.

Assume that someone can do something, before you assume that they cannot.

When in doubt, ask.

Treat everyone the same. If you typically refer to your clients using “Mr.” or “Mrs.,” use the same language when dealing with clients who have differing abilities.

If you offer to help someone, wait until your offer is accepted. If you don’t know what to do to help, ask. Wait for the instructions rather than presuming knowledge.

Speak to your client—not the interpreter, not their companion—to your client.

Speak in a normal tone of voice. Speaking louder does not make what you’re saying more understandable.

Never touch a working service dog.

Do not grab at someone to help him/her, whether it is taking a seat, maneuvering through a hallway, or down stairs. Inquire whether the person needs assistance, and proceed to assist as requested.

Do not touch the controls of someone’s wheelchair unless asked to do so.

When working with someone using a wheelchair, try not to stand over him/her. Seat yourself in a chair that allows eye contact.

When dealing with a person who is deaf or hard of hearing in a business setting, be aware of your potential obligation to provide interpretive services or assistive listening devices for that person.

If you do not understand something that someone says to you, do not pretend that you do. Ask that he repeat himself. Repeat back to him what you heard, so that you can be sure you heard him correctly.

Take your time. A little patience goes a long way.

If you are working with someone who uses some form of assistive technology, do not touch the equipment unless you are requested to do so.

When helping people with cognitive impairments, be prepared to assist in completing forms or documentation. It’s a delicate balance between respecting an individual’s ability and assessing his need for assistance. Be patient, ask questions, and offer assistance. Assist when requested.

Allow your client time to process. Be careful that you are not answering for him, or putting your words into his mouth.

Be patient. The most important thing you have to give is your time.

Previous issues of Disabilities Project Newsletter:

Previous editions of this newsletter are online.

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