Compassionate and empathetic communication is vital now more than ever. This is especially true for those who work with vulnerable populations. Adults with physical and intellectual disabilities are people too, but have often faced degrading mistreatment in the past.
Fortunately, direct support professionals care for those they serve a great deal and always strive to help people with disabilities live happy and fulfilling lives.
For direct support professionals, being patient, kind and empathetic are important skills to doing the job well; part of that revolves around the way they communicate.
The power of person-centered language
The way we speak to people with disabilities can substantially impact their well-being, no matter the intention. Many people with disabilities are able to communicate and key in to people’s behavior and want to feel heard and understood. By using person-centered language, we can treat them how they deserve to be treated: like human beings.
But what exactly is person-centered language? It’s the words we use to describe and interact with people around us, no matter who they are. It’s the words we use to help people feel empowered and capable to do what they love and live life to the fullest. Because at the end of the day, a person’s character is what defines them, not their physical or intellectual disability.
When communicating with individuals who have disabilities, person-centered language can make a world of difference for both you and them. Here are a few ways you can implement person-centered language when working with others:
- Ask the person how they’d like to be referred to: Depending on who you’re caring for, some may understand what their condition is, others may not. No matter the circumstance, you should always ask how someone wants to be addressed. For instance, when speaking to or about vulnerable adults, you want to put the person ahead of their disability. Their disability may be visible or noticeable and impact multiple aspects of their lives; however, they are human beings above all else. Moreover, there may be other instances where an individual wants to use their disability as an adjective. For example, some people with autism may prefer to be called autistic. That’s because some may consider their autism as an integral part of their identity that can’t be separated from them.
- Avoid using a patronizing tone: Many vulnerable adults have to endure people talking down to them, which can be very demeaning. When people reinforce stereotypes that someone with a disability or limitation is inferior to others, it can create barriers and diminish their quality of life. Thus, it’s crucial to think about how you say things or what you do, even if you have good intentions. You can avoid patronizing someone by asking them if they want help before giving it or not making assumptions about a person’s capabilities.
- Actively listen to what they have to say: This may be common courtesy, but it’s especially imperative when you’re speaking to someone with a disability. In some cases, a person with a disability may have difficulty communicating their needs, so it’s important to listen attentively and wait for the individual to finish speaking. If you don’t understand what’s been said, ask for clarification in a way that is calm and polite.
The way we speak matters
Many people become direct support professionals because they want to lend a helping hand to others. And one of the best ways to extend that help is by effectively communicating with them. No matter who we are, how we look, or what our story is, we all deserve to be treated like human beings, regardless of our limitations.
Are you interested in using your compassion and empathy to become a direct support professional? Check out our website today.