DeMYTHing the disability label further

In last week’s article we started speaking about the label debate of what persons with disabilities are called and what myths go along with these labels. To continue this series of articles further, this week we will look at persons with various disabilities that may find it difficult to communicate. We give easy guidance on what to do and what not to do.

These types of disabilities might be more common as many main stream schools might accept children with these disabilities. There might then be a need then to not only sensitise the staff but also fellow students, on how to communicate better with persons with these types of disabilities. Below we discuss some of the most common ones that can be a good guide to start with:

People with speech disabilities

A person who has had a stroke, is deaf, uses a voice prosthesis or has a stammer or other type of speech disability may be difficult to understand.

  • Do give the person your full attention.
  • Do repeat what they said if you are not sure you understood.
  • Do ask him/her to write down or suggest another way of facilitating communication.
  • Do use a quiet environment to make communication easier.
  • Do pay attention, be patient, and wait for the person to complete a word or thought.
  • Don’t be afraid to communicate with someone who uses pen and paper, an alphabet board or a computer that speaks.
  • Don’t tease or laugh at a person with a speech disability.
  • Don’t interrupt or finish the person’s sentences.

People with learning disabilities

Learning disabilities are lifelong disorders that interfere with a person’s ability to receive, express or process information.

  • Do give them verbal explanations and allow extra time for reading.
  • Do ask the person how you can best relay information.
  • Do keep communication simple.
  • Do allow the person time to tell or show you what he or she wants.
  • Do give extra time for the person to process what you are saying and to respond.  Look for signs of stress and/or confusion.
  • Don’t be surprised if you tell someone very simple instructions and he requests that you write them down.

People with autism

Autism is a lifelong, developmental disability that affects a person’s social and communication skills.

  • Do be patient and understanding.
  • Do keep in mind that they may seem anxious or insecure due to living in a world that misunderstands them.
  • Do keep in mind that everyone is different. These issues will vary from person to person.
  • Don’t get offended by people with autism asking a lot of questions. 
  • Don’t get offended by their communication style which could be frank, honest and matter of fact.
  • Don’t expect eye contact.
  • Don’t speak down to them.
  • Don’t talk too loudly or yell at them.
  • Don’t touch them without warning.
  • Don’t assume that they lack empathy or emotion.

Remember to keep an eye out for more of these articles all form part of a series in preparation of International Day of Persons with Disabilities on 3 December



The label debate: Person with the disability vs Disabled person

We live in a modern world where people like to “label” things and especially one another. We start being labelled for our race when we are born. We then go to school and we are labelled by educators for our academic abilities or by our peers for how “cool” we are.  Once we become an adult we get labelled for how successful we are in possessions, achievements or wealth. For some, this inspire them to achieve more but for many the labelling becomes a burden they carry with them on a daily basis.

Similarly, comes the debate of calling someone a “disabled person” vs a “person with a disability”. Most people will agree that the latter is more acceptable, seeing the person first, and not the disability. Just like many other people who are labelled for various reasons, persons with disabilities have many obstacles to overcome.

One of these obstacles includes that they might find that other people are not always sure how to address them. To assist with this, we will, over the next few posts discuss a few common do’s and don’ts for communicating with persons with various types of disabilities, helping people look at “labels” differently so to eliminate many myths that people relate to them.


Firstly, let us look at persons with physical disabilities i.e. people with mobility needs, visual impairments, hearing impairments as well as people with a short stature:

People who use wheelchair or other mobility devices

People who use wheelchairs have different disabilities, some can use their arms and hands whilst others may be able to get out of their wheelchairs and even walk for short distances.

  • Do keep the ramps and wheelchair accessible doors to your building unlocked and unblocked.
  • Do be aware of a person’s reach limits. Place as many items as possible within their grasp.
  • Do grab your own chair and sit at her level, when talking to a person using a wheelchair.
  • Do have signs that direct people to the accessible routes around the facility. Ensure that security guards and receptionists can answer questions about the most accessible way around the building and grounds, including the location of elevators.
  • Do be aware of architectural barriers such as narrow doorways, stairs, curbs, etc. when giving wheelchair users directions.
  • Do have eye and physical contact with chair users in the same respectful manner you would a person that isn’t in a wheelchair.
  • Don’t lean over someone who uses a wheelchair to shake another person’s hand.
  • Don’t ask a wheelchair user to hold coats.
  • Don’t put your drink on the desktop attached to someone’s wheelchair.
  • Don’t grab people who use canes or crutches because they need their arms to balance themselves. Always ask before offering help.
  • Don’t push, lean on, or hold onto a person’s wheelchair unless the person asks you to.
  • Don’t move the wheelchair out of reaching distance when a person transfers out of the wheelchair to a chair, toilet, car or other object.
  • Don’t classify persons who use wheelchairs as sick.


People who are blind or visually impaired

People who are blind know how to orient themselves and get around on the street. They are competent to travel without assistance, though they may use a cane or a guide dog.

  • Do identify yourself before you make physical contact or start talking to a person who is blind. If a new customer or employee is blind or has low vision, offer him a tour of your facility.
  • Do notify your customers who are blind of the changes if you have changed your facility (i.e., rearranged the furniture).
  • Do offer your arm for assistance—don’t take his/hers—if he/she needs to be guided. People who are blind may need their arms for balance
  • Do walk on the opposite side of a guide dog (where one is used).
  • Do keep walkways clear of obstructions.
  • Do describe the setting while walking with a person with a visual impairment, noting any obstacles, such as stairs (‘up’ or ‘down’) or a big crack in the sidewalk. Other hazards could include: revolving doors, half-opened filing cabinets or doors, and objects protruding from the wall at head level such as hanging plants or lamps. If you are going to give a warning, be specific – “look out” does not tell the person if he should stop, run, duck or jump.
  • Do give specific, non-visual information if you are giving directions e.g. “Walk forward to the end of the room and make a full right.”
  • Do inform the person if you need to leave them and ask if he/she needs anything before you leave.
  • Do offer to read written information—such as the menu, merchandise labels or bank statements—to customers who are blind. Count out change so that they know which bills are which.
  • Do let him/her know where you are plating up on the plate according to a clock orientation (12 o’clock is furthest from them, 6 o’clock is nearest).
  • Do remember for a person with low vision good lighting is important.
  • Don’t touch the person’s cane or guide dog without permission.
  • Don’t assume the person can read Braille, ask the person what alternative format they prefer.

People who are deaf or have hearing loss

Sign language is an entirely different language with a syntax all its own. People who have a hearing loss, however, may rely on amplification and/or seeing the speaker’s lips to communicate effectively. It is helpful to note that the majority of people who sustained a hearing loss as adults do not communicate with sign language and may benefit from writing and listening devices to help improve communication. People with cochlear implants, like other people with hearing loss, will usually inform you what works best for them.

  • Do use a qualified sign language interpreter when the exchange of information is complex (e.g., during a job interview or doctor’s visit or when reporting a crime). For simple information exchange (e.g., ordering in a restaurant or registering for a hotel room) writing back and forth is usually acceptable.
  • Do follow the person’s cues to find out if she prefers sign language, gesturing, writing or speaking.
  • Do look directly at the person who is deaf, and maintain eye contact hen using a sign language interpreter, to be polite. Talk directly to the person (‘What would you like?’), rather than to the interpreter (‘Ask them what they’d like.’).
  • Do include people who are deaf in the decision-making process for issues that affect them; don’t decide for them.
  • Do rephrase, rather than repeat, sentences that the person does not understand.
  • Do use a quiet, well-lit room for effective communication. If you are in front of the light source (e.g., a window) with your back to it, the glare may obscure your face and make it difficult for the person who is hard of hearing to speech read.
  • Do speak clearly. Most people who have a hearing loss count on watching people’s lips as they speak to help them understand.
  • Don’t chew gum, smoke or obscure your mouth with your hand while speaking.
  • Don’t shout. If the person uses a hearing aid, it will be calibrated to normal voice levels; your shout will just distort the words.

People with a short stature

There are various diagnosed types of growth-related disorders that can cause dwarfism and result in the person being very short. For an adult, being treated as cute and childlike can be an obstacle.

  • Do be aware of having necessary items within the person’s reach to the maximum extent possible.
  • Do be aware that persons of short stature count on being able to use equipment that is at their height.
  • Do try to communicate on the same height level.
  • Don’t pet or kiss a person of short stature on the head in a condescending manner.

These are just some of the Do’s and Don’ts to consider, keep an eye out for further suggestions for communicating with persons with disabilities. These articles will form part of our series of articles in preparation of International Day of Persons with Disability on 3 December 2017.




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Google local guides helping people with disabilities

This month there were various  international disability days i.e. World Osteoporosis Day (20 October), World Polio Day (24 October), World Spina Bifida and Hydrocephalus Day (25 October) and World Stroke Day (29 October).

All of these types of disabilities could lead to certain accessibility needs. As a follow-up on the article posted on 18 October 2017, it is good to note what successes have been achieved through Google Local Guides to assist with the accessibility needs of persons with disability. These include that 7 million people joined the effort (0,1% of the total world population). These local guides assisted in answering 51 million accessibility questions of 12 million places globally.

This is great progress in addressing accessibility needs of persons with disability although even more local guides are needed to be able to assist the estimated 700 million people with disabilities.

Below are some videos of testimonies of how the local guides helped people with disabilities get information on accessible places.

Read more on how to get involved and become a local guide:





useful links

Health Calendar 2017

During the year, there are many health awareness days and months to take note off. The Western Cape Department of Health has made a health calendar for this with corresponding organisations to contact.


4 – International Braille Day

SA National Council for the Blind – 012-452 3811

29 – World Leprosy Day

The Leprosy Mission – 021-785 2681/073 470 3185


8 to 14 –  National Epilepsy Week (13 – International Epilepsy Day)

Epilepsy South Africa – 021-556 3753


Intellectual Disability Awareness Month

Cape Mental Health – 021-447 0212
SA Federation for Mental Health –  011-781 1852

3 – World Hearing Day 

21 – International Down Syndrome Day

Down Syndrome Association Western Cape – 021-919 8533

22 – National Rheumatoid Awareness Day

The Arthritis Foundation of SA – 021-425 4759

30 – World Bipolar Awareness Day

SA Federation for Mental Health – 011-781 1852


Health Awareness Month

Heart and Stroke Foundation SA – 021-422 1586

2 – World Autism Day

7 – World Health Day

Heart and Stroke Foundation SA – 021-422 1586

11 – World Parkinson’s Day

Age-in-Action – 021-426 4249


2 – World Asthma Day

UCT Lung Institute – 021-406 6125

10 – National Lupus Awareness Day

The Arthritis Foundation of SA – 021-425 4759

26 – Bipolar Awareness Day

The S.A Depression and Anxiety Group – 011-234 4837


3 – Club Foot Awareness Day

Steps Charity – 021-462 7357/021-462 7857


Psychosocial Disability Awareness Month

Cape Mental Health – 021-447 0212
SA Federation for Mental Health – 011-781 1852

Mental Health Awareness Month

The S.A Depression and Anxiety Group – 011-234 4837

27 – National Osteoarthritis Awareness Day

The Arthritis Foundation of SA – 021-425 2344/4759


21 – National Fibromyalgia Awareness Day

The Arthritis Foundation of SA – 021-425 4759

21 to 27 – National Cerebral Palsy Week

National Association for Persons with Cerebral Palsy – 011-609 3252/082 349 9630


Muscular Dystrophy Awareness Month

Muscular Dystrophy Foundation – 021-592 7306/084 557 1423

National Month of Deaf People

Deaf Federation of South Africa (DEAFSA) – 011-482 1610

Dementia Awareness Month

Dementia SA – 086 0636 679

Alzheimer’s Month (21 – World Alzheimer’s Day)

Alzheimer’s South Africa –  021-979 2724/

9 – International Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders Day (FASD)

SANCA – 021-945 4080


Mental Health Awareness Month (10 – World Mental Health Day)

Cape Mental Health – 021-447 0212
SA Federation for Mental Health – 011-781 1852

12 – World Sight Day

SA National Council for the Blind – 012-452 3811

12 – World Arthritis Day

The Arthritis Foundation of SA – 021-425 4759
Age-in-Action – 021-426 4249

15 – International White Cane Safety Day

SA National Council for the Blind – 012-452 3811

20 – National Down Syndrome Day

Down Syndrome Association Western Cape – 021-919 8533

20 – World Osteoporosis Day

National Osteoporosis Foundation of SA – 021-976 4995

24 – World Polio Day

25 – World Spina Bifida and Hydrocephalus Day

28 October to 3 November – Stroke Week (29 – World Stroke Day)

Heart and Stroke Foundation SA – 021-422 1586


Disability Month

Department of Social Development – 021-483 4015


3 – International Day for Persons with Disabilities

WC Association for Persons with Disabilities – 021-555 2881

Find the full health calendar of 2017 here:

useful links

What schools are available for children with disabilities?

There is a movement within the education sector to focus more on inclusive education but what if your child has special needs that could not be catered for in this manner? Below are some links to find schools for children with disabilities:


Western Cape


useful links

Where can I go for services?

Most persons with disabilities and their families wants hands-on assistance. However, knowing where to go is sometimes an overwhelming reality for many. Below are some links to get you started:


Association for Hearing Loss Accessibility and Development –

Autism SA –

Deafblind SA –

Deaf Federation of South Africa –

Dementia South Africa –

Disabled Children Action Group –

Disabled People South Africa –

Disability Workshop Development Enterprise –

Down Syndrome South Africa –

Ear Institute –

Epilepsy South Africa –

Muscular Dystrophy Foundation of SA –

National Association for People with Cerebral Palsy –

National Council for People with Physical Disabilities in SA –

Primacare –

QuadPara Association of SA –

South African Disability Development Trust –

SA Federation for Mental Health –

SA National Council for the Blind –

South African Social Service Agency (SASSA) –

Transport Users Group of People with Disabilities in SA –

Western Cape

Autism Western Cape –

Cape Hearing Aids –

Cape Town NGO Guide –

Cape Mental Health –

Maitland Cottage Children’s Orthopaedic Hospital –

Red Cross Children’s Hospital (Various clinics) –

Western Cape Government –

Western Cape Association for persons with disabilities –

Western Cape Cerebral Palsy Association –

Western Cape Forum for Intellectual Disability –

Western Cape Rehabilitation Centre –

Eastern Cape

Lake Farm Centre –


Blind & deaf society –

KZN Cerebral Palsy Association –

Wheels on Wings –


Cedar Manor –

Employment Solutions for People with Disabilities –

Gauteng North services to People with Disabilities –

Gauteng Provincial Association for Persons with Disabilities –

I-Can –

Little Eden –

Malamulele Onward –

Pathways –

Sunshine Association –

Shonaquip –

The Living Link –

Vita Nova Centre –

West Rand Association for Persons with Disabilities –


KG Maluleke Memorial Disability Integration Organization –


Mpumalanga Association for Persons with Disabilities –

Free State

Engo –


international, south africa

Using Google Maps for accessibility info

Technology is evolving more and more and people relying more on services such as Google Maps to help them find places such as schools, restaurants and other landmarks within communities.

The need for inclusive communities for persons with disabilities has become a topic of discussion over the past few years. Google Maps decided to call on their Local Guides (people who review places for them) to assist in identifying places in different communities that are accessible to persons in wheelchairs. This would assist not only persons with disabilities but also families of persons using wheelchairs.



Read more on this at:


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Virtual Reality (VR) not just for gamers but also for amputees



Virtual Reality (VR) has become more and more of a household name when it comes to the latest technology. We use it in our computer games. Several professional sectors such as architecture and engineering have used it to help us feel as if we are in a real situation e.g. feeling like we are walking through a castle whilst we are at home.

However, medical science has also now started to look at how VR can be used in their sector. One such way is by using VR as a form of therapy for amputees suffering from phantom limb pain. Many amputees have reported that they  feel as if the limb they lost is still there and that they sometimes feel it itching or pain but that they usually cannot do anything about this because the limb is not physically there to treat. VR, however, can assist with this by “tricking” their brain to believe that the limb is still there and “treating” it.

VR could not only assist amputees but also other  types of disabilities such as patients that suffered strokes and, maybe in the future, other types of therapies within the health sector.


Read the original article here:

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