The illusion of disability

It is human nature to look for things that are not present. We tend to see what we do not have instead of what we do have. It is also within societal norms to analyse situations, people and phenomena on what is lacking instead of what is present. Most of us have experienced some form of discrimination due to this type of thinking. You are either too young, too old, the wrong ethnic group, social class or seen as a liability due to your disability.

In academia, many theorists such as Amartya Sen’s Capability approach and the World Health Organization’s International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health (ICF) have argued for looking at what is present within a persons (i.e. their capabilities or functionings) and how society plays a role in either enabling or disabling a person in participating in everyday life. This argues that a person’s inability to participate in everyday activities are not solely influenced by their medical condition. The inclusion of persons with disabilities in different sectors such as education and employment have been a priority worldwide. The initiatives taken by the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and supporting organisations from around the world have lead to many breakthroughs in transforming a more inclusive society.

However, due to our inherent way of thinking about what is absent instead of what is present, this has been a challenge still. Although it is important to acknowledge change in policies for the inclusion of persons with disabilities, the implementation thereof now needs to be addressed. Policies are only on paper and for real transformation to happen, people and society’s way of thinking also need to change. Many role players such as organisations and policy makers have lobbied for including persons with disabilities but they cannot enforce change by themselves and need the assistance of persons like you and me.

That being said, it would require us to go against our inherent way of thinking on what is absent, rather than on what is present. On this note, we refer to the image below of an optical illusion that has been widely used. We are all familiar with optical illusions. As children, we often played with optical illusions, which many scientists have argued develops our brain’s perception. At first glance an optical illusion shows you one image but upon closer inspection one could see another image, sometimes even more beautiful than the one seen at first glance. This way of looking at one image from a different angle in order to uncover another image also needs to happen within the transformation of disability inclusion.


When looking at how disability is sometimes still assessed within different sectors where inherent thinking of absenteeism is present, often companies looks at what it would cost them (i.e. what they will lose) to include a person with a disability rather than focusing on how this inclusion could contribute to the company (i.e. what would be gained). Educational institutions are also sometimes guilty of this when they first think towards cost of inclusion rather than what would be gained.

Building onto this argument, a practical example could be given. If an accountant falls and breaks his/her arm, does that consequentially impact his/her ability to fulfill his/her role as an accountant? Most people will argue “No, he/she would be able to adapt and still fulfill his/her role as required”. If, within the same company, an accountant applies for a position but he/she is in a wheelchair, would that consequentially impact his/her ability to fulfill his/her role as an accountant? Now, the answer often does not come so easy with many people. Suddenly the ability to adapt to fulfill the role required does not seem so possible. This is but one example to consider but there are many more like this, within different sectors and different scenarios.

As stated before, it is human nature to look for what is absent rather than what is present but for true transformation of inclusion of persons with disabilities to succeed, we need to rethink our own way of thinking by starting to focus on what is present and not what is absent. Referring back to the image of optical illusion used earlier, when we change our way of thinking about the ability within a person rather than the disability, we might just be able to uncover an image that is more beautiful than the one we saw first.

Photo credit: World For All Campaign (Photographer Amol Jadhav)

article, useful links

Disability Awareness: Deaf or Hearing Impaired (Animated Video)

Inform@bility is aimed at providing information on disability-related topics to persons with disabilities and their families. In doing so, it is also aimed at raising awareness on disability and the related challenges faced by persons with disabilities and their families.

In order to understand these challenges, persons that do not have lived experience might need to be sensitized on experiences of persons with disabilities.

Below is a short film on the experience of a person with a hearing impairment:

Credit: Jason Marino & Craig Kitzmann

article, international, south africa

Stars and Stripes, all so bright – a story of traveling with a disability

During the holidays I was fortunate enough to go traveling in the US, as a South African tourist and I was completely amazed at how most businesses are focused on ensuring that they are accessible to people with disabilities. 

The trip started at the airports where full assistance was given to persons in wheelchairs with a porter ensuring that you are at the correct terminal at the right time. They even assisted with checking in.

From the airport, we were greeted by taxis that have now been replaced by vehicles that are more accessible for persons in wheelchairs and can host wheelchairs as well. Trains and buses had specific seats allocated for persons with disabilities as well. Most of the subways also had elevators, not only stairs, so to assist with accessibility. 

As we started our traveling, we found that the majority of businesses had alternative entrances that are accessible to wheelchair users and in public spaces where ramps were steep, there were warnings as well.

We were amazed during our trip to see how the country had made a conscious decision to include persons with disabilities in everyday life. Yes, there were cases where improvements could be made but overall it really felt that persons with disabilities had become more of a priority and it made our trip even more spectacular. 

article, useful links

Informability Challenge: Make 2018 a year of disability advocacy and inclusion

On 3 December we celebrated World Day of Persons with Disabilities. This day has been celebrated since 1992 but still it seems that there are many gaps within disability sensitisation, inclusion and advocacy.

Although a lot of progress has been made in disability-related issues such as health care, employment and inclusion, there is still room for improvement. This can only be done with the collaboration of all the different sectors as well as community members.

One of Informability’s aims is to make information accessible to people who might otherwise not have had access to this. In order to help address this, we created a calendar marking all the international disability awareness days, complete with some information as well about these disabilities. The calendar challenges people to use 2018 to be advocates for disability themselves with a monthly advocacy challenge. The calendar also has a simplistic image each month indicating a disability-related topic or etiquette. The purpose of these are to not only provide information to adults who can read the facts but also to provide information to children (which they then can colour in as well).

The calendar is a free downloadable template to everyone. Please print, share and use to assist us in bridging the gaps within disability related issues. Let’s make 2018 a year of inclusion and not exclusion.

Click here to download:

Disability Awareness Calendar


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.




article, international, south africa

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: