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If We Are Talking About Inclusion, Speaking To Me Would Be A Great Start!

Written by: Dave Bahr, Diversity Equity And Inclusion Panel

 

If we want to start a conversation about diversity, equity, and inclusion, speaking to the individual you’re attempting to include is a great start! I have a very visible disability: I am totally blind from birth and use a cane. So, allow me to share some of the insight I have gained from my experiences where inclusion fell a bit short of the goal.

A brightly lit airport terminal with signs notating areas for Flight Information, Visual Announcements, and Baggage Carts along the left wall and gates 5B through 5E along the right wall. A young woman assists a young man who is blind and using a cane to navigate.

In one situation, I was traveling through an airport with a friend acting as my guide. When going through security, instead of addressing me directly, the Transportation Security Administration officer looked at my sighted friend and asked, "Can he follow instructions?" To which I replied with a simple, "Yes, yes, he can." This particular officer actually laughed, realizing her mistake, and she then began addressing me directly. Oh, how I wish that had been the case for the countless times this sort of thing has happened to me in the past.


I travel a lot. I've been on many flights by myself. But more often than not, if I've had someone guiding me through security, the officer addresses the person guiding me instead of talking to me directly. There seems to be this common assumption that just because someone is blind or needs assistance, they cannot hear or comprehend what is being said to them. I find this happens most often in airports and medical environments, and I would like to offer some insight into why I believe this happens.


What we are dealing with here is a simple thing: a fear of the unfamiliar. To use the example above, the airport security officer saw me as someone unfamiliar. Unlike the vast majority of the people she interacts with daily, I have a cane and cannot make eye contact, seeing as my eyes don't work. So instead of speaking to me, the security officer did what she thought was the next best thing. She noticed I had someone helping me and made eye contact with them. Then, once that normality had been established, she instinctively addressed my guide instead. This is why I was then talked about in the third person, as an attempt to find grounding and something familiar in order to counterbalance something she found unfamiliar.


My response to the TSA agent, while perhaps a bit on the sarcastic side, was purposefully given in the third person to emphasize that, yes, indeed, I could follow instructions, and I could also hear and speak for myself. I could have answered in the first person but chose not to so as to give extra weight to the faux pas made by the security officer. It worked, honestly. And all it took was a bit of well-timed humor to get the point across.


I do not get angry that easily. It takes a lot to offend me. But talking about me in the third person to someone who is guiding me always feels offensive. I have to check my anger at the door, though, because anger won't solve anything. Instead, I used not-so-subtle humor to confront the problem. I spoke up. I have a voice. I have ears that hear and a brain that comprehends language.


So, what do we do about the problem of addressing an individual who looks different than you?


I approach this with a simple formula: Stop, look, and listen. All three of these steps can be done quickly and efficiently in one’s own mind and done in rapid succession:

  • Stop. Take a mental moment to acknowledge that you have been confronted with a situation that might be unfamiliar to you, one that may require some tactical maneuvering.

  • Look. Look at the person approaching you. Not in a way that dehumanizes them, but in a genuine way that allows you to acknowledge their differences, whatever they might be, and the fact that they are still living, breathing humans.

  • Listen. Listen to both the person speaking to you, who is different and also to your internal voices, which might be saying something like, "Oh no! A person who is different from me, what do I do? How do I approach this situation?" Take those questions and morph them into statements. "This person is different than I am. I will talk to them as though they are like me."

See? That doesn’t sound so difficult, does it? Stop, look, and listen. It's so simple and so quick. I challenge you, reader, to do it the next time you encounter someone who is different from you. It won't take more than a few seconds and will become second nature after doing it for a while.


Thanks for reading! I hope that the example given here and the solution prescribed have been of value.


Follow Dave on Facebook and Linkedin. You can also visit his website for more info.




 

Dave Bahr, Diversity Equity And Inclusion Panel

Dave Bahr is an author, speaker, and comedian focused on demystifying the public's perception of interacting with people with disabilities. As founder of In-Sightful Living, Dave works as an accessibility consultant, aiding organizations to enhance their systems, environments, events, and cultures to support people with disabilities. Blind from birth, he teaches that having a disability is not a hindrance but an asset. His book, Prave: the Adventures of the Blind and the Brittle, is an Amazon 1 bestseller and has received awards from the Colorado Independent Publishers Association. His coaching program Stop Look and Listen is a new and innovative approach to helping people perceive their strengths through deep focus and concentrated analysis. Dave enjoys listening to and discussing music and taking in baseball games on the radio when not advocating or coaching.

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