DOMINIC COSTABIR, Director, Hospitality Training Institute, shares suggestions on training your service team to handle the differently abled.
An air hostess speaks badly to a differently abled sportswoman and deservedly attracts flak for herself and the airline and an article in TOI. It has happened at restaurants and hotels too but while it's nothing new it is totally avoidable. Staff unfortunately are not sensitised and make the mistake of either treating the person and his/ her family in a patronising manner or by being totally oblivious to their needs. Which one is worse? Your guess is as good as mine.
Train your service team to handle the differently abled
1. Behave naturally: Smile and greet just like you would anyone. It may be difficult to do it as we may be thrown off balance by the sight or nature of disability. But the last thing you want to do is look sad, traumatised or disturbed.
2. Communication: No baby talk or singsong style of speaking. Avoid patronising body language and overacting. Listen carefully and patiently. In the case of cerebral palsy or autistic people they cannot speak coherently but in most cases, they understand clearly. If you find it difficult to understand, ask their companion to help, using phrases like, ‘I'm sorry I'm not able to get that’ or ‘Would you help me out here?’
3. Physical Contact and Distance: They often prefer to be independent and feel offended that you thought they needed assistance. Look for body language (their own or companion’s) that suggests assistance is welcome. Always ask for permission - ‘May I assist?’ Definitely don't rush over or yell for help - it's not an emergency or accident that just happened. Avoid all unsolicited physical contact.
Caution: There is a technical/ specific way to help them stand, sit, lift and move; if you are not trained don't do it. Doing it wrong may injure them or/ and yourself. Always announce what you are going to do. Eg. ‘I will be helping you stand’.
4. Personal Questions, Sympathy or Comparisons: Avoid questions related to the history or status of the disability. They don't need the reminder and you don't need their story to be hospitable.
No sympathy - ‘Oh so sad!’ They prefer being treated like everyone else.
Don’t compare – ‘I have a distant relative who also...’
5. Don’t assume they have a tough life: Avoid statements like ‘You are great?’, ‘I couldn’t do what you are doing?’. While they have certain restrictions other aspects of their life are rewarding and they are trained to focus on what they can do; not what they can't do. Their attitude may be inspiring but a reference to it is avoidable since you hardly know them.
Tip: Even when out of earshot don't refer to them as, ‘The one in the wheelchair’ and definitely don't say anything demeaning. Firstly, it is rude and secondly, such behaviour would offend another guest who would object at your outlet or online.
Some terms for the differently abled
1. Cognitive Disorder - Mental or thinking problems like Alzheimer’s (memory loss) in adults. In children it shows up as slow learning and slow speech. Difficulty in speaking
2. Autism - Intellectual disability, difficulties in motor coordination and attention and physical health issues
3. Aurally impaired – Deaf
4. Visually challenged – Blind
5. Down Syndrome – Flat facial features, small nose, tongue usually sticks out
Image used for representational purpose only