Invisible Disabilities: 80% of Disabled People Are Concerned!

Invisible Disabilities: 80% of Disabled People Are Concerned!

People with invisible disabilities partying

Invisible Disabilities: 80% of Disabled People Are Concerned! 

Having a disability = using a wheelchair. That’s one persisting cliché! Actually, only 2% of people with disabilities are wheelchair users but 80% have invisible disabilities! What we mean by “invisible disabilities” is an unnoticed disability at first glance, that is to say when the person in question hasn’t made their difficulties known. What are the types of invisible disabilities? How can you identify them? What are the best practices to best welcome people with invisible disabilities at public venues? Follow the guide, we’ll explain everything!

Several types of invisible disabilities

Although we usually arrange them in main categories, there are as many disabilities as people with disabilities. The same holds true for invisible disabilities! They include most sensory disabilities (visual and hearing impairments), most of the mental and psychological impairments, cognitive disabilities and a lot of chronic diseases generating incapabilities.

In concrete terms, the following situations are part of invisible disabilities:

Hearing impairment,

Visual impairment,

Certain forms of autism,

Bipolar disorders,

Alzheimer’s disease,

People with a heart condition,

Dyslexia,

People with post-traumatic-disorders (war veterans or terrorist attack survivors), etc.

A lot of elderly people have an invisible disability, some may even have several.

Illiteracy is also a cause of invisible disability, even though it’s rarely acknowledged as such by the administration. According to the U.S. Department of Education, 54% of adults between 16 and 74 years old lack proficiency in literacy. That represents around 130 million people who can read below the equivalent of a sixth-grade level. Illiteracy has direct consequences on people’s quality of life and their integration into society.

Invisible disabilities creates multiple difficulties

The consequences of having an invisible disability vary according to the type of disability and its severity. Having disabilities can lead to being easily tired, having attention deficit disorders, difficulties to take initiatives or to put up a strategy, memory disorders.

Many people with invisible disabilities prefer not to disclose their disabilities. Some even feel ashamed because of them. This is due to the fact that being different is often regarded as a problem by relatives or work relations. Sometimes invisible disabilities can have an impact on our intimacy. For example, those with Crohn’s disease have to use the bathroom very often. Endometriosis also has a strong impact on the everyday lives of women with it. More than 6 million women have endometriosis in the U.S.

Contrary to people whose disabilities are obvious, people with invisible disabilities are often suspected to lie or to be lazy. They’re more likely to be misunderstood, laughed at or insulted. Their specific needs are rarely taken into account. However, many of them are legitimately entitled to use a parking space for people with reduced mobility (PRM), to ask for a seat at public transportation or to have priority in a line.

A lot of invisible disabilities have variable manifestations according to the situation, the events, the fatigue people feel or their mood. These fluctuations increase how misunderstood people with invisible disabilities may be by their relatives. Consequently, they have to make more of an effort to adapt which makes them much more tired. 

How can you best welcome people with invisible disabilities?

The tricky part is that by definition invisible disabilities aren’t obvious. In order to provide people with invisible disabilities with the best possible welcome, it’s important you build a climate of trust so that your visitors can freely express their specific needs. To do that, you can directly ask them: “Do you need anything in particular?”. This can be a seat to wait, some help to fill up a document, a handwritten note with the main directions to follow to get to a place or any other action that will enable them to better have access to your services.

A good thing to set up: make sure to systematically provide a field in all your subscription forms for people to express their specific needs.

And also make sure not to judge particular demands and to leave behind any negative prejudices you may have. As we said earlier, people with invisible disabilities mostly suffer from being accused of lying or taking advantage. Keep a positive and respectful attitude in all circumstances! For any situation, you can use our 7 Tips to Welcome a Person with Disabilities.

To conclude, invisible disabilities are far from being uncommon. Always keep in mind that the person you’re talking to may have specific needs you may not have thought of at first. By remaining open-minded and by listening to them without judging, you give them the opportunity to express themselves. Thus you’re more likely to meet their needs and to make them have access to the services your venue provides more easily!

Published on August 6th, 2021

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People with invisible disabilities sitting on a bench at the beach

Having disabilities can lead to being easily tired, having attention deficit disorders, difficulties to take initiatives or to put up a strategy, memory disorders.

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Lise Wagner

Lise Wagner

Accessibility Expert

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The French leading company

on the accessibility market.

For more than 25 years, we have been developing architectural access solutions for buildings and streets. Everyday, we rethink today’s cities to transform them in smart cities accessible to everyone.

By creating solutions ever more tailored to the needs of people with disabilities, we push the limits, constantly improve the urban life and make the cities more enjoyable for the growing majority.

Disability Pride Month: What Is It and Why Is It Important?

Disability Pride Month: What Is It and Why Is It Important?

People celebrating with confettis

Disability Pride Month: What Is It and Why Is It Important?

July celebrates Disability Pride Month! A month to support and raise awareness on disability. It gives people with disabilities an opportunity to be seen and heard. Obviously, everybody has their own experiences but this type of celebration enables them to have a sense of community and to assert their rightful place in society.

Inclusion isn’t something trendy to please millennials but is meant to stay! Thanks to initiatives like Disability Pride Month, people with disabilities can gain more visibility and be more included in society. 

Let’s see what it entails exactly and why it’s so important!

What is Disability Pride Month?

It all started when the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) passed in 1990 under George H.W Bush’s presidency. Its goal is to prevent discrimination based on disability. Thanks to this law, accessibility barriers are being removed at public venues such as museums or shopping malls and also public transportation like subways or airports. The law even requires web accessibility. Plus it also advocates employment for people with disabilities. 

Riding the wave of enhancing visibility for people with disabilities, the city of Boston held the first Disability Pride Day in 1990. A lot of cities followed their lead like San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Antonio and New York City but the event wasn’t nationally recognized.

We had to wait for New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio to establish July as Disability Pride Month in 2015. The year marked the ADA’s 25th anniversary so it was the perfect way to honor it! “By designating July as Disability Pride Month, we are celebrating and commending the fierce advocacy of those who have fought for equal rights for decades and reaffirming our strong commitment to making New York City the most accessible city in the world”, said Mayor de Blasio.

Advocating for disability rights is an everyday battle but having a whole month dedicated to them is in itself a victory. The event fosters accessibility and inclusion! After all, there are 1 billion people with disabilities in the world. But everybody’s concerned: we are all getting older and may face reduced mobility or disease generating incapacities  in the future. And most of all, as human beings living in this world and cohabitating, shouldn’t we be more comprehensive and empathetic towards the issues some (a lot) of us may face?  

Disability Pride Month consists in various activities: parades in a few cities, educational and artistic events and smaller community celebrations. But it takes on its full meaning when it starts a conversation through countless articles on the events, testimonies of disability rights activists and people with disabilities on social media with #DisabilityPrideMonth. That’s what truly matters!

Why is it important to talk about disability?

The Disability Pride Month is spreading on all social media platforms. Meaning that people with disabilities take charge and start a conversation on their disabilities and their everyday lives issues. And what’s better than a person having a disability to explain what it entails, how they’ve accepted it and own it? People with disabilities may feel rejected or ashamed not to be able as others. By making their voices heard, they embrace their disabilities as a positive force. The National Council on Independent Living even designed a Disability Pride Toolkit and Resource Guide.

Such visibility during a whole month creates bridges among all communities: people from all walks of life and different profiles can share their own experiences. This enables to raise disability awareness: people who aren’t directly concerned by disability but who would like to know more. Plus at some point, we all can encounter a person with disabilities at work or in the streets. It can be very helpful to know the issues they face! 

Shedding some light on disability with such an initiative enables to enforce positive takes on people with disabilities: they adapt, they persevere, they show optimism, they’re resourceful, resilient…

How can you be involved?

Maybe at some point, you’ve said “there are no people with disabilities living in my city” to which we’d tell you: “look again”. Did you know that 80% of disabilities are invisible? This concerns hearing impaired people, people on the autism spectrum, people with chronic diseases generating incapacities like Crohn’s disease, people with PTSD… This means you’ve probably already encountered a person with a disability without necessarily being aware of it. It’s normal to feel uncomfortable and awkward as you may not know how to behave around them. But the most important thing to know is that you just have to treat people with disabilities as equals. We’ve come up with 7 Tips to Welcome a Person with Disabilities that work every time! 

Next time you meet someone with a disability, just say hi and talk to them. Just be yourself and take the time to know them as individuals. You’ll see that you’ll gradually remove stigmas you may have first had on people with disabilities. Starting a conversation is simple but this can make a difference.

And if you want to do more, you can always look up and get more information on disability whether by reading on the subject or by checking out disabled activists and community leaders. It takes all of us to create an accessible and inclusive world!

We hope that this article on Disability Pride Month will help you start a conversation! Whether with your friends and relatives, your employees or your neighbors! And not only in July. Removing accessibility barriers is an everyday mission!

Published on July 30th, 2021

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A wheelchair user is pushed by a friend at the beach

Such visibility during a whole month creates bridges among all communities […] This enables to raise disability awareness.

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Carole Martinez

Content Manager junior

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The French leading company

on the accessibility market.

For more than 25 years, we have been developing architectural access solutions for buildings and streets. Everyday, we rethink today’s cities to transform them in smart cities accessible to everyone.

By creating solutions ever more tailored to the needs of people with disabilities, we push the limits, constantly improve the urban life and make the cities more enjoyable for the growing majority.

Should We Say “Hybridization” or “Inclusion” Regarding People with Disabilities? | Interview of Gabrielle Halpern, Doctor of Philosophy

Should We Say “Hybridization” or “Inclusion” Regarding People with Disabilities? | Interview of Gabrielle Halpern, Doctor of Philosophy

Differents groups of people walking on the streets

Should We Say “Hybridization” or “Inclusion” Regarding People with Disabilities? | Interview of Gabrielle Halpern, Doctor of Philosophy

As accessibility experts, we often talk about inclusion to explain that our society should be built to suit the needs of everybody, regardless of their abilities or disabilities. We came across an article* by French Doctor of Philosophy, Gabrielle Halpern, in which she entirely rejects the term “inclusion” to favor “hybridization”. Indeed, we were appalled at discovering that the etymology of the word “inclusion” didn’t exactly match our values… 

But should we use the term “hybridization” instead? Gabrielle Halpern has been doing some research about this particular notion that comes from the figure of the centaur: the mythological creature from Ancient Greece, half-human and half-horse. When Dr Halpern states that we are all centaurs, she means that we are all hybrids: we all are several different things. This implies that we are not made to fit in society’s norms but that society should embrace our diversity, our hybridization. This can make it stronger and definitely better.

Discovering that “inclusion” may not be the best word to use when we talk about accessibility, we asked Dr Halpern to tell us more about hybridization. Let’s dive into this fascinating subject! You’ll probably find out you are a centaur too (and that’s great)! 

Hello Gabrielle Halpern, can you introduce yourself in a few words?

I’m a centaur! More precisely, I have a PhD in Philosophy. I graduated from Ecole Normale Supérieure (French research university) and I currently work as a research fellow there. Simultaneously, I worked for several years at different cabinet ministers where I was in charge of forward planning and speeches. Then I joined a startup incubator to work with young entrepreneurs and guide them to develop their activity. And now I advise companies and public institutions while actively pursuing my works in philosophy. I have a foot in each world to try and progressively build bridges between them, – hybridizations –, despite their obvious contradictions and their difficulties to connect together… I define myself as a centaur because this “half-human, half-horse” figure is the ultimate hybridization. This is the reason why I dedicated my philosophy thesis and my essay “Tous centaures ! Éloge de l’hybridation” (only available in French at Le Pommier, 2020) to centaurs. To me, hybridation isn’t just a research project, I intimately live it and I see it as a vision of the world, a society project I wish I could contribute to build. 

We questioned ourselves thanks to an article you wrote in HUFFPOST, “Don’t say ‘inclusion’ anymore when you talk about disabilities”. For us, inclusion means taking into account the specific needs of everybody, including those with disabilities. Why are you opposed to the term “inclusion” and why do you prefer talking about “hybridization”? 

The term “inclusion” is more and more employed but this common noun is derived from the Latin word inclusio which meant “imprisonment”. This referred to the seclusion of hermits and monks. We don’t realize it but this analogy is awful! When a child is born in a family, do we really talk about inclusion, insertion or integration? No we don’t! And there’s a reason for that! When a child is born, everything changes: the balance of power, everybody’s identities, the interactions between all those involved, the external relationships, the way we look and don’t look at each other or even the way we put ourselves in relation to others. There’s no integration, insertion nor inclusion… There’s hybridization! Meaning there’s an encounter that makes everybody step out of themselves. If we go back to the figure of the centaur, – the figure of the ultimate hybridization –, this is precisely what came into play: the human and the horse had to step aside to create this unifying third figure that the centaur is. Yes, the encounter can only take place when all interested parties metamorphose. Concerning people with disabilities, whether they have a physical or intellectual disability, it would be awful to include them, as if they had to be content to have the place we’d grant them,  – taking into account the whole effort they’d provide to adapt  –, as long as it doesn’t interfere with our practices. We need to understand that the real challenge is our ability to accept to step aside and to leave our comfort zone. The disability that the other has, because it’s outside the norm, because it “transgresses” the absurd box we’ve built and lived in, awakens our fear of the unknown. Let’s stop being afraid and let’s hybridize ourselves! By doing this, we’ll metamorphose our management skills, our organizations, our jobs, our recruitments, our professional relationships and our innovations!

Instead of talking of an inclusive society, we should rather talk of a society that’s turning into an hybridization seeing that it’s not just about including all of those who are different, physically or mentally, but to create the conditions of an encounter that enables a reciprocal metamorphosis. At companies, public institutions, schools, colleges and universities, research labs, restaurants, associations and clubs – everywhere! –, it’s urgent not only to give a place to those who don’t fit in our box but to accept to let ourselves be transformed by them. It’s not up to them to fit in our box; it’s us who need to leave our box seeing that after all, we are the ones imprisoned, included, isolated!

Isn’t it paradoxical: societies are actually hybrid (without knowing it) but want to remain homogeneous at all cost?

Your question is very interesting! I’d say that a major part of reality is hybrid. This part gets bigger and bigger and concerns a lot of fields in our lives. Of course, from a biological and cultural point of view, we all are hybrids, – without truly realizing it –, but societies work as silo structures, with independent identities, independent communities, because of this drive towards homogeneity that works both at an individual and collective level. 

A few words on this idea of a “drive towards homogeneity”  that I developed in my research work: in concrete terms, this drive leads us to only keep company with people who look like us, to only be interested in what we already know, to only follow social media accounts that match ours. Thus we build ourselves surrounded by a homogeneous bubble. This drive makes us seek this absurd notion of “purity”; it makes us homogenize everything and everybody we meet so that we don’t have to accept their otherness, their difference. This drive, that can reassure us and give us a feeling of protection, is within everyone of us and it’s difficult to resist it. Everyday we work to fight against it; the boulder of Sisyphus that we constantly have to haul at the mountaintop. Intrinsically, because of our fear of uncertainty, we have an inability to fully and naturally accept singularity, diversity, alterity. In his work, Crowds and Power, one of the greatest European thinkers of the XXth century, Elias Canetti tells us that above all the human being fears being in touch with the unknown, and that all distances, all the behaviors he adopts are dictated by this phobia. It’s only within this standardized mass that he thinks he can be liberated from this phobia. Thus this is what happens: the emergence of communities, groups, founded on an identity principle and whose members are identical to each other. Any element, any person, any odd or heterogeneous idea, is repelled and rejected, because it can be perceived as a threat against this reassuring homogeneity that the group has built and in which it took refuge and imprisoned itself. It’s in accordance with this drive towards homogeneity that the human being has always worshipped identity – from the Latin identitas, “quality of what is the same” – and has always been wary of everything hybrid around him.

How is hybridization a chance for our society? 

First of all, a definition: hybrid embraces what’s heterogeneous, contradictory, blended, imperceptible; it’s everything that doesn’t fit in our box. Hybridization represents the unlikely marriage, that is to say the encounter between things, people, jobs, ideas, worlds that all are radically different. But for this encounter to happen, for hybridization to truly take place, it’s not enough to put them next to each other, we need to work to make their metamorphosis reciprocal.

The world is indeed more and more hybrid and this major tendency concerns almost all the areas of our lives… Take cities for example: revegetation projects are multiplying, urban farms, vegetable gardens, livestock farming on building rooftops are developing to such an extent that the boundary between the city and the countryside tends to become more and more slight. The box “city” is exploding. This hybridization of nature and urbanism takes place in parallel with the one between the products and services provided by companies. If we used to be in an industrial city and now we live in a society of services, it’s becoming difficult today to tell the difference between both. They turn into a hybridization of what we could call a society of practices or a society of relationships. These innovations through hybridization are going to disrupt companies, jobs, fields, markets and the very notion of competition. Schools, colleges and universities, research labs, companies, public administrations are starting, everywhere and more and more, to enhance collaboration; which increases the number of double degrees, confuses job descriptions and jobs and upsets the organizational models and the professional identities. COVID-19 emphasized these hybridizations, metamorphosing our ways to work on-site and remotely. The box “work” needs to be completely rethought. The same applies for objects. They can also form hybridizations: the smartphone, to take the most trivial example, is also an alarm clock, a radio, a scanner and a camera. Paradoxically, it gives us a space/time for leisure and work and it’s all of that at the same time. Regarding territories, we see that “third places” are multiplying: quirky places that regroup economical and services activities, with research, startups, arts and crafts, social innovation or even cultural infrastructures. Besides, companies are more and more aware of their societal responsibility; and social and fair trade economy, the ultimate hybrid economy – since it’s about hybridizing economical logics and social and fair trade logics – could indeed become tomorrow’s economical model. Our ways of buying and doing business also follow this tendency towards hybridization and we see new types of shops emerge where it’s not just about selling and buying, but also playing, improving our knowledge, coming together…

To me, this hybridization we witness represents the positive sign that we’re starting to tame our fear of the unclassifiable and that we’re finally ready to give up our old reassuring categories. The health crisis speeded up even more this tendency. But this tendency was at play even before the virus came into our lives. This hybridization that’s speeding up can make us optimistic regarding the future!

Little by little, we’re starting to realize that hybridization can be a chance for individuals, companies and public institutions, as for society. It makes us better, smarter, less intolerant, less dogmatic, more humble and more agile. My book is an invitation for us to reconcile with reality, thanks to this hybrid way of thinking.

With the digital era, we see that the services provided, the products sold and information are all hyper-personalized. Despite everything, it seems like it all goes in the right direction, isn’t it? 

Indeed now is the time for a tailored-made approach and personalization; the trend becoming more and more about not following the trend. Companies, formed until now by the industrial society, were based on the norm: the herd instinct consumerist approach. Here again, the drive towards homogeneity was at play! It’s the famous quote by Henry Ford: “You can have it in any color you want, as long as it is black.” The whole industry was founded on the belief in homogeneity. But today, things are changing and the car of the future, the truly hybrid car, will be the one designed on singularity; which for me I see as excellent news! Some could think that hyper-personalization is going to reinforce individualism; I’m convinced of the opposite. Individualism often happens when individuals don’t feel respected in their singularity and feel the group is a threat; from the moment when they can finally express it, the group regains meaning. Thus we need to be glad about this weak signal that echoes hybridization: hybridization is the contrary of standardization… In other words, every centaur is unique and this uniqueness is sacred! 

Would you like to say more?

Deep down, we know that we all are centaurs. We’re impossible to grasp, contradictory, quirky, in perpetual metamorphosis… So it’s time to accept ourselves as the centaurs we are! So let’s not be afraid of unlikely marriages: let’s hybridize ourselves and everything! 

Who is Gabrielle Halpern?

She has a PhD in Philosophy. She graduated from École normale supérieure and is currently a research fellow there. Gabrielle Halpern worked at different cabinet ministers, before helping develop startups and advising companies and public institutions. She also has training in theology and exegesis of religious texts. Her research work focuses particularly on the hybrid notion. She is the author of “Tous centaures ! Éloge de l’hybridation” (only available in French at Le Pommier, 2020). (You can visit her website www.gabriellehalpern.com). 

*French article published in HuffPost 

Published on 9th July 2021

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Gabrielle Halpern

We need to understand that the real challenge is our ability to accept to step aside and to leave our comfort zone. The disability that the other has, because it’s outside the norm, because it “transgresses” the absurd box we’ve built and lived in, awakens our fear of the unknown.

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Christine Pestel

Communication Manager

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The French leading company

on the accessibility market.

For more than 25 years, we have been developing architectural access solutions for buildings and streets. Everyday, we rethink today’s cities to transform them in smart cities accessible to everyone.

By creating solutions ever more tailored to the needs of people with disabilities, we push the limits, constantly improve the urban life and make the cities more enjoyable for the growing majority.

8 Tips to Welcome a Person with a Physical Disability

8 Tips to Welcome a Person with a Physical Disability

A wheelchair user

8 Tips to Welcome a Person with a Physical Disability

You’re peacefully sitting behind your reception desk when a wheelchair user comes to you. No need to panic, even with a physical disability, this person probably has similar demands as any other visitors. Staying open-minded and using common sense, you’ll be able to best assist them and lead them to the services they’re interested in. And to make sure not to make a blunder, keep in mind this precious series of advice!

What’s a physical disability?

The services dedicated to people with a physical disability are often identified with the wheelchair logo. But people with a physical disability or reduced mobility encounter a lot of different situations. This disability concerns people with motor function impairments, meaning they’ve lost some or all of their motor skills. This can affect their legs, arms or the rest of their body. People with a physical disability may find it difficult to get around or to perform manual tasks. Having a physical disability can also impact their speech without changing their ability to understand. 

To make sure you’re providing a person with a physical disability the best possible experience, start by following our 7 Tips to Welcome a Person with Disabilities! They work every time!

And now, let’s see some specific advice!

 #1 Lead your customers with a physical disability towards the priority line

Staying in a line can be extremely exhausting for people with a physical disability, especially for those who have difficulty standing. Bearing their weight on stilts or on a walker can be tiring. If they haven’t seen it, make sure to let them know where the priority line is.

#2 Offer a seat

If people who have difficulty standing still need to wait in line, make sure to offer them a seat. But stay careful so that no one jumps the line. It would be a shame for people with a physical disability to wait longer just because they’re sitting apart. 

#3 Put yourself at their level to easily communicate with them

If you need to discuss at length with a person with a physical disability, it would be better for you to sit down. You’d be at the same level as them and would avoid yourself with a stiff neck. This situation would be much more comfortable for both of you. For front desks to be accessible, they should all have a lowered counter. This enables a direct visual contact with wheelchair users and people of small stature. If your front desk doesn’t have a lowered counter, don’t hesitate to go around it.

#4 Opt for an optimized route

If you need to tell a person with a physical disability how to reach a service your venue provides, be careful to choose an itinerary without any obstacles. Lead them to where the elevators and automatic doors are located. Make sure the route doesn’t have any steps, steep slopes nor loose or slippery ground.

#5 Offer to help

The emphasis is on “offering” and not “imposing”! But if the chosen route shows difficulties (steep slope, high threshold, loose ground, crossfall…), your help will probably be welcome. If for that you need to push a wheelchair user, just wait until they’ve agreed to it. Don’t lean on their wheelchair, it’s like an extension of their body! Choose the less bumpy routes, avoid abrupt movements and tell them beforehand the maneuvers you need to do. To pass a step or a rise, turn the wheelchair around, slightly tilt it and gently pull it towards you.

#6 Deploy the access ramp

If the venue you work in isn’t accessible at ground level nor equipped with a permanent access ramp, a removable ramp for wheelchair users can be easy to use. It needs to have a call button at the level of the entrance door so that people who need it can make their presence known. We recommend you to be familiar with how this ramp works in order for you to be prepared should the need arise.

#7 Be patient

A person who has a physical disability may have slower movements than average. Avoid showing any impatience, this could make them feel more anxious and get flustered. Offer to help if you can. And if they have a speech impediment, let them finish their sentences to avoid any misunderstandings. Don’t hesitate to make them repeat themselves if necessary.

#8 Accept service dogs without discussing it

Service dogs for people with disabilities and guide dogs for blind people can have access to all public venues without extra charge and without any obligation to wear a muzzle. Let them come in with their owners. They aren’t like any other dogs: they went to school and know how to behave!

We hope this series of advice will enable you to feel more comfortable welcoming a person with a physical disability. No matter what, don’t forget this golden rule: talk to the other person as you would with anybody else! They’ll always forgive you for making a blunder if you stay open to dialogue and listen to their needs. 

If you’d like to know more about physical disability, check out our article: Obstacles in Public Transport: What Solutions for Physical Disability?

Published on 25th June 2021

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A wheelchair user and his carer

If you need to discuss at length with a person with a physical disability, it would be better for you to sit down. You’d be at the same level as them and would avoid yourself with a stiff neck.

writer

Lise Wagner

Lise Wagner

Accessibility Expert

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The French leading company

on the accessibility market.

For more than 25 years, we have been developing architectural access solutions for buildings and streets. Everyday, we rethink today’s cities to transform them in smart cities accessible to everyone.

By creating solutions ever more tailored to the needs of people with disabilities, we push the limits, constantly improve the urban life and make the cities more enjoyable for the growing majority.

7 Tips to Welcome a Person with Disabilities

7 Tips to Welcome a Person with Disabilities

Two wheelchair users share drinks with other people

7 Tips to Welcome a Person with Disabilities

 

Who hasn’t been uncomfortable dealing with a person with disabilities? We’ve all been afraid to drop a clanger, to be clumsy and to behave badly. It’s normal to feel disconcerted in a new situation when we don’t understand the appropriate codes. But it’s actually not that difficult. Here are a few tips that will work every time, regardless of the disability type of the person you’re talking with!

1. Stay natural

Alright, it’s easier said than done… But you need to realize that the person in front of you is above all a human being with the same needs as anyone. Meaning that past the initial moment of surprise, even the moment of panic (because this can also happen…), you simply have to say hello and start talking to the person in front of you.

2. Ask questions

Yes, it’s a new situation and yes, it’s normal not to have all the keys in hand. Simply ask the person you’re talking with what you can do for them. They know best how to explain it to you.

3. Don’t think for them

Because we want to do things right, we often tend to anticipate what a person with disabilities will say or do. But it’s a trap! There’s a good chance you’ll be wide of the mark concerning their expectations and this may cause frustration that could make the person with disabilities aggressive towards you! Give them time to express themselves.

4. Offer your help, don’t impose it

Some people with disabilities don’t dare to ask for help. You’ll make it easier for them if the offer to help comes from you. But do it in an open way so that the person you’re talking to can feel free to tell you if they need it or not.

5. Make sure you’re talking to the person with disabilities before anything else

If a person with disabilities is with someone like a caregiver, this doesn’t necessarily mean that they can’t communicate with you. It’s in fact rarely the case. But even if it was, it’s not a reason to ignore them in the conversation. Just speak directly to them. The caregiver they’re with will naturally take over if it’s necessary.

6. Don’t take offense if some behaviors seem strange to you

There’s nothing more normal than to feel disconcerted facing an attitude or a behavior that’s out of the ordinary. But you need to realize that some types of disabilities may be the cause and that it’s completely out of control. Try to disregard it and treat the person with disabilities as an adult no matter what.

7. Don’t pet a dog without first asking his owner

Obviously, this advice concerns every dog but it’s particularly the case with guide dogs or service dogs used for other types of disabilities. Petting them while working could distract them and thus put in danger the people they’re accompanying.

 

We hope these basic tips will enable you to feel more confident next time you’re dealing with a person with disabilities in your venue or somewhere else! You’ll find other tips adapted to specific types of disabilities such as 12 Tips to Welcome a Deaf or Hard of Hearing Person and 9 Tips to Welcome a Person with an Intellectual Disability.

Please keep in mind that there are trainings to help you and your personnel best assist customers with disabilities. Thanks to qualified organizations, you’ll be able to talk about dealing with people with disabilities without any taboos!

 

 

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A group of people admiring the sunset

Some people with disabilities don’t dare to ask for help. You’ll make it easier for them if the offer to help comes from you.

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Lise Wagner

Lise Wagner

Accessibility Expert

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Disability Pride Month: What Is It and Why Is It Important?

Disability Pride Month: What Is It and Why Is It Important?

Disability Pride Month: What Is It and Why Is It Important?July celebrates Disability Pride Month! A month to support and raise awareness on disability. It gives people with disabilities an opportunity to be seen and heard. Obviously, everybody has their own...

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The French leading company

on the accessibility market.

For more than 25 years, we have been developing architectural access solutions for buildings and streets. Everyday, we rethink today’s cities to transform them in smart cities accessible to everyone.

By creating solutions ever more tailored to the needs of people with disabilities, we push the limits, constantly improve the urban life and make the cities more enjoyable for the growing majority.

Artificial Intelligence and Accessibility: Examples of a Technology that Serves People with Disabilities

Artificial Intelligence and Accessibility: Examples of a Technology that Serves People with Disabilities

A machine learning brain

Artificial Intelligence and Accessibility: Examples of a Technology that Serves People with Disabilities

Many of us think that artificial intelligence represents an abstract and futuristic notion we only see in sci-fi films with humanoid robots and holograms. However it’s more and more grounded in our reality reaching various fields and categories of people including people with disabilities. Artificial intelligence truly revolutionizes accessibility and inclusion! Thanks to AI technology solutions, people with disabilities can drastically improve their everyday lives. 

We had previously seen that smartphones are a powerful tool that help users with a visual impairment. Indeed, many apps enable them to remain autonomous. For example, thanks to Seeing AI, visually impaired people can easily read their mail by placing documents under the smartphone camera. AI technology can apply to any type of disability profile. For instance, people with reduced mobility can control everything at home just by using their voice with a virtual personal assistant such as Amazon Alexa.

Let’s take a look at AI and how it can enhance accessibility thanks to a few examples of innovative solutions! The future starts now!

 

What is artificial intelligence and how does it work regarding accessibility?

Artificial intelligence (AI) refers to smart machines or algorithms that are capable of performing cognitive tasks usually made by humans. This includes different technology solutions that mimic humans and use logic from playing chess to solving equations. Machine learning is one of the technologies that is part of AI: when algorithms are exposed to more data, they can learn and improve from it in order to anticipate consumers’ needs. For example, Google uses machine learning: its algorithms collect what Internet users searched and what they liked on social networks in order to provide more personalized search results and recommendations. 

Nearly 4 billion people in the world use Google search engine, therefore AI, which is perceived as a social good. Anybody can have access to it including people with disabilities. Technology in general and artificial intelligence in particular have a key role in accessibility. It’s not just about finding the latest innovations but mostly about providing a solution at the service of a category of people in order to improve their lives. What can AI do towards accessibility?

It can remove accessibility barriers through different solutions:

⊗ Image recognition for people with a visual impairment,

⊗ Facial recognition for people with a visual impairment,

⊗ Lip-reading recognition for people with a hearing impairment,

⊗ Text summarization for people with a mental impairment,

⊗ Real-time captioning or translations for people with a hearing impairment or even people who don’t speak the language.

AI has a huge impact on people with disabilities’ everyday lives: a person with a mental impairment can easily comprehend the world around him thanks to text summarization. What may at first be a complicated message to decipher turns out to be an easy-to-understand text. Things that at first were difficult or impossible for them are now easily accessible on a daily basis. AI enables people with disabilities to step into a world where their difficulties are understood and taken into account. Technology adapts and helps transform the world into an inclusive place with artificial intelligence accessibility. There is a certain sense of equality as AI puts everybody, with or without disabilities, at the same level.

 

What are the benefits of artificial intelligence regarding accessibility for people with disabilities?

We’ve seen the main points regarding AI accessibility but concretely, where is AI put into action to improve people with disabilities’ lives? How does AI help them remain autonomous? Let’s focus on 4 major situations where AI adds value:

Communicating with others and being connected

Depending on the type of disability and profile, communicating with others can be a challenge. The same holds true for staying connected to others in a world that’s more and more digitized with the growing importance of social media and our dependence to the Internet. But technology and AI leave no one behind and can be at the service of people with disabilities. A lot of apps use artificial intelligence to favor accessibility.

For blind or visually impaired people:

 VoiceOver: a screen reader directly integrated on iPhones. Although its main use is to enunciate any email or textual message, VoiceOver also uses AI to describe apps icons, the battery level and even in part images. 

 TalkBack: the equal of VoiceOver for Android smartphones. It enables users to fully use their smartphones.

 Siri: iPhones virtual assistant. Thanks to voice control, users simply have to enunciate their request: from doing a Google search or dictating a text message to send to a friend. People with a visual impairment can easily use Siri and stay in touch with others.

 Cortana: a virtual assistant created by Microsoft and implemented on Windows. It helps blind or visually impaired users to navigate on their computer using simply their voice. In a sense, it’s similar to Siri.

 Google Assistant: an app activated by voice control. Users can easily set up an alarm or manage their schedule, the same way as Siri.

For deaf or hard of hearing people:

 Virtual assistants like Siri and Google Assistant for the users to fully use their smartphones and be connected to others.

 Ava: an instant transcription app that uses AI to instantly transcribe the conversation of a group of people. Its algorithm adds punctuation, the name of the person who is talking and the necessary vocabulary from the user’s dictionary. An easy way for people with a hearing impairment to be included and to follow a conversation with several people without lip-reading. 

 RogerVoice: a French instant transcription app for group conversations available in 90 languages. It works the same way as Ava.

For people with physical disabilities:

⊗ Virtual assistants like Siri, Google Assistant and Google Voice Access: people with reduced mobility can use their smartphone by voice command. Google Voice Access was especially created for people with reduced dexterity.

⊗ IFTTT: an app that connects other apps so that the user with poor dexterity can use all his smartphone’s functionalities without struggling. It creates combinations with the apps to automatically perform tasks such as reading an email aloud and sending a tweet.

Even people with speech impediments can benefit from AI technology with the app Voiceitt. Thanks to machine learning, Voiceitt can easily understand people with brain injuries or Parkinson’s and whose speech may first seem difficult to apprehend. This app normalizes their speech to create an output of audio or text so that people with speech impediments can still communicate with others and be understood.

Of course, AI apps and smartphones aren’t the only way for people with disabilities to communicate and to be connected to others. Web accessibility keeps improving to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) thus providing the same access and services to everybody regardless of their disabilities. 

Indeed designing an accessible website can be quite tricky but AI technology turns out to be a game-changer. A site’s design is scanned and analyzed thanks to machine learning. It can then improve its accessibility through many points:

⊗ A facial recognition with an AI software to replace CAPTCHAs that can be difficult to find for people with a visual impairment,

⊗ A keyboard navigation optimization via the “Tab” button for people with physical disabilities,

⊗ A voice-recognition or a speech-recognition technology like Google’s Project Euphonia for people with speech impairments to use the Internet thanks to sounds and gestures,

 Audio descriptions content for people with a visual impairment,

 Captions and translations of online videos for people with a hearing impairment like Microsoft Translator,

 Readjustments of graphic elements such as fonts, colors and spacing for people with a visual impairment,

⊗ A built-in library of idioms, slang and phrases that are unusually used for people with a mental impairment.

Machine learning mimics a browser, the same way it mimics humans, to automatically adapt what’s on the screen and make it accessible for people with disabilities. Artificial intelligence technology fully enhances accessibility and inclusion.

Getting around

For people with disabilities, mobility proves to be one of the most challenging issues to overcome. How can wheelchair users get around in the city in an autonomous and serene way when they constantly need to be aware of the location of lowered pavements and accessible toilets? In our article How to Help People with Disabilities Get a Better Experience on the Subway?, we saw that people with disabilities need to rigorously prepare every trip they make. Luckily for them, a lot of navigation apps based on AI technology can help them gain more autonomy and more spontaneity when they’re getting around.

 Google Maps: one of the most used GPS apps around the world. Visually impaired people or wheelchair users can prepare their trip in advance and visualize their route and the best means of transportation to use according to their profile. Thanks to the “wheelchair accessible” option, wheelchair users can know where ramps and elevators are located in the city. Plus the feature “accessible places” is useful for them to have more information about the layout of many premises: entrance, parking spots, restrooms, seating arrangements… This feature is also used by people with a visual impairment to find the exact location of a building entrance.

Moovit: a great app for people who use public transportation. It provides real-time traffic information and turns out to be helpful for people with a visual impairment when voice announcements aren’t activated on the bus for example. 

Wheelmap: it lists and maps all accessible public venues (restaurants, shops, cafés…). Even users can add data and information concerning the accessibility level of places. 

Soundscape: an app that describes blind people their surroundings with audio 3D technology. They can easily be aware of the points of interest near them and the intersections. Quite convenient to enjoy the city.

Evelity: the first indoor wayfinding app for people with disabilities. Regardless of their profile, they can easily navigate inside complex and busy places such as subway networks, colleges and universities, shopping malls, stadiums… Evelity works like a GPS and gives step by step instructions. It’s tailor-made to fit the users’ profiles and their needs:

→ Visually impaired users can set it up to work with VoiceOver and TalkBack screen readers so that they can have audio instructions.

→ Hearing impaired users can use text descriptions and icons.

→ Wheelchair users and people with reduced mobility benefit from optimized routes.

→ People with a cognitive impairment have simplified interfaces.

This innovative navigation app for people with disabilities is the perfect example of AI technology that enhances accessibility in general and people’s everyday lives in particular. 

Self-driving cars (also called autonomous cars or driverless cars) represent a new solution for the mobility of people with disabilities, regardless of their disabilities since they can help them get around more independently. People don’t need to ask a relative or to book a service when they need to get around by car. Self-driving cars use sensors, cameras, radars and AI to get to the chosen destination. Their algorithms collect all the necessary data about their environment like traffic lights, curbs, pedestrians…, by inputting Google Maps and Google Street View. Many companies from the car industry test or develop self-driving cars.

Living independently 

AI technology concerns any field and can thus enhance accessibility even at home. Virtual assistants can improve everybody’s lives and it’s particularly striking with people with disabilities. We’d previously talked about Siri on iPhones. But at home, with smart speakers like Amazon Echo with Alexa and Google Home with Google Assistant, people with disabilities can control everything by voice: from turning on the lights to setting up an alarm or listening to music in the living room. 

Any home object can be connected which means that a blind person can set up their oven just by asking Alexa or that a person with reduced dexterity can lower a room temperature just by using their voice. 

Even before arriving home, people with disabilities can still control their virtual assistants at home thanks to the app IFTTT. It connects different apps together, including virtual assistants like Alexa, to create combinations called “applets”. It’s very convenient for people with reduced dexterity: any single task can automatically be done by voice control. They can for example increase their thermostat on their way from work to be at ease once they arrive home. 

Having a connected smart home can sometimes be life saving: if a person with disabilities falls, a system previously set up can call up emergency services. People with disabilities can thus live alone knowing that they’re safe if something happens.

AI technology solutions enable people with disabilities to gain more autonomy and be comfortable in their own homes. AI takes accessibility to the next level. 

Accessing the same services as anybody

Inclusivity means that everybody has the right to access any services regardless of their profiles and disabilities. Blind people can read thanks to Braille and hearing impaired people can enjoy a movie thanks to subtitles. Here are a few non-exhaustive examples of artificial intelligence technology at the service of accessibility:

Braille AI Tutor: an innovative solution to compensate the lack of Braille teachers. Thanks to AI-based speech recognition and gamification, blind students can learn Braille more independently. Education represents a fundamental right. Accessing to an education is key for blind people to find a job and be included in society.

Seeing AI on iOS: an app designed for visually impaired people that can read and describe all types of documents placed under the smartphone camera such as banknotes or mail. It can even recognize images, colors and faces thus providing details on people’s emotions. 

Lookout on Android: the equivalent app of Seeing AI. It has a Quick Scan Mode that can skim through a text.

Google’s Project Guideline: an AI-based solution that enables blind people to run by themselves. With just a harness around their waist, their Android smartphone connected to it and headphones, blind people can run without any external help following a guideline painted on the ground. 

Accessible documents thanks to Microsoft Accessibility Checker or Adobe Accessibility Checker: students and employees with disabilities can still have access to information in order to succeed.

The medical industry also benefits from AI with robot-assisted technology for more precision during surgery or data collection to provide a more accurate diagnosis. But for people with disabilities, this can represent a huge progress in providing a better quality of life. The most striking example is the invention of an exoskeleton powered with AI that enables paralyzed people to use their legs again: they can stand up and walk. A breakthrough that’s not only technological but also medical for people with motor impairments!

These are just a few of the AI technologies used to improve people with disabilities’ lives in various fields as many more solutions are available and developed whether by startups or large corporations such as Google and Microsoft. By having a user-centered approach, artificial intelligence technologies use inclusive design to conceive solutions that best meet the needs of people with disabilities to enhance accessibility. Indeed, AI technology enables them to gain more autonomy whether they’re at home enjoying a movie with subtitles or at work reading an accessible document making the world more accessible and inclusive to them.

Want to know more about apps that people with disabilities use in their everyday lives? Read our articles: 

5 Must-Have Apps for Deaf and Hard of Hearing People in 2020

13 Must-Have Apps for Blind or Visually Impaired People in 2020

9 Must-Have Apps for People with Physical Disabilities in 2020

Posted on March 5, 2021

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A blind man uses the app Evelity to get around in the subway

AI enables people with disabilities to step into a world where their difficulties are understood and taken into account.

writer

Carole Martinez

Content Manager junior

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Get the latest news about accessibility and the Smart City.

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powered by okeenea

The French leading company

on the accessibility market.

For more than 25 years, we have been developing architectural access solutions for buildings and streets. Everyday, we rethink today’s cities to transform them in smart cities accessible to everyone.

By creating solutions ever more tailored to the needs of people with disabilities, we push the limits, constantly improve the urban life and make the cities more enjoyable for the growing majority.