8 Key Points to Ensure Accessibility for Customers with Vision Disabilities at Public Venues

8 Key Points to Ensure Accessibility for Customers with Vision Disabilities at Public Venues

A coffee shop with staff serving customers

8 Key Points to Ensure Accessibility for Customers with Vision Disabilities at Public Venues

Are you sure that your facility meets all the conditions to properly accommodate blind or visually impaired people? The standards for accessibility set by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in 1990 apply to all forms of disabilities. Behind the technical constraints that are sometimes obscure and off-putting for non-specialists, regulatory obligations meet the specific needs of certain categories of users. To help you see more clearly, we have detailed in this article all the fundamental principles to know so that your public accommodations or commercial facilities offer a high-quality welcome to all visitors who are blind or have low vision.

Follow this checklist, you will then have an exhaustive vision of the improvements you can make!

What are the needs of blind or visually impaired people in a public venue in terms of accessibility?

Like any visitor, blind or visually impaired people go to public venues to benefit from the services offered there. To access the building and services, the main difficulties experienced are as follows:

Orientation: knowing in which direction to go,

Location: finding their bearings and being able to identify them,

Access to written information,

Risks of falling or bumping into obstacles.

Take a notepad and a pen, exit your facility, and walk the route from the outdoor access, putting yourself in the shoes of a blind or visually impaired person. Write down anything that could be problematic, we guide you through each step of the travel chain.

Accessible tools to prepare the trip before your visit

Do your customers or users have access to all the information about your facility before their visit? Do you have a website? Does it meet digital accessibility standards? Can you find all the information on access to your facility?

Service areas: public transport stops, location of the parking area, drop-off point,

Description of the surroundings if the main entrance is not accessible directly from the street,

Location of the reception point, description of the route to get there,

Instructions for use of the access control device, if applicable.

Are your reception staff able to provide all this information over the phone? Here’s a tip: make a summary sheet that you will leave permanently near the switchboard.

Make the outdoor walking path detectable and safe

Is the entrance to your facility directly accessible from the street? 

If not, people with blindness or vision loss may find it difficult to reach it, especially if the space is large and devoid of cues such as a parking lot for example.

The path from the access to the outdoor area to the main entrance to the building must be easily detectable and recognizable thanks to a visual and tactile contrast. We can then play on the differences in floor coverings: asphalt, exposed aggregate concrete, resin, cobblestones, lawns, etc. In the absence of natural tactile contrast, it is possible to add directional or guidance tactile paving.

Regarding safety, several points must be checked:

If there are stairways on the outdoor walking path, they should be fitted with raised warning stripes at the top of each flight, contrasting and non-slip stair nosing, but also high-contrasting risers at the top and bottom.

If the walking path crosses a lane used by vehicles, it must include a textured surface such as truncated domes upstream and downstream of the pedestrian crossing.

If glass walls are located near the pedestrian path, they must be marked with high-contrasting elements to avoid the risk of bumping into them.

If there is a step of more than 15 inches close to the walking path, this drop should be protected with a guardrail.

Keep in mind that a person with a visual impairment cannot walk upright if they do not have a guidance path to orientate themselves. The notion of “walking path” must therefore be considered in the broad sense, namely all the space accessible to pedestrians and not just a virtual strip of 36 to 56 inches wide.

Make the main entrance easy to reach and to recognize

Is the entrance to your facility recognizable by a visual contrast or a particular architectural treatment? Is it equipped with an audio beacon? Is the name of your business clearly visible?

If the walking path leading to the main entrance is well defined and clearly identifiable, you have already done a good part of the work. However, people who are blind or have low vision need to confirm their position. For those who retain visual abilities, signage in large characters, using high-contrasting colors. And for people who cannot read, an audio beacon allows them to trigger a verbal message announcing the name of the business, using their standardized remote control or their smartphone.

Make sure your access control system is accessible

Does an intercom or a call button restrict access to your facility? If so, is it usable by a blind or visually impaired person?

So that the access control systems are not an obstacle for the visually impaired, it should above all be of a contrasting color compared to its support and have keys with writing in large characters, numbers and of raised symbols. So that your blind or visually impaired visitors are aware of the presence of this device before their visit, it is important that its existence be mentioned on your communication media. As we said before, this typology of visitors is used to prepare for their trips.

Finally, be aware that intercoms with name scrolling cannot be used by blind people. It is therefore necessary to provide an alternative if necessary: ​​communicate an access code, offer a welcome at the door, the possibility of contacting a person on arrival, etc.

Make your reception easy-to-access and detectable

Is your reception desk easy to find for your visually impaired visitors?

Blind or visually impaired people rely a lot on reception and human support to find their way around a building and benefit from the services offered there. To facilitate access, your reception desk must therefore be located as close as possible to the main entrance. It should be easily identifiable by visual contrast and suitable lighting. If it is necessary to cross a large area to get there, we recommend installing a guidance path that will make it easier for everyone to orientate themselves.

We draw your attention to the use of queue management systems. It is difficult for a blind or partially sighted person to stand in a queue and know when their turn is. Note that the systems cannot be used by this audience unless the person in charge of the distribution speaks aloud the number appearing on the ticket and the same applies to the order of passage. It is therefore recommended that visually impaired people be given priority access, on the same basis as people with standing problems.

Make indoor navigation easy and safe

Is it possible for a blind or visually impaired person to move around safely in your facility? Can they easily orientate themselves there?

It is likely that a person with a visual impairment coming to your facility for the first time will need human assistance to find their way there. However, there are certain arrangements to be made.

First and foremost, indoor hallways should offer the best possible security. Thus, the lighting must be sufficiently intense and homogeneous, that it must not create shadows. Floor lighting should be avoided due to glare.

Indoor paths must be free of any obstacle. Be sure to remove overhead obstacles or, if this is not possible, to force them to be bypassed by a piece of furniture. The glass walls located along the path must have contrasting elements to avoid the risk of bumping into them.

To facilitate the orientation of visually impaired people in complex spaces, the installation of guidance paths or directional paving is recommended, possibly associated with audio beacons. The Evelity indoor navigation application tailored for all types of disabilities is also specially designed to allow visitors with disabilities to move around independently within a complex building such as an administrative center, museum, university, or hospital.

Finally, all stairs must be secured with:

Easy-grip and continuous handrails on both sides,

Detectable warning surfaces at the top of each flight,

Contrasting and non-slippery stair nosing,

Contrasting risers on the first and last step of each flight and

Adequate lighting.

If your facility has one or more elevators, for them to be usable by visually impaired people, they should have:

Visually and tactile contrasted call buttons,

Visually contrasted numbers, raised and in Braille,

A vocalization system for floor numbers and cabin movements.

Make your signage visible and readable to visually impaired people

Do the doors to rooms, bedrooms or offices in your facility have signage that can be read by blind or visually impaired people?

After crossing a hall, walking through mazes of corridors and stairs, what could be more natural than wanting to confirm your destination. Am I in front of room 212? For the visually impaired to be able to do this independently, the door signs must include the name or number of the room in large letters. These must be of a contrasting color compared to the support and be raised by 1 to 2 millimeters for tactile reading. The inscription must also be in Braille.

Similar signage must be found at the restrooms to distinguish the male toilets from the female toilets.

Specific provisions for equipment and materials accessible to the public

Can all the equipment made available to the public in your facility be used independently by a blind or visually impaired person?

ATMs, vending machines, drink machines, photocopiers…, anyone should be able to use them. To achieve this objective with visually impaired people, it is above all necessary to provide written instructions in large, contrasting characters. An operation vocalization system is also desirable for anyone unable to read.

If you have followed our journey, you now know everything there is to do to make your business accessible to blind or visually impaired people. To prioritize the work and investments that will allow you to reach your goal, we recommend that you turn to qualified accessibility professionals. Better than anyone, they will know how to support you in the implementation.

Would you like to know more about visual impairment? Dive in with:

6 Tips to Communicate with a Blind or Visually Impaired Person

The Smartphone: a Revolution for the Blind and Visually Impaired!

How Do the Blind Safely Cross the Road?

Published on September 17th, 2021

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An audio beacon at Okeenea's entrance

To facilitate the orientation of visually impaired people in complex spaces, the installation of guidance paths or directional paving is recommended, possibly associated with audio beacons.

writer

Lise Wagner

Lise Wagner

Accessibility Expert

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Accessibility for All: Why Removing Barriers Benefits Us All

Accessibility for All: Why Removing Barriers Benefits Us All

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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.

6 Tips to Communicate with a Blind or Visually Impaired Person

6 Tips to Communicate with a Blind or Visually Impaired Person

Two people sitting face to face and chatting

6 Tips to Communicate with a Blind or Visually Impaired Person

Do you feel uncomfortable, distraught, clumsy… when you see a blind person? No need to worry, we’ve made up a quick survival guide with 6 key points to make sure everything goes well. Before all, stay natural and relaxed, simply start the conversation naturally and the rest will follow!

1. Speak first

It’s the easiest way to break the ice. If you speak first, the visually impaired person will be able to locate where you are thanks to the sound of your voice and will know who to speak to. Say hi to them as soon as they arrive and ask them if they need anything.

2. Introduce yourself

Even if you’re clearly speaking to them and that you’re wearing a name tag or a uniform, a blind or visually impaired person will struggle to spontaneously know if you’re a staff member or not. Simply say who you are so that they’ll know what they can ask from you.

If you’ve met them before, they may spontaneously recognize you with the sound of your voice. But recognizing a voice isn’t as reliable as recognizing someone’s facial features. The context, the intonation, and some circumstances like a cold can make your voice unrecognizable. So don’t hesitate to say your name, you’ll save time!

3. Make sure the person you’re talking to has understood you’re speaking to them

If several people are present in the same place at the same time, like in a line for example, it’s difficult for those who can’t see or see poorly to know when someone is speaking to them.

When a visually impaired person enters a room, call them by their name if you know it. Or you can try by getting closer to them and speaking facing them, calling their Sir or Madam. And if that still isn’t enough, get their attention by slightly touching their arm. If you’re not standing by them, you can ask their neighbor to do it.

4. Describe the situation

If you’re not available right now, say it. The visually impaired person will know their presence has been noticed and that they just need to wait patiently.

For example: “I’ll be right with you after finishing to take care of the three people who have been waiting”, “I’m on the phone, I’ll be right with you as soon as I’m finished”. 

5. Offer to help but don’t impose it

Nothing is more unbearable for a visually impaired person than being grabbed by the arm by a person they haven’t seen coming, being led to an unknown destination without being spoken to at any given moment. Unfortunately, this type of situation happens all the time and yet, the intentions of the unknown person are generally laudable.

The missing step can be summed up in one sentence: “Hi, can I help you?”

The person you’re talking to will be free to accept or not, according to the situation and their autonomy level. Then, they’ll tell you what they need. They’re the ones who can best tell! Just listen to them!

6. Be specific

Avoid giving indications that depend on sight: “over here”, “no, not there”, “here”…

Use landmarks: right, left, in front of, behind, and don’t hesitate to describe situations.

For example: “You’re facing a staircase going down”, “You should walk around the chair to come up to me”, “There’s a pole in front of you, you can get around it on your right”. 

If you want to know more about how to best assist people with disabilities, you can follow the course At Your Service: Welcoming Customers with Disabilities provided by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). You’ll be able to better understand the needs of people with disabilities.

Be more familiar with blind and visually impaired people with these articles:

8 Clichés About Blind People

The Smartphone: a Revolution for the Blind and Visually Impaired!

Everything You Have Always Wanted to Know on Braille Mysterious Writing

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A white arrow pointing left on a green wall

Avoid giving indications that depend on sight: “over here”, “no, not there”, “here”…

writer

Lise Wagner

Lise Wagner

Accessibility Expert

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Accessibility for All: Why Removing Barriers Benefits Us All

Accessibility for All: Why Removing Barriers Benefits Us All

Accessibility for All: Why Removing Barriers Benefits Us AllFor sure, accessibility for all isn’t something to take lightly. And neither is it something that can easily be discarded considering that over 1 billion people in the world have disabilities. We, as world’s...

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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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.

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.

writer

Lise Wagner

Lise Wagner

Accessibility Expert

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Accessibility for All: Why Removing Barriers Benefits Us All

Accessibility for All: Why Removing Barriers Benefits Us All

Accessibility for All: Why Removing Barriers Benefits Us AllFor sure, accessibility for all isn’t something to take lightly. And neither is it something that can easily be discarded considering that over 1 billion people in the world have disabilities. We, as world’s...

NEVER miss the latest news about the Smart City.

Sign up now for our newsletter.

Unsubscribe in one click. The information collected is confidential and kept safe.

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.

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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Accessibility for All: Why Removing Barriers Benefits Us All

Accessibility for All: Why Removing Barriers Benefits Us All

Accessibility for All: Why Removing Barriers Benefits Us AllFor sure, accessibility for all isn’t something to take lightly. And neither is it something that can easily be discarded considering that over 1 billion people in the world have disabilities. We, as world’s...

NEVER miss the latest news about the Smart City.

Sign up now for our newsletter.

Unsubscribe in one click. The information collected is confidential and kept safe.

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.

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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7 Tips to Welcome a Person with Disabilities

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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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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.