Tag: disabled

Appropriately assessing a situation involving a person with a disability

pexels-photo-167669.jpegFollowing my last post, you may be wondering, “so where can I start?”  Start with changing your instincts in how you assess a situation.  When you see someone crying, screaming, losing emotional control, are they hitting themselves?  Are they repeating certain phrases over and over?  Are they disoriented or confused about where they are or who they are speaking with?  Are they using the same language repeatedly when asked questions, showing frustration in not being able to explain the situation?  Are their sentences disjointed and shortened?

Of course, as people with disabilities are people first above anything else (and I’ll be diving deep into person-first language soon), they are just as unique and individualized as any other person on the planet.  But, if you take the time to quickly assess the situation BEFORE responding, you might see common indicators of a disability.  And your best bet if you cannot tell—ASK.  You don’t have to outright ask if the person has a disability.  Talk to the person in a calm voice.  Ask them what’s going on, if they need any help, what they are feeling, what they need.

However, (and I cannot emphasize this enough) do not ask them more than 1 question at a time.  It sounds simpler than it is.  In everyday communication, we rarely ask one succinct question and wait for an answer.  It’s conversational to ask, “How’s it going?  What’s going on?” or “What’s your name?  Can you tell me why you’re upset?”  But to many people with disabilities, before they can answer the first question, throwing another question at them only diverts their attention in a different direction and can quite literally block their brain from processing the information they need to give to respond to any of your questions.

Ask these questions before approaching them.  Ask if they need space, and if they do, have an area they can safely go while the situation is being resolved.

Above all else, don’t threaten.  Don’t say “do this, or you can’t leave,” or “if you don’t do what I say, I’m taking you to jail.”  Those statements may be the truth, but you are much more likely to de-escalate and solve the problem at hand quickly if you try to remove the tension from the situation.  Some people with disabilities can be susceptible to extra anxiety and vulnerability.  They may not be physically or mentally capable of doing what you are asking, and when they realize this, and cannot communicate that to you, it can escalate the circumstances until everything spirals out of control.  Always listen, and not just to verbal cues but nonverbal ones (hand motions, facial expressions, guarding behavior, rocking, etc.).  These are small but monumental changes to your approach that can really make a difference.

There are always emergencies that are to be handled differently—but make sure you are correctly identifying the situation as a real emergency.  It may not be as urgent as you initially believed once you follow the approaches I’ve given above.  Take the time to listen, and provide alternative methods for communication.  If the person is not responding to you, ask if they want to write down or type what is going on.  Provide an interpreter or translator whenever possible.  Ask if there is someone you can bring to help explain what is happening.  Your conventional methods for how you communicate or respond in a situation are not everyone’s and they may not even always be the best way to respond.  Be open to differences and you’ll be more likely to correctly assess the situation.

For a detailed consultation on responding to situations involving a person with a specific type of disability, please feel to contact me at legallyabled@gmail.com for an individualized consultation.

 

Thank you,

Ashley Jacobson, MA, CRC

Legallyabled@gmail.com

Legally Abled: Welcome

Legally Abled: Welcome

My name is Ashley Jacobson and I have spent more than a decade devoted to disability advocacy.  During my undergraduate years, an immediate family member of mine endured a serious car accident which left her facing ongoing rehabilitation for a severe Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI).  Her rehabilitation process opened my mind to a world of systemic challenges people with disabilities face on a daily basis.  I graduated in Undergraduate Studies with Specialties in Special Education, Psychology, and Political Science from Western Michigan University and then received my Master’s degree from Michigan State University’s Rehabilitation Counseling program (ranked #1 in the nation).  Rehabilitation Counseling is a field which empowers people with disabilities through counseling and training to live their most independent and fulfilling lives vocationally, personally, and otherwise.  During my graduate studies, I worked as the Program Coordinator for the Building Opportunities for Networking and Discovery (BOND) program for college students on the autism spectrum attending Michigan State University, through MSU’s Resource Center for Persons with Disabilities.  After graduating with my Master’s degree, I passed the national Certified Rehabilitation Counselor (CRC) exam and spent time counseling youth and adults with disabilities for a non-profit organization in Michigan.

I quickly realized that there was more I could do to advance the interests of the disability community.  Without violating confidentiality, I can attest to the misconceptions, barriers, and problematic vulnerabilities that create an inaccessible justice system.  I saw clients reach out to police, attorneys, and others in the community for help, only to be misunderstood.  I saw too many of my clients with disabilities dealing with legal troubles based on a lack of accessibility to the right resources.

Truthfully, I also found many actors in our system who were simply not adequately trained in how to approach a legal issue involving a person with a disability–whether that person was a victim/survivor of a crime, alleged to have committed a crime, or needed assistance with domestic violence, family law issues, or educational barriers.  I grew frustrated in referring my clients to attorneys because while those attorneys were competent and excellent in their field, they really did not have the background and training in how to approach a case involving a person with a disability.  But, pointing fingers at missteps and misunderstandings is not my goal.  The only true pathway to a more inclusive system for people with disabilities, is to focus on simple and concrete approaches to making our legal system accessible to the complex and diverse disability community.

Seeing a dire need for attorneys that have disability expertise, I enrolled in an accelerated 2-year law school program at Western Michigan University’s Cooley Law School, from which I plan on graduating in 2018.  An honest look at our history will show you that there is room for improvement in how we treat people with disabilities, and this is my focus.  I aim to consult members of the community as to how we can accurately assess and identify solutions when handling a situation involving a person with disabilities, and empower individuals with disabilities to be their best advocates while receiving the full protection of their constitutional rights.

This is where this site comes into play.  Here I will provide resources and updates on disability issues and the law.  What you find on this site does not constitute legal advice to its readers, but rather a resource for people with disabilities and their communities.  Please do not hesitate to reach out to me for further assistance or insight.

Thank you for your time and interest.

Ashley (McIntyre) Jacobson, MA, CRC

legallyabled@gmail.com