DAWN Ontario: DisAbled Women's Network Ontario

Planning for Accessible Meetings &
General Guidelines When Serving

Persons with DisAbilities


Planning for Accessible Meetings

Table of Contents


General Accessibility Considerations

Choosing a Location

Exterior Access

     Sidewalks/Path of Travel
     Accessible Transit

Interior Access

     Entrances and Lobbies

     Accessible Washrooms
     Hallways and Corridors
     Meeting or Conference Rooms

Additional Accessibility Considerations

Refreshments and Dietary Considerations

Invitations and Promotional Materials

Multiple Format Communications

  Computer Disk and CD ROM
  Large Print
  Braille Translation
  Audio Cassette
  Descriptive Video Services

Communication Supports

      Sign Language Interpreters
Computerized Notetakers
      Real-Time Notetakers / Captionist

Attendant Care

Resources and Vendors

Appendix 1
Meeting Accessibility Policy - Canadian Hearing Society

Appendix 2
Information Sheets taken from "Guest Services That Work for Everyone" Training Binder 2001, produced in partnership with the Greater Toronto Hotel Association, Ontario March of Dimes and the Ministry of Citizenship's EnAbling Change Program


1. Introduction

Two important areas need to be considered when arranging accessible meetings – physical access to the meeting space and access to the meeting contents and proceedings.

Advanced planning can help to ensure that the accommodation needs of people with disabilities are anticipated and acted upon ahead of time. Even when you may not know in advance whether any of your participants may need accommodations, you should be prepared to arrange your meeting or event to be accessible so that people with disabilities can participate independently.

Short workshops, information sessions, focus groups, media conferences or events of a few hours in duration may not require the same detailed preparations that lengthy conferences or conventions require, such as determining dietary requirements when planning menus and arranging overnight guest rooms. However, many of the same pre-event planning steps apply to both.

This resource is meant to assist in the planning process and reflects an optimal level of accessibility. Some facilities may not meet all of the criteria outlined in the document. If you are in doubt about the level of accessibility at a potential venue, it is recommended that you consult with a local disability group who has expertise in barrier free access and/or meeting planning.

2. General Accessibility Considerations:

  • Ensure that a member of your staff is responsible for making the event accessible.

  • Be prepared to respond to accommodation requests in the same manner that you respond to other requests and questions about the event.

  • Ensure that the invitation or notice of meeting includes information about the accessibility of the event.

  • Investigate what local resources are available, for example, interpreters, accessible transportation, emergency veterinarians and wheelchair repair services, when preparing for longer events.

  • Schedule sign language interpreters and/or captionist as soon as possible after confirming the date of the event.

  • Before confirming the date, inquire about other disability-related events in the area that may have an impact on your event.

  • If meals are to be "on your own," determine the accessibility of local restaurants.

3. Choosing a Location:

  • Plan an on-site visit to the location under consideration in order to determine its level of accessibility before you book your event.

  • Determine if the site has been recommended by a credible local disability organization with expertise in barrier-free access.

  • Determine the appropriateness of the location through previous successful experiences involving people with disabilities at that venue.

  • Inquire about recent renovations or current construction that may have an impact on accessibility.

  • Determine whether the staff at the location has been sufficiently trained in disability awareness. If not, arrange for training from a recognized trainer prior to your event.

4. Exterior Access:


  • Ensure that the signs for the street address or building name are clearly visible from the street.

  • Check to see that the signs are well lit during evening events.


  • Determine that there are a reasonable numbers of accessible parking spots available for the estimated number of attendees with disabilities. Arrangements can be made with the owners of the meeting facility to permit additional spaces to be used for designated parking close to the building for the duration of the event.

  • Ensure that the designated parking spots for people with disabilities are on a firm, slip-resistant surface and located close to the entrance of the building.

  • Determine whether there is a curb cut or level access provided from parking area to the main entrance.

  • Ensure snow removal during winter events.

  • Investigate whether accessible metered parking or public parking lots with accessible spaces are available close by the meeting facility if a large number of attendees with disabilities are expected.

Sidewalks/Path of Travel

  • Determine that there is a barrier free path of travel from the parking lot or drop off area to the meeting entrance, avoiding stairs, sudden changes in level, slippery or unstable ground, or objects obstructing the path of travel.

  • Ensure snow removal from the path of travel during winter events.

  • Ramps, if required, should be gradual in slope and have handrails on both sides.

  • Sidewalks should be clearly separated from the road and driveway for safety reasons.

Accessible Transit

  • Make certain that the location is serviced by accessible or parallel transit services.

  • Ensure there is a drop-off area available in front of the building. A covered drop-off area is preferred.

5. Interior Access:

Entrances and Lobbies

  • Make certain that an accessible entrance is available with all doorways wide enough for the passage of a person using a wheelchair or scooter. Access through the main entrance is highly desirable.

  • In the case when the main entrance is NOT accessible, ensure there is a clearly visible sign at the front of the building indicating the location of the accessible entrance.

  • Check that entrances are well lit and not located in isolated areas.

  • Ensure that entrances do not lead to locked doors with buzzers or bells that must be pushed to permit access.

  • Ensure that the door handles are easy to open without individuals having to twist their wrist. Ideally, doors should have lever handles and be equipped with an automatic door opener.

  • Provide signs indicating where the meeting is taking place within the building.

  • Ensure that the signs are large enough and clear enough to be read by people with low vision.

  • Make sure the signs are mounted at a comfortable height for both people who use wheelchairs and people with low vision.

  • Arrange for staff or volunteers to be available at doorways and throughout the facility to direct or assist people with disabilities to the meeting location.


  • Determine that the elevators are located close to the meeting facilities and are large enough to hold power wheelchair and/or scooter users.

  • Ensure there are enough elevators to safely and conveniently transport the number of people using mobility devices attending the session.

  • Where lifts must be used, make certain they are safe and easy to operate with enough space to accommodate both wheelchair and scooter users.

  • Determine whether Braille buttons and raised numerals have been provided to assist people who are blind or have low vision.

  • Verify that the elevator controls are mounted at a comfortable height for a person using a wheelchair or scooter.

  • Make sure that the elevator has an auditory signal to alert people who are blind or have low vision.

  • Check to see that the elevator has a visual cue system in each elevator lobby to alert people who are deaf, deafened or hard of hearing.

Accessible Washrooms

  • Ensure the location has washrooms that are large enough to accommodate scooter and power wheelchair users and are equipped with at least one accessible stall.

  • Make sure the washroom doors have a raised (tactile) male or female sign or Braille lettering.

  • Ensure the location has at least one accessible unisex washroom on the same floor as the event. A minimum of a five-foot turning radius is needed for wheelchair users to manoeuvre without restriction.

  • Make sure that the faucets are reachable by a person using a wheelchair or scooter and can be operated using one hand.

  • Check to see that other washroom accessories and dispensers are within easy reach of a person using a wheelchair or scooter.

  • Make certain that the accessible washrooms are located in close proximity to the meeting rooms.

Hallways and Corridors

  • Check to see that major hallways and all essential doorways throughout the facility are wide enough to permit the passage of people using wheelchair and scooters.

  • Ensure that all interior doors are easy to open with one hand without twisting the wrist.

  • Determine that low pile carpeting, hardwood flooring or tile has been used as the floor finish to ensure that a wheelchair or scooter user can travel easily throughout the facility.

Meeting and Conference Rooms

  • It is preferable for the meeting room to be located on the building entry floor.

  • Ensure that the boardroom or meeting room is large enough to provide circulation and seating for an adequate or anticipated number of participants who use wheelchair, scooters, guide dogs or other mobility aids.

  • Check to see that accessible seating is available throughout the meeting space.

  • Determine that the reception/refreshment areas are in an area large enough to provide circulation for participants who use wheelchair, scooters, guide dogs or other mobility aids.

  • Ensure that the stages and speaking areas, including lectern or podium are accessible to wheelchair and scooter users.

  • Ensure that there is a well-lit space provided for the sign language interpreter when interpreters will be present.

  • Check for noise levels (ventilation systems, noise from adjacent rooms etc.) which may be distracting.

  • Check to see that the meeting room has appropriate requirements (drapes, blinds, etc.) to provide reduction of light or glare from windows.

  • Ensure that cables, wires and microphones are well secured and do not block traffic.

  • Remind guest speakers and exhibitors to be prepared to provide printed handout materials in alternative formats should alternative formats be requested in advance.

6. Additional Accessibility Considerations:

  • Investigate the availability of installed or portable FM Listening Systems in meeting facilities for people who have a hearing loss. (An FM system consists of a transmitter used by the speaker and a receiver used by the listener.)

  • Investigate the availability of telephones with auditory adjustments for people who have a hearing loss.

  • Check to determine whether there are visual fire alarms. If not, inquire about the facility’s evacuation plan or create your own.

  • Determine the availability of a TTY. Ensure that your staff has been trained on how to use it. (A TTY is a device that is used by persons who are deaf and hard of hearing to communicate through telephone lines.)

  • Ensure that the conference web site is available in a format that is accessible to people who use screen readers.

  • Ensure there is at least one telephone that can be used by a person who is seated.

  • Check to see if the customer service areas (i.e., counters, display tables, etc.) are low enough for wheelchair or scooter users to see over.

  • Make sure that any additional signs specific to the event are created in large print.

  • Determine a suitable relieving area for guide dogs.

  • Provide water bowls for guide dogs.

7. Refreshment and Dietary Considerations:

  • Where beverages are being served, bendable straws and lightweight cups should be made available within easy reach of individuals in wheelchairs or scooters.

  • Make available non-sugar (dietary) beverages, juices and water for people with dietary concerns such as diabetes.

  • Be aware that self-serve meals or buffets may present obstacles for some people who are visually impaired or people with a physical disability. Well-trained catering service staff can provide assistance to participants who require additional help. If catering staff is not present, ensure that someone is assigned to assist those who need help getting food.

  • Check to make sure that an alternative to pastries and cookies, such as fruits or vegetables, are available for people with dietary concerns.

  • Provide an opportunity for participants to indicate their dietary needs on any registration form or invitation to an event where meals are being served.

8. Invitations and Promotional Materials:

  • Ensure invitations and promotional material about your accessible event are identified with the International Symbol of Accessibility. This and other accessibility symbols can be found at http://www.gag.org/resources/das.html.

International Symbol of Accessibility symbol

International Symbol of Accessibility. The wheelchair symbol should only be used to indicate access for individuals with limited mobility, including wheelchair users. For example, the symbol is used to indicate an accessible entrance, bathroom or that a phone is lowered for wheelchair users.

Braille Symbol

Braille Symbol. This symbol indicates that printed matter is available in Braille, including exhibition labelling, publications and signage.

Accessible Print symbol

Accessible Print. The symbol for large print is 'Large Print' printed in18 Point or larger text. In addition to indicating that large print versions of books, pamphlets, museum guides and theatre programs are available, you may use the symbol on conference or membership forms to indicate that print materials may be provided in large print.

Assistive Listening Systems symbol

Assistive Listening Systems. This symbol is used to indicate that assistive listening systems are available for the event. The systems may include infrared, loop and FM systems.

Sign Language Interpretation symbol

Sign Language Interpretation. This symbol indicates that Sign Language Interpretation is provided for a lecture, meeting, performance, conference or other program.

Closed Captioning (CC) symbol

Closed Captioning (CC). This symbol indicates that a television program or videotape is closed captioned for deaf, deafened or hard of hearing people (and others).

  • Invitations should be provided in alternate formats for people or organizations that require or request it (i.e., Braille, on tape, via e-mail, in large print, on computer disk).

  • The invitation and promotional materials should invite participants to request any additional requirements they may have in order to fully participate in the meeting or conference.

9. Multiple Format Communications

It is important to consider the communication needs of your whole audience when preparing your meeting or conference, and accessibility is one important component of your communication plan. However, accessibility to print is not the only need you must take into consideration. It is important to make any oral presentation available to people who are deaf through a qualified sign language interpreter. Print materials need to be made available in French and in formats readily accessible to people who are print disabled.

When preparing for any public event, with or without a disability focus, it is suggested that you:

  • Arrange for a sign language interpreter and/or captionist to be present.

  • Promote the fact that your materials are available in alternative formats and in French, and provide contact information on how to obtain these formats on printed materials.

  • Display, and have available for distribution, materials prepared in alternative formats in both French and English.

  • Adjust the numbers of multiple format documents you will need according to the anticipated audience. For example, if the anticipated audience consists of seniors, you may consider producing a greater number of printed materials in large print.

  • The following is a guideline for quantities for a general public event, such as a trade show or exhibit:

    • 1 Braille copy of English and French each for display

    • 2 English Braille copies & 1 French Braille copy for distribution

    • 1 large print copy of English and French each for display

    • 5 large print copies of English and 3 large print copies of French for distribution

    • 1 audio cassette in English and 1 French for display with large print/Braille labels. Consider CD ROM format in addition to tape.

    • 5 English audio cassettes & 2 French audio cassettes for distribution with large print/Braille labels. Consider CD ROM format in addition to tape.

    • 1 English and 1 French computer disk for display with large print/Braille labels. Consider CD ROM format in addition to disk.

    • 5 English disks & 2 French computer disks for distribution with large print/Braille labels. Consider CD ROM format in addition to disk.

    • For small sized promotional materials such as a bookmark, copies are available in English and French with Braille overlay indicating the name of the document and contact information. For an anticipated audience size of 500 attendees, 200 English and 50 French copies.

  • Respond to specific customer's requests for preferred alternative formats by making post-event production and delivery arrangements if required.

  • Computer Disk and CD ROM

These are used with computer synthetic voice technology (screen reading software) that enables people who are blind, have low vision (such as seniors) or who have learning disabilities to hear a spoken verbatim translation of what others see on the monitor. There is a growing demand for computer disks and CD ROM. The disks should be labeled in large print and Braille.

  • Large Print

An alternative format for people who have low vision that can be created in-house by using word processing software with a font size that is 14 points or larger or can be out sourced to a vendor.

  • Braille Translation

An alternative format for people who are blind or Deaf-blind produced using Braille transcription software.

  • Audio Cassette

An alternative format for people who have a visual impairment or learning disability and are unable to read print. This appears to a popular alternative format. Labels should be prepared in large print and Braille.

  • Descriptive Video Service

Descriptive Video Service (DVS) provides descriptive narration of key visual elements -- the action, characters, locations, costumes, and sets -- without interfering with dialog or sound effects, making television programs, feature films, home videos and other visual media accessible to people who are blind or visually impaired.

10. Communication Supports

Communication Support services help people with disabilities access information presented orally at meetings, conferences, and public events. In pre-event planning, each participant should be asked if they require any special accommodations.

  • Sign Language Interpreters

An Interpreter's service is necessary whenever clear communication is required between deaf and (non-signing) hearing people. It is recommended that an interpreter be available at booths at events, meetings or presentations attended by people with disabilities who are deaf, deafened or hard of hearing.

  • Computerized Notetakers (also known as Print Interpreters)

Computerized notetaking is a support service requested by deaf, deafened and hard of hearing consumers who prefer the print mode for their communication and participation needs. A computerized notetaker, sometimes called a print interpreter, summarizes what is spoken while still maintaining accuracy and the spirit and intent of the speaker. Notetakers use a notebook or laptop computer with a standard keyboard and an overhead screen and/or TV. Computerized notetaking is not a verbatim print representation of the spoken material.

  • Real-Time Notetakers/Captionist

Real-time captioning is a support service requested by deaf, deafened and hard of hearing consumers who prefer the print mode for their communication and participation needs. A real-time (verbatim) captioner uses a court reporting steno machine, coded to type verbatim text with minimal keystrokes as he/she is listening.

11. Attendant Care

Attendant care services to people with disabilities include assistance with personal care and escorting to community outings. To ensure that adequate arrangements are made, ask the participant about the level and type of service required. Clearly describe the specific needs of the participant to the vendor.

12. Resources and Vendors:

Follow this link for the abridged version of the DAWN Ontario Access Checklist

Follow this link
for the abridged version
en français

Follow this link for the full version of the DAWN Ontario Access Checklist

For more information about how to make you meetings and conference accessible for people with disabilities, visit the Ontario Ministry of Citizenship’s Paths to Equal Opportunity web site located at http://www.equalopportunity.on.ca.

By using the "Search" feature on the site you can enter keywords such as "meetings," "hotels" "alternative format" and "conferences" in order to gain access to a wealth of information on how to plan and create events that are accessible to all participants.

Information about vendors and service providers can be found in the Ontario March of Dimes’ Directory for Accessibility web site at http://www.accessibilitydirectory.ca.

Another valuable resource for locating vendors and other information can be found on the Government of Canada’s Accessible Procurement Toolkit web site at http://www.apt.gc.ca/. (new URL -- amended Dec 13, 2002)

For more information about creating multiple format materials, Industry Canada, Assistive Devices Industry Office and the Council on Access to Information for Print-Disabled Canadians have produced a comprehensive resource titled Manager’s Guide to Multiple Formats. This resource provides guidelines on how to develop and deliver accessible published government materials. Although the audience of the resource is people who are producing government materials, the principles of information dissemination can be applied to any audience. The guide can be accessed on the National Library of Canada web site at http://www.nlc-bnc.ca/accessinfo/s36-202.001-e.html.

If you are uncertain about what specific accommodation needs an individual or group of individuals will require, there are plenty of resources to help you. Check the Directory of Disability Organizations in Canada located at http://www.enablelink.org/resources/doic_bodbottom1.html on the EnableLink web site. There you will find access to organizations most suited to your needs and geographical location.

Appendix 1

Meeting Accessibility Policy of the Canadian Hearing Society

The Canadian Hearing Society supports the rights of deaf, deafened and hard of hearing individuals and is committed to ensuring accessibility to information communicated during all staff and departmental meetings, workshops and other communication sessions. It is therefore the CHS policy that any meetings, workshops or other sessions follow the attached guidelines for accessibility and communication. It is the responsibility of the designated Chairperson to ensure the policy is adhered to and that accessibility issues are prepared for prior to the commencement of the session in question.

1. Interpreters and Real Time Captionists/Notetakers

Every session will have sufficient interpreters and real time captionists/notetakers. Based on availability, a real time captionist will be the preference. Presenters must remember that the captionists/notetakers are in fixed positions due to equipment. All equipment, including any ALD’s must be in good working condition. Should there be any problem with accessibility requirements e.g. interpreters or captionist/notetaker not available, equipment not working, the session will be cancelled. Furthermore, should accessibility requirements falter during the session e.g. equipment stops working, the session will be stopped until the required adjustments are made.

2. Facilities/Meeting Flow

Prior to beginning the session, the Chairperson will ensure that all physical adjustments are made e.g. blinds and lighting adjusted as required. The Chairperson will designate someone to keep a speakers list to assist with time management and the flow of the meeting.

3. Sightlines

Everyone (including interpreters, captionists/notetakers) must be able to see each other and the presentation clearly. Seating must be made available for those who lipread to ensure sightlines. Tall objects such as water bottles should be kept off the tables. Equipment must be positioned in the least restrictive spot.

4. Noise

Common background noises can interfere with hearing speech (for anyone). All present should avoid noises such as flipping pages, rocking chairs and sliding coffee mugs while speaking. Likewise, if the overhead projector is not being used, it should be turned off. Consider visual noise as well. One example is to avoid cluttering the wall directly behind the presenter with flip chart paper. Avoid mannerisms or bright clothing that create visual distractions.

5. Reading Time

Presenter should pause to allow participants to look at overheads, papers, or other visuals. Stop speaking and wait for the participants to resume eye contact.

Appendix 2

From: "Guest Services That Work for Everyone" Training Binder 2001, produced in partnership with the Greater Toronto Hotel Association, Ontario March of Dimes and the Ministry of Citizenship's EnAbling Change Program. Contact GTHA at gtha@gtha.com for complete information about this resource.

Editor's note: The data below, although credited to the Guest Services That Work for Everyone" Training Binder 2001, is very similar to a document entitled A Resource Guide For Working with Entrepreneurs with Disabilities produced by Moira Horgan-Jones of M. Jones Consulting contracted by The Canadian Centre on Disability Studies (CCDS) through funding from Western Economic Diversification, to develop a resource tool for business service providers across Canada to assist them in delivering programming to people with disabilities.

General Guidelines When Serving Anyone with Special Needs

  • Offer your help, but don’t insist.

  • Ask how to help, and what to do.

  • Respect the person’s determination of his/her own needs and level of autonomy.

  • Try to convey the message that you are comfortable and not anxious when helping.

  • Relax and Smile!

  • Avoid making assumptions - Ask!

  • Treat a disabled person the same as a non-disabled person, as much as possible.

  • Don’t be afraid to ask someone to repeat something you didn’t understand.

  • Ask questions about the disability only if you really need to know.

  • Address everyone directly - not the interpreter, attendant, or companion.

  • Don’t touch anything - equipment, dogs, wheelchairs, etc., without asking first.

REMEMBER: People with disabilities are individuals who come with the same variety of attitudes, interests and personalities as the general population. Don’t embarrass anyone by making assumptions. If you don’t know what to do in any situation, ask! The person who lives with the disability is the best resource for information on how to help.

What you need to know about People with Visual Impairments

About the disability…

In order to be considered blind under Canadian Law, someone must have 10% or less of normal vision in the better eye, after putting on glasses or contact lenses. That means that this person must stand 20 feet away or less, to see something that a person with 20/20 vision can see from 200 feet away.

Only 10% of people who are legally blind see absolutely nothing. The majority have some vision. How much they see, and how functional it is varies greatly from person to person. Some have tunnel vision, and can only see straight ahead. Others have no central vision, but can see around the edges. People with cataracts have generally indistinct vision, and see things through a ‘foggy window’.

How to interact appropriately with people who have visual impairments

  • Identify yourself when you approach.

  • Never touch a person with a visual impairment without warning, unless it is an emergency.

  • Ask IF help is needed, and if so, HOW you can best help. DON’T make assumptions!

  • Offer your arm (the elbow) to guide the person, if it is wanted.

  • Never touch, talk to, or otherwise distract a guide dog.

  • When giving directions be precise and clear.

  • Don’t shout, and don’t talk down.

  • Look at the person while speaking to him/her.

  • Don’t assume the individual can’t see you.

  • Tell anyone using a guide dog, what you are doing, before opening a door.

  • Don’t walk away without saying good-bye.

  • Don’t leave anyone in the middle of a room. Show them to a chair, or guide them to stand by a wall, door, etc.

  • Be patient, things may take a little longer.


What you need to know about People who are Deaf, deafened or hard of hearing

About the disability…

Several terms are used to describe people who have hearing loss: hard of hearing, Deaf, deafened and hearing-impaired. The last term is the least popular, and people who are Deaf, deafened or hard of hearing do not use it. As in the case with other disabilities, hearing loss has a wide variety of causes and degrees. Remember that people who are affected do not hear the way the average person does, and they may require assistive devices when communicating.

How to interact appropriately with people who are Deaf, deafened or hard of hearing

  • Be sure to have the person’s attention before speaking. The best way is a gentle tap on the person’s shoulder, if he/she is not facing you.

  • NEVER yell or exaggerate your speech.

  • Use alternate communication methods if it is necessary. Ask what method is preferred, i.e. pen and paper.

  • Look directly at the person to whom you are speaking.

  • Don’t make assumptions about the level of intellect or hearing.

  • Don’t put anything in front of your mouth

  • Be clear and precise when giving directions, and repeat or rephrase if necessary. Make sure you have been understood.

  • If there is a "hearing ear" dog, do not pet, feed or distract the animal.

  • Learn to use Bell Relay Service. The number is 1-800-855-0511.

  • Make sure that all assistive devices are properly installed and working.

  • Do not show impatience. Communication for people who are Deaf is different because their first language is not English, it is often Sign Language.


How to use TTY’s (Teletypewriters)/TDD (Telecommunication Device for the Deaf)

This device is used with a regular telephone system. Messages are typed on a keyboard and then transmitted via telephone wires to a receptor screen or printer at the other end.

To make a call using a TTY:

  1. Push the ON switch.

  2. Push the DISPLAY switch if you want to use the screen alone, or the PRINT switch if you want the printout too.

  3. Place the telephone receiver into the TTY/TDD’s rubber receptacles. Make sure that the receiver is firmly in place and that the telephone’s receiver cord is on the LEFT side of the TDD/TTY unit.

  4. Check the telephone indicator light. If it is lit, you have the line.

  5. Dial the number as you normally would, on the regular phone base.

  6. Watch the light on the TDD/TTY. If it is flashing slowly, then the phone is ringing.

  7. When the phone is answered you will see a phrase appear on the screen. Usually "Hello, this is ___ GA". The GA stands for Go Ahead, which means it is your turn. Remember to type GA whenever you finish speaking, so the other person knows it is his/her turn to speak.

  8. When the call is completed, and you want to end the conversation, say goodbye and add SK. That is ‘stop keying’. The other person will either type more, or agree to say goodbye, and type SK too. Always make sure that the other person has typed SK before you hang up.

Note: The person receiving the call starts typing first when he/she says "hello". Always switch the TDD/TTY to OFF when you have finished your call.

Using the Bell Canada Relay System is very similar, except that there is an operator doing the keying for you, while you speak. To use it, call 1-800-855-0511. Tell the operator your name, the name of the person you are calling, and the number you wish to reach. The operator will make the call for you. Speak to the operator as if you were talking directly to the person you are calling. For example, say "Hi, How are you doing?"

Do not say: "Tell him I said hello." Remember to say "Go Ahead" when you are finished speaking, so the person on the other end will know it is his/her turn to speak. The Relay operators are like sign language interpreters, in that they are professionals who will not betray confidences. They will not relay profanity or threats, but will relay marriage proposals and other personal conversations.

What you need to know about People who are deafblind

About people who are deafblind…

A deafblind person is one who has lost both sight and hearing. This results in greater difficulties in accessing information and pursuing goals. Most people who are deafblind will be accompanied by an intervenor, a professional who facilitates communication.

Intervenors are trained in special sign language that involves touching the hands of the client in a two hand, manual alphabet or finger spelling. There are also a number of other communications methods (auditory, visual, and tactile) that the intervenor will facilitate. He/she may also guide and interpret for the client.

How to interact appropriately with people who are deafblind

  • Identify yourself, and gently touch a hand or arm when you approach.

  • Never touch a deafblind person suddenly, unless it is an emergency.

  • Use alternate communication methods if it is necessary.

  • If there is an intervenor, look at and speak to the person who is deafblind.

  • Don’t make assumptions about the level of intellect, hearing or vision.

  • Don’t shout or gesture wildly.

  • Be clear and precise when giving directions, and repeat or rephrase if necessary.

  • Never interfere with a deafblind person’s guide dog.

  • An intervenor is a very highly trained professional. This person should be treated with the respect you would give to any other professional - i.e. doctor, lawyer, dentist, etc., and not as an attendant or servant.


What you need to know about People with Physical Disabilities

About the disability…

There are many types and degrees of physical disabilities and not all of these disabilities require the use of a wheelchair. This category includes people who have arthritis, heart or lung conditions, amputations, and Little People.

People with speech impairment: This category includes people who stutter, as well as those who have cerebral palsy, hearing loss, or other conditions that make it difficult to pronounce words. Speech impairments come in many degrees. Some people who have severe difficulties may use communication boards or other assistive devices.

How to interact appropriately with people who have physical disabilities

  • Speak directly to the person, NOT to the attendant.

  • Ask IF and HOW you can best help.

  • Take the time to understand.

  • Avoid touching any assistive devices, including wheelchairs, unnecessarily.

  • Provide information about accessible features of the immediate environment (the location of automatic doors, accessible washrooms, etc.).

When Communicating With Anyone Who Has a Speech Impairment

  • Don’t assume an intellectual disability.

  • Don’t pretend you’ve understood if you haven’t

  • Do ask the person to repeat what you don’t understand.

  • Ask questions that can be answered ‘yes’ or ‘no’.

  • Be Patient! The speech may be slow and difficult, but that does not mean it won’t be worth waiting for!


What you need to know about People with Psychiatric Disabilities

About the disability…

Psychiatric disability is also referred to as mental illness. Usually you will not be aware of the state of someone’s mental health, unless you are informed of it. If someone is experiencing difficulty in controlling symptoms, or is in a crisis or relapse, you may be called upon to intervene. The appropriate response will depend on the illness, the circumstances, the person, and your relationship.

How to interact appropriately with people who have psychiatric disabilities

  • Create a climate of confidence. You must try to remain calm and relaxed. If you respond in a panicky fashion, you may escalate the situation further. Avoid reacting with emotions based on fear, anger or distaste. Keep an open mind and treat the person as an adult. Do not act in a confrontational way. That could cause the situation to escalate.

  • Take the person seriously. Avoid trying to diagnose or analyze the person. Accept him or her as an individual, and avoid grouping all people with psychiatric disability (mental illness) together.

  • Pay attention to non-verbal clues. You may notice someone breathing rapidly, pacing, perspiring, etc., and should recognize these signs of anxiety. If you are aware of an anxiety disorder, you may be able to help.

  • If someone appears to be in a crisis, ask how to help. Perhaps you can contact a friend or relative. In cases where the person needs help, an excellent resource in Toronto is The Gerstein Centre at 929-5200. The staff will come to your location and provide crisis-intervention. Outside of Toronto, contact the Canadian Mental Health Society, and ask for a referral to a resource for crisis-intervention.

  • If someone becomes violent, or appears likely to do self-harm, get help or call an ambulance.

  • When speaking with the individual, keep your voice very low and calm.

  • Don’t grab or pull him or her, unless you feel it is absolutely necessary to prevent injury. Avoid nervous movements and face-to-face interactions that could be perceived as threatening or offensive by a person who is already in distress. Stand or sit at the person’s side if possible, to appear less confrontational.

  • There are many people who have been through the ‘mental health care’ system, as a result of psychiatric conditions, who feel they survived a war. They may not think of themselves as ‘disabled’, but as people who react normally to a ‘sick’ society. They believe that the mental-health care system is a threat to their mental health. It is not unusual to hear psychiatric survivors discuss mistreatment and incorrect medications, involuntary hospitalization and other, serious indignities. It is because of this history, that some people with psychiatric disabilities may be angry with those in a position of power or authority.

At all times remain calm. Do not allow your behaviour to escalate the situation.

What you need to know about People with Intellectual Disabilities

About the disability…

Intellectual disability is intellectual development and capacity that is significantly below average. It involves a permanent limitation in a person’s ability to learn, with effects ranging from mild to profound. The vast majority, 80% are in the mildly affected range.

People with intellectual disabilities have difficulty, sometimes severe, doing many things we take for granted. The emphasis must be placed on what each person can achieve.

Many people who have intellectual disabilities were born without the disability, but developed it later in life due to and illness or accident. Try as much as possible to treat any person with an intellectual disability like everyone else. He/she may be able to understand more than you realize, and will appreciate your behaviour.

How to interact appropriately with people who have intellectual disabilities

  • Use simple words.

  • Keep sentences short.

  • Verify that the message has been understood.

  • Be prepared to repeat and rephrase your sentences.

  • Give one piece of information at a time.

  • Maintain a polite attitude.

  • Don’t make assumptions about what anyone might be able to do.

  • Don’t show impatience.

What you need to know about People with Learning Disabilities

About the disability…

Up to twenty percent of the population has a learning disability. Many go undiagnosed for years, with the people making constant, unconscious accommodations. Learning disabilities have nothing to do with intelligence or psychiatric conditions - many very bright, successful professionals have learning disabilities.

These conditions can affect concentration, sequencing, memory, personality, the ability to read, write or count, take notes, follow directions, or sit in a noisy room. There appears to be a correlation between left-handed males who have allergies, and learning disabilities. Learning disabilities should be diagnosed through sophisticated testing administered by a psychiatrist or clinical psychologist.

How to interact appropriately with people who have learning disabilities

  • When you are told that a learning disability is present, ask for the best techniques to accommodate the person’s needs.

  • Become accustomed to providing information in the format and structure that is most effective and appropriate for the individual.

  • Avoid trying to ‘cure’ this disability. That cannot be done, but there are techniques for helping people with learning disabilities to learn, work and function effectively in society.

  • If the individual is a child, be very encouraging and supportive. This is an up-hill battle, but in most cases, it can be won.

  • Learn as much as possible about the disability. You will find it easier to be patient and understanding if you know what’s going on. The Learning Disabilities Association, 929-4311, has excellent information, some of which is available at no cost.

  • Because this disability is invisible and difficult to recognize, it is the most challenging to understand and to cope with. Patience, optimism, and a willingness to find creative solutions are your best tools.



Accessibility Ontario Web site, Ministry of Citizenship

Copyright Queen's Printer for Ontario, 2002.


Up Arrow - go to topof document Go To Top

Back to DAWN Ontario homepage

This page was updated on July 22, 2002