Why don’t you communicate in a way that I can understand?
There have been lots of campaigns to encourage business, government and organisations to use plain English in their communications but we want to go further.
People with disability and learning difficulties can struggle with letters, questionnaires, application forms and complaints processes and if they don’t have a carer or support to help them their voices often go ignored and unheard.
A council person recently told Deb that they have very few complaints from people with disability. They were very proud of that until she pointed out that their complaints process was so complicated and long winded that without her assistance her son wouldn’t be able to complain. Which is probably why they don’t get many people with disability making a complaint.
And that’s the point.
If you have a policy for communicating with disabled people – and you should because it’s the law – then don’t just make it about offering an option at the start of a telephone call, or informing them that letters are available in braille because:
If you can’t hear well or use your hands you’re unlikely to be confident using the telephone
If you can’t see you won’t be able to read the letter telling you about Braille
And if you have cognitive problems or learning difficulties the above probably won’t ‘compute’ anyway.
Communication needs to be appropriate so that people with disability and learning difficulties have a fair opportunity to make their voice heard.
So what do we want?
Keep it simple
To the point
And delivered in a format for human beings who don’t work in your business, government, local authority or organisation
Don’t take no response as a sign that things are working well and there’s no problem
Don’t assume that every disabled person or people with learning difficulties have carers who can help them fill in forms, answer letters, use the internet and the phone
Take low response figures to consultation and complaint as a sign there might be something wrong with access to and using your systems
And whilst we’re on the subject
What’s the point in sending out ‘consultation documents’ asking people what they think when the questionnaire is as long as ‘War and Peace’ and about as interesting as the envelope it was sent in? People with disability and learning difficulties who don’t have carers with the time to help them are unlikely to respond and even those that do are probably going to lose the will to live by paragraph 5 sub section 23 clause 12!
Last year Deb responded to a questionnaire asking Josh what the local council should do to save money.
She recommended sacking the person who’d commissioned the ‘consultation’. Because if someone on £100K a year doesn’t know and has to ask people frightened of cutbacks and loss of services then they shouldn’t be in the job. In fact there was a massive saving straight away! She also offered to do the job herself for much less money. Needless to say she didn’t get a response to either her recommendation or her offer.
Token gestures fool no-one and aren’t consultation. They’re lip service so that when things go wrong people in high places can turn round and say well we did ask the clients what they thought about it… Cynical us? Just a little.