April 16, 2014

by: Emily Hastings

In the Spotlight – Disability Awareness Training Program

“Is it rude for me to say ‘see you later’ to someone with a visual impairment?”

“Should I hold the door for someone who is in a wheelchair or using a walker? I don’t want to offend them by assuming they can’t do it themselves.”

“What if I don’t understand someone when they speak to me? How should I handle that?”

“My employer just hired someone with a disability. Does that mean more work for me?”

These are common questions people have when they encounter a person with a disability. Most people want to do the right thing, but they are unsure what proper etiquette is.

UCP of Greater Cleveland offers Disability Awareness Training to companies, schools and groups in Northeast Ohio for this very reason. The goal is to help people understand and explore their own thoughts and feelings about people with disabilities. The overarching message of the program is to treat people like people, regardless of whether or not they have a disability.

For the past decade, staff from UCP of Greater Cleveland have gone out to speak with employers at current agency partners including Jones Lang LaSalle (both locally and regionally), Oatey Company and Cleveland Metroparks. This is geared toward providing their staff with facts, dispelling common misperceptions about working with people who have disabilities, and the importance of inclusion.

In 2011, UCP of Greater Cleveland looked to expand the program to outside companies. “We really saw the need for businesses to have a better understanding of how to work with people with disabilities and the value of employing people with disabilities, especially with the Employment First initiative,” said Paul Soprano, Director of Vocational Services at UCP of Greater Cleveland. “We want this to impact people personally and professionally – for people to be more thoughtful, considerate and patient.”

As part of this goal of expansion, UCP of Greater Cleveland was selected as a Leadership Action Project (LAP) of the Cleveland Leadership Center. The LAP team helped the agency revise, refine and strengthen the Disability Awareness Training program, which was adapted from AbilityOne. The main focus is using “person first” language, meaning people are not defined by their disability. With their updated program in place, UCP entered into a yearlong contract with RTA to provide training to all their new operators.

The agency staff will tailor the program to meet the needs of each company’s industry and audience. For example, the presentation for a service industry like RTA will be different from a presentation to a company looking to include people with disabilities in their workforce; and a presentation at a school will be much different than a presentation at a corporation. The program can last anywhere from a half hour to four hours depending on the party’s time constraints.

The sessions can be highly interactive with Q&A and hands-on activities, or have very limited interaction with a PowerPoint and videos. Some of the hands-on activities include putting gloves on and trying to build with Legos, trying to use a wheelchair or walker, or getting together in groups to try lip reading. The point made in these activities is that anyone at any time can acquire a disability. One in five Americans has a disability, and it is the only minority group everyone can become part of.

If your organization would like to learn more about the Disability Awareness Training program and costs associated with the training, please contact Paul Soprano at (216) 791-8363 ext. 1258 or psoprano@ucpcleveland.org.

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