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Learning & Information | Rukuhia Te Puna Mātauranga

Disability Start workshops change attitudes

When a customer with a disability comes to the counter at Hamilton City Council, they know they’re going to be treated appropriately thanks to a training programme running at the council with a local charitable trust.

The Disability Start workshops facilitated by Life Unlimited (now known as Your Way | Kia Roha) have now expanded into other areas of the council where staff interact with the public.

According to Judy Small, the council’s disability advisor and blind herself, staff now have far more confidence when faced with someone who has a disability.

“Staff leave the course buzzing. We keep them short so staff can spare the time and very interactive so people are talking things through rather than freezing about what they don’t know or what might not be appropriate,” said Judy.

The feedback from council staff has been impressive.

“It helps me in my work, I now know how to ask if a person needs or would like help from me.”

“The course has increased my confidence. I no longer freeze at my counter when I haven’t noticed the customer may have a disability. It only became obvious when the customer did not respond to my greeting/questions in a way I would imagine they might. Now I have ideas and knowledge that helps me in these situations.”

“I got a lot from the course. It doesn’t just apply to my work, it applies to me in every social setting 24/7.”

Your Way | Kia Roha community programme coordinator Wendy van den Berg facilitates the programme at the council with input from Judy.

But the programme itself has been running for more than four years and is customised to suit other organisations’ needs.

“Disabled people are everywhere – 24 percent of all New Zealanders identify with having a disability of some kind,” says John, who was born with a disability and now also talks to community groups about ageing with a disability.

Nearly 50 people at the council and many more at other organisations have attended the courses.

“People have said they want to learn more in-depth about impairment and disability. So we’re now offering a more advanced course,” says Your Way | Kia Roha community liaison John McIntosh.

The advanced course starts at Hamilton City Council on Monday.

“Participants get to know others from within the organisation in similar situations to themselves and they leave knowing they have learnt useful information and it is okay to ask questions rather than worry about what they do not know,” says Judy.

“Although many of us have some personal knowledge and understanding of disability, we don’t always recognise barriers that may exist in our workplace or recreation environments.

“Therefore, we are often not aware of the difficulties people with disabilities might face in something as simple as accessing everyday services,” she says.

The aim of the Disability Start workshops is to increase disability awareness.

Participants develop skills to effectively communicate and work with people with disabilities.

The workshops also offer guidelines on the use of appropriate language associated with disability and participants discuss how to communicate effectively.

They can be tailored to suit any organisation’s needs and priorities, says John.

(Your Way | Kia Roha uses this video with the Hamilton City Council as a training tool)

Topics covered in the first-level workshop include:

  • The views and attitudes associated with the medical and social model of disability
  • What language can be positively used to describe people with disabilities
  • Identifying physical and societal barriers in your workplace and discussing how to reduce or eliminate these.
  • How to provide a service that is inclusive to people with disabilities.
  • Working/interacting with people with disabilities – how these can be applied to your specific role.

About the trainers:

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