This essay will focus on what factors need to be taken into consideration to ensure positive and effective communication with disabled service users.
Communication allows people to share ideas, feeling and opinions. Communication can be broken into two parts verbal and non verbal. Verbal communication uses language and non-verbal communication uses gestures; both forms of communication are essential for disabled service users depending on what form of disability the service user has.
Etiquette considered appropriate when interacting with people with disabilities is based primarily on respect and courtesy for example for someone who is deaf and hard of hearing, you would need to gain the person’s attention before starting a conversation, this involves looking directly at the individual, facing the light, speaking clearly, in a normal tone of voice, and keeping your hands away from your face. If the individual uses a sign language interpreter, it is important to speak directly to the person, not the interpreter, and to be expressive by using hand movements to explain what you want to get across to them. Voice should be used loudly, without shouting; there should be a use of an everyday tone of voice.
The service user should be looked at directly; eye contact should be made so that they can read your lips, or use touch. Background noise needs to be minimized. Sometimes writing down things may work better for them to explain what they need to. The ability to use sign language is excellent but not all social workers may able to use this method. This all depends on the severity of the deafness as some may use hearing aids The Disability Discrimination Act 1995 protects people with disabilities for example the Act states a service provider must not provide a poorer quality of service to disabled people, an example is not relying on the tannoy system to call the next patient as this would disadvantage hearing-impaired patients. Most of all is it important to be patient, flexible and supportive.
Communication should be as open as possible with clarification so that everyone
understands each other’s expectations. Active listening skills need to used at all times to really hear what is being communicated between both service user and social worker. There will be times when questions need to be repeated and re-repeated. Verbal Communication requires tone of voice and clear speech. Rogers (2006) state that verbal communication used in conversation is only 30 percent whereas 70 percents is non-verbal communication. Egan (2005) suggested the Soler System plays a big part in communication; SOLER stands for Sitting squarely, Open posture, Lean forward, Eye contact and be Relaxed for active listening as well as murmuring and repeating back what is being said. Removing barriers for both social worker and service user is essential to be able to feel comfortable to engage in conversations; however it depends on the disability.
If a service user was blind you would need to talk clearly and concisely in a manner they would understand as the voice will play the biggest part for communication. Be descriptive when giving directions; verbally give the person information that is visually obvious to individuals who can see. The usage of Braille would be a communication method again depending on the severity of the blindness. Words need to be clear and plain English should be used, barriers need to be addressed, by having large print or audio tape. If a service user was not able to speak English then interpreters need to be used to translate the information.
Effective Communication by social workers is being able to communicate on a level so that people can understand what is being communicated. Communication should be clear, accurate and precise; both oral, face to face and in writing, with individuals and groups, in formal and informal situations (Koprowska 2006) states that misunderstanding can occur when communication is not understood.
People are all unique individuals and communication although universal still needs to be understood as individual to each person (Banks S)
Inappropriate language can be disempowering, humiliating and rude. As a social worker you would need to behave naturally and respectfully, as you would to any other person by talking to the disabled person, not their assistant and avoid making assumptions about a person’s impairment or their needs also to take care not to make intrusive or inappropriate personal remarks.
One of the essential reasons why good and frequent contact and communication is Important is because of frequent sudden changes and deterioration of their
condition. There needs to be a trigger, particularly by carers to professionals for
them to respond, as there can be drastic changes in someone’s independence in a very short timescale. Disabled people and staff in relevant agencies should have clear and accessible information about services to support people who have a physical disability and/or sensory impairment. Social workers should enable service users to communicate in their own way, and in their own time. Take the time to explain to people what is going on and check they understand, to avoid unnecessary anxiety. It is essential not to make assumptions. Although disabled service users have different needs it important to remember that they have a disability and are not stupid.
If however someone was unable to communicate as they have dentures which restrict their talking then other means of communication should be adapted such as writing down what is being communicated.
Progress is still needed is in communication and interaction with people with disabilities. Individuals are sometimes concerned that they will say the wrong thing, so they say nothing at all, thus further segregating people with disabilities.
Power and equality in communication is the objective of the European Union which aims to enable disabled people to enjoy their right to dignity, equal treatment, independent living and participation in society. Social workers are there to empower service users to make informed decisions on improving their lives and finding solutions to their problems.
As social workers they have considerable power over the service user and it is essential this is addressed and taken account of because it may restrict communication if the service users feel over powered they may not open up or co-operate. It is important to remember social work is about being on a level with the service users whereby they are able to communicate and understand and effective communication is about being supportative addressing issues and co-operating to find solutions to problems.
Positive language empowers. When writing or speaking about people with disabilities, it is important to put the person first. Group designations such as the blind, the retarded or the disabled are inappropriate because they do not reflect the individuality, equality or dignity of people with disabilities. Further, words like normal person imply that the person with a disability isn’t normal, whereas person without a disability is descriptive but not negative.
In Conclusion, social workers, who are good at communication, are calm, courteous and turn up on time, speak directly to service users, not carers or personal assistants. They don’t use jargon open their ears and think before they talk, they listen and really hear and accept what carers are saying. Good social workers explain what is happening and why they are doing what they say they are going to do, and don’t over-promise. They are honest when they can’t help and are patient. They make enough time to communicate with disabled service users and recognize the loss of dignity people experience when approaching social services for the first time, the cost in this, and respond sensitively and don’t assume anything about a user’s abilities simply because of a disability.
They understand the importance of privacy, peace and quiet and the users and carers choice of meeting place. They know that closed questions can be easier for service users with communication difficulties to answer and they check out that they’ve been understood, and find a mode of communication that works.
They remember that young people may prefer to talk while doing something else. Social workers with good communication build trust, empathy and warmth and work in organizations that help them to do all these things. All social workers work with the Code of Ethics to ensure service users are respected and prevent service users from misconduct or exploitation. This includes upholding the rights of the service user and their carers and promoting their independence whilst protecting them as far as possible from danger or harm. We should also be aware that as social workers we are responsible for the quality of maintaining and improving our knowledge and skills (Banks 2006).
Code Of Ethics (2006)
Egan G (2005) A problem Management Approach to helping sixth edition Brookes/Cole Publishing company
Koprowska, J. (2006) Communication and Interpersonal Skills in Social Work. Exeter: Learning Matters Ltd.
Banks, S. (2006) 3rd edition. Ethics and Values in Social Work. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan
Communication Skills And Reflective Practice
Helen Hawcroft / Stephanie Green