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Module 04

Sue Miller

Module 04: Sue Miller
Teaching notes
“There are all these people here I don’t know by sight or by name. And we pass alongside each
other and don’t have any connection. And they don’t know me and I don’t know them. And now I’m
leaving town and there are all these people I will never know.”
Carson McCullers, The Member of the Wedding
Here is some information about how to treat people with disabilities from a North American based
charity, the American Association On Health and Disability:
Basic disability etiquette involves treating people with disabilities with respect. For example, speak
to the person directly, not to the person accompanying them. Do not make assumptions about what
they can or cannot do. The impact of a specific disability can vary widely from person to person, so
offer assistance only if it appears to be needed. Acknowledge and respect the individual’s ability to
make decisions and judgments on their own behalf.
Always use “people first” language. For example, use the term “people with disabilities.” Do not
use terms such as “the disabled” or “the handicapped.” Avoid referring to people by their disability. For
example, do not say, “She is an epileptic.” Instead, say, “She has epilepsy.” Do not say “wheelchairbound” or “confined to a wheelchair.” Do say, “They are a wheelchair user.” Do not use negative,
demeaning, and outdated terms. Also, avoid referring to an individual with a disability as someone
who is “suffering from [that particular disability]”
People with All Types of Disabilities:

Always ask before providing assistance - wait until the offer is accepted.
Speak directly to the person and not their attendant, interpreter, family member, etc.
Do not pet service animals without checking with the owner first.
It is acceptable to ask questions if you are unsure how to proceed or what to do next.

People with Mobility Disabilities
• Do not push or touch a person’s wheelchair/scooter without their permission – a wheelchair is
part of the personal body space of the person.
• If you are speaking with a person who uses a wheelchair or a person who uses a mobility
device for more than a few minutes, place yourself at eye level in front of the person to facilitate the
People who have a Visual Impairment
• Always introduce yourself and anyone else who is present for the conversation.
• If you are leaving, tell the person you are leaving. If there is an interruption, such as a phone
ringing, explain the interruption.
• When conversing in a group, identify the person who is speaking and to whom you are
• Speak directly to a person who has a visual impairment, not through a companion.
• Offer to read information to a person when appropriate.
• If you are asked to offer guidance, offer your arm so the person can grasp your elbow and
proceed at a normal pace. Do not take a person’s arm and move them by the elbow.

• Never leave a person with a visual impairment person standing alone in the middle of a room.
• Escort the person to a seat or place their hand on “a point of reference” such as a wall
or table.
• A Guide Dog walks on the left, so you should walk on the right.
• Do not pet a Guide Dog – the dog is responsible for guiding his/her owner who cannot see
and should not be distracted from their duty.
People who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing
• Make sure you get the person’s attention before you begin to communicate. It is not
considered rude to lightly touch people you do not know to get their attention.
• Speak directly to the person in your normal voice and not to their interpreter, if an interpreter
is present.
• Let the person establish their preferred method of communication for your conversation, such
as lip reading, sign language, note writing.
• When speaking make eye contact.
• Feel free to use gestures and visual cues, such as holding up items that you are discussing.
• Explain if there is an interruption such as a phone ringing, knock at the door or any activity
that is disruptive of which they may not be aware.
People with Speech and Language Impairments
• People with speech and language disorders may take longer to communicate with you – be
patient and respectful.
• Be sensitive and do not interrupt or finish the person’s sentence.
• Ask one question at a time, giving the person time to respond before moving on.
• If the person uses any assistive technology devices, make sure the devices are always within
the person’s reach.
People with Learning Disabilities
• Keep communication simple, using short sentences and completing one topic before moving
to the next topic.
• Ask if the person has any questions or if there is anything they would like for you to clarify.
• If you feel it is necessary, repeat what you understand the person to be
saying and ask for confirmation if your understanding is correct.
People with Mental Health Issues
• If a person seems anxious or agitated, speak calmly and offer to repeat information.
• If a person seems nervous or confused, be willing to break things down step-by-step to help
them understand.
• If a person becomes upset or anxious, they may be confused or overwhelmed.
• Speak in a normal, calm tone of voice, repeat necessary information and reassure them.
• If a person has someone to help them, be sure to speak directly to the person, not to the
person helping them.

Module 04: Sue Miller
Handout 01 – Sue’s Story
Sue was born in Malta as her father was serving in the British Air Force there. She moved back to
England when she was 6 weeks old. She has a condition called Spina Bifida, which means she was
born there was gap in her vertebrae. She is a wheelchair user as she cannot walk. Sue has lived in
the village of Papworth Everard, Cambridgeshire, for many years. She moved there when she left
school to work in the various industries that were then based there. These were specifically run so
that people with disabilities could work and earn their living. The industries were phased out several
years ago. Sue does not work currently as there are no opportunities for her to do so.
Read/Listen to the following account from Sue about how people often ignore her because she is a
wheelchair user:
“It’s like when I go shopping... I take somebody with me so she can carry my stuff and packs
the bags and all that and I pay, now... and I will still get it now... not so much but I still do get it
sometimes... instead of them asking me for the money they will go and ask her and she will say...
ask her. I mean that’s like once my brother-in-law took me out and erm, we’d been shopping it was
one Christmas we’d gone shopping and the woman on the counter she turned round to my brother
in law and asked him for the money and my brother in law said well ask her! You know and I’m
thinking.... I shout I say ‘I’m paying!’ I am here.”
It must be frustrating that people assume because you are in a wheelchair that for some reason
you can’t, your brain doesn’t work! Yeah. And that really annoys me, gets me so frustrating. Very
insulting as well. It is.”

Module 04: Sue Miller
Handout 02 – Information sheet
Spina Bifida
Here is some information about spina bifida from the spina bifida charity, Shine:
What is spina bifida?
Spina bifida literally means ‘split spine’. A fault in the development of the spinal cord and
surrounding bones (vertebrae) leaves a gap or split in the spine. The spinal cord has not formed
properly, and may also be damaged.
The Neural Tube
The central nervous system and spine develops between the 14th and 23rd day after conception.
Spina bifida occurs when the neural tube fails to close correctly. The vertebrae also fail to close in
complete rings around the affected portion of the spinal cord. This leaves a gap posteriorly (at the
back), involving one or more vertebrae. The fault may occur in one or more of the vertebrae but it is
most common around waist-level.
Why does spina bifida happen?
At present causation is unknown and research continues. However, we do know that taking folic
acid supplements can reduce the risk of spina bifida in unborn babies. Folic acid should be taken
daily, ideally at least three months prior to conception and through to the 12th week of pregnancy.
Even with fortification of flour products with folic acid, a supplementary tablet is needed.
How is spina bifida treated?
The baby will be seen by a paediatric surgeon or paediatric neurosurgeon shortly after birth. The
surgeon will then decide whether the child should have surgery to repair the lesion in the back: this
surgery will take place in a specialist unit usually within 48 hours. Some surgeons do not close the
back surgically but leave it to heal without intervention.

Module 04: Sue Miller
Handout 03 – Worksheet
Your name:
1) Get into a small group with the people around you and discuss why some people find it so
difficult to address Sue and other people in wheelchairs directly? Write these reasons down.

2) Still in the same groups take it turns to play a person using a wheelchair and another person
to play someone working in a shop. Imagine the things a person using a wheelchair might need
help with. First be a shop assistant who is rude or unwilling to help the person, and then play a
shop assistant who is doing their best to be helpful. As you are doing this discuss with the other
members of the group what is a good way to help and what is a bad way to help.
3) Try and think of a situation where you have been able to help someone with a disability. What
was the situation and what did you do? Do you think you did the right thing? Could you have done
something differently or better?

Module 04: Sue Miller
Handout 04 – Comment sheet
Your name: