What do I do when someone asks me for something so they can more fully participate in my program or event?!
When arranging any accommodation, it is always a good idea to have a direct conversation with the person requesting it. A conversation will clarify what a person needs, what is being provided, how long it will take to provide it, and any preferences or other essential details.
Sometimes, the accommodation request will change after a chat about the request and the specifics of the event or program. That’s great too!
After a conversation, everyone has a better idea of what’s needed someone to be fully present and participate in an event or program—including the person themselves, so they may ask for something different than their original request.
So, what’s next?
Take a moment to breathe. Having a discussion about someone’s accommodation request is not so different from talking about what any person might need to attend and truly be part of something we are doing.
During and after the conversation, you might consider:
Can I do the thing the person is asking for? If yes, do it! It is a win-win when a person gets what they need and you get a community member who is more fully engaged in the fabulous work you are doing. Remember: It takes courage for someone to ask for something they need. Many people have past experiences of hearing “no,” so it can be reassuring to immediately hear YES! and that they’ll get what they ask for.
Ask clarifying questions. If an accommodation request doesn’t make sense to you, it is perfectly okay to admit that you’re a little confused and ask how to best provide what they are asking for or what sorts of changes or supports have allowed them to be part of other programs. Getting clarification not only helps you determine whether or not the request can be provided, but also eliminates any guesswork. Feel free to ask follow-up clarifying questions and assure the requester that you want to make sure you get it right.
Some examples of clarifying follow-up questions:
- “What sorts of things would someone usually provide in a quiet space at an event?”
- “Oh, because of your needs, a late-afternoon presentation slot works better to present, great! How late are you thinking?”
What NOT to do:
While curiosity about something different to your own life experience is natural, this is not the time to fulfill that curiosity itch. It is not okay to ask for private medical information (like someone’s diagnosis), expect the person to “prove” anything to you, or expect them to satisfy your curiosity about their disability or how they do everyday things.
Examples of questions that are not okay:
- Oh, you’re Autistic! So are you like that guy in that TV show…?
- You take medication? For what…?
- So, I’ve always wondered…what’s it like hearing voices?
- But you don’t look disabled! Why do you need me to have a chair for you?
- If you don’t own a car, how do you do your grocery shopping?
- Don’t you have a family member that can watch your child?
- How good at English are you? I mean, you’re talking with me so you’d be fine in a meeting, right?
Its okay if you don't initially know how to accomplish the accommodation request. Stumped by how to arrange an interpreter? Puzzled by what size “large font” is large enough to meet the individual’s need? Not sure what “fragrance free,” is? Ask the person for more information! Even accommodation needs that you think you know how to meet are best met with input from the person who is asking. (For instance, people who use interpreters often have preferred individuals or companies. And what kind of fragrances someone needs to avoid may differ from person to person. People generally know how to explain what they need to others and offer some beginning steps on how to accomplish it.
And don’t forget to ask your coworkers or manager about your organizations policies or procedures around arranging accommodations.
You might have a better idea of how to help. Share it, and see what the other person thinks. People often ask for the accommodation that has worked best for them in the past, and may not know about different options or new technology. Or they may find that other organizations have met their need in a specific way and defaulted to asking for that. Just don’t forget to listen to the response. If someone is sure that your suggestion won’t work for them, that needs to be okay too. The conversation continues…
Consider the time and budget it will take to accomplish the accommodation. Since disability and cultural accommodations are required under federal law, hopefully you or others in your organization have set aside the time, budgetary, and other resources to meet requested needs in a reasonable amount of time. If the request is last-minute or more complex than you planned for, don’t despair! This is a great time to be honest with the person who made the request with the goal of collaborating with the individual to discover what could work with the resources and skills you DO have.
For example, it might be impossible to create and print a large print document 30 minutes before a meeting, but perhaps you could send an electronic version for the person to open on their laptop. Or maybe you find that it is too late to schedule an American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter for a movie showing tonight, but you can make sure to turn on the film’s captions.
The important thing to remember is that when someone asks for an accommodation, it is not a “yes or no” question. It’s the beginning of a conversation.
Over time, through having this conversation with people who ask you for something ordinary or extraordinary so they can participate in your programs, events, and other opportunities, you will find that your organization becomes more welcoming and inclusive for everybody.