The recent controversy surrounding the Paralympics TikTok account shows us that when it comes to the social aspect of interacting with disabled individuals, able individuals often create awkward, cringe, invasive and outright ridiculous social settings. The comments and the public reaction to this account shows us that we have a long way to go in educating ourselves about what life is really like for individuals who are disabled.
@paralympicsBlind swimmers getting bopped. 💥♬ original sound – Brady
If someone with a disability wanted to attend your next open house, would they be able to tour the property? If your client has hearing or low vision issues, how will you pivot quickly to change your communication in the transaction?
An estimated 26 percent of Americans have a disability recognized under the ADA, meaning that potentially one in four of your customers face some mental or physical barrier when navigating life.
May is mobility and mental health awareness month. We think it’s a fantastic time to dive deeper into social issues that might make you uncomfortable to tackle but also make your customer service game stronger and more beneficial in the long run.
The Fair Housing Act (FHA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) are in place to ensure individuals with disabilities have equal access to home-buying opportunities. While these laws are in place, it takes much more than guidelines to improve experiences for the disabled in our country. It’s more than just an accessibility crisis; we also have deficient skill sets for social and emotional interactions.
When we think of sales, it seems that the focus is on building the relationship, but what do you do if the systems that you use to help your clients create friction and chaos?
Although “people with disabilities” sometimes refers to a single population, this is actually a diverse group of people with a wide range of needs. Two people with the same type of disability can be affected in very different ways. Some disabilities may be hidden or not easy to see.
– Centers for Disease Control
Fast facts about being disabled in America
- 11.1 percent of U.S. adults have a mobility disability with serious difficulty walking or climbing stairs.
- 10.9 percent of U.S. adults have a cognition disability with serious difficulty concentrating, remembering or making decisions.
- 5.7 percent of U.S. adults are deaf or have serious difficulty hearing.
- 4.9 percent of U.S. adults have a vision disability with blindness or serious difficulty seeing even when wearing glasses.
- Just 6 percent of homes in the U.S. are accessible for those with mobility-related disabilities, according to a 2020 Apartment List study.
- According to the Urban Institute, households with at least one disabled member earn less than 60 percent of what households with no disabled members earn.
- U.S. housing stock is not well equipped to accommodate people with disabilities. This need will likely become more acute as the number of older Americans with both ambulatory limitations and a desire to age in place grows.
- In 2019, 21.6 percent of disabled people were considered poor under the census’ Supplemental Poverty Measure, compared with just over 10 percent of people without disabilities.
- Nearly a third (29.6 percent, 3.5 million) of the 12 million veterans ages 21 to 64 report having a disability
- 67 percent of people feel uncomfortable when talking to a disabled person. This awkwardness often comes from ignorance, fear or patronizing past experiences.
Let’s unpack ableism and what’s classified as a disability
Our culture and society have a terrible track record when it comes to advocating for the disabled. From discrimination to cruelty, most folks struggle with expanding their worldview beyond their daily personal problems.
Disabled describes any condition of the mind or body that impacts the person’s ability to interact with their environment, daily activities, social interactions and ability to perform certain tasks.
Disabilities are broad and include many different types, from mental, physical, genetic and illness-related impairments. From vision, hearing and movement to cognitive, emotional and social relationships, many types of disabilities can impact any age group.
Individuals with disabilities face 7 common barriers:
- Attitudinal: Stigma and stereotypes
- Communication: A poor variety of communication tools to help individuals with different communication needs
- Physical: Buildings, sidewalks and restrooms are not accessible.
- Policy: Limited enforcement of the policy to provide accessible tools for this group
- Programmatic: Poor planning, schedules that do not allow for extra time, and equipment that is not designed for the disabled to use
- Social: Education and employment instability, low income, lack of access to good health care, vulnerability to violence
- Transportation: Mass transit systems are not friendly; reliable and affordable transportation is in short supply.
Ableism describes any prejudice, bias and discrimination directed toward people living with disabilities. Ableism includes many different aspects, some of which may be confusing to those who have good intentions but terrible execution:
- Assuming that people with disabilities want to be “healed” or can “overcome” a disability
- Suggesting they’re “inspirational” for handling everyday activities and routine tasks
- Assuming they lead an unhappy, limited life
- Assuming they can’t do things for themselves
- Using words like “normal” and “healthy” to describe non-disabled people
- Asking intrusive questions about someone’s disability, like “What happened?”
- Touching someone, or any equipment or devices they use, without permission
- Ignoring requests for accommodations or refusing to acknowledge someone’s disability
- Being ignorant or unaware of challenges because those challenges do not have a direct impact.
- Making cruel or insensitive comments because the speaker thinks people with disabilities are less-than; implying that people with disabilities will not understand those comments
One TikTok star describes how frustrated he becomes when he tells strangers not to approach him to say that he is an inspiration and that they will pray for him. He asks it repeatedly and uses his platform to advocate for able people to keep their good intentions to themselves. He doesn’t need them or want them. In this video, Adam mentions things he hears daily as a disabled person:
@adam_goen It don’t hurt my feelings, but it gets really annoying! (Insta: _adamgoen) #aslprince #disability #schizencephaly #foryoupage #foryou #cerebralpalsy ♬ The Magic Bomb (Questions I Get Asked) [Extended Mix] – Hoàng Read
What can we do to fix this?
Education, awareness and the willingness to change are all essential. A great place to start is just learning about these issues and making it a goal to comply with basic accessibility. Also, it wouldn’t hurt to research appropriate etiquette and work on your behaviors from an invasive and unplanned reaction to a well-planned and respectful interaction.
8 easy ways to help improve your business for individuals with disabilities
- Invest in some basic DEI (Diversity, Equity and Inclusion) training
- Make sure your company’s website is ADA-compliant
- Incorporate digital and physical calendar reminders and management
- Have physical and digital options for forms and educational material
- Invest in mobile ramps for customers for open houses to improve accessibility
- Always offer a virtual tour option for your listings
- Make sure the office has a conference room with furniture and space that would work for various individuals. Many brokerages are focused on the look and decor but less focused on the practical function of the space.
- Find local and trustworthy vendors and contractors in the area who can help with ADA conversions and renovations.
What really stuck with me when researching this article was that this issue was hidden in plain sight.
People living without a disability often do not recognize or see these issues until they are impacted personally. Statistically speaking, you have a high likelihood of experiencing some disability in your lifetime; something like 7 in 10 adults will at some point require long-term care. In addition, while you may not be disabled now, but many seniors face challenges after age 60.
On a personal note, my son has been learning disabled from a young age, and without the help of his IEP, he cannot be successful in learning and social settings. Without this plan helping me parent him, I could not have him in a public school setting.
I had a rude awakening when I realized as a young parent, how much harder I had to work than other parents for my child to have a reasonable experience at school because of his disabilities. It’s also very difficult and lonely to navigate parenting when it doesn’t look like you imagined.
You also realize that support and sympathy are not always helpful in all circumstances and that figuring out what is the “right” thing to do for your family may look very different from everyone else’s. We are delicate and complicated creatures; we all learn and interact differently and often find ourselves trying to bend to a world that was not built for any compromises.
So much of our culture is soaked in this mindset that if you compromise or accommodate, then something is lost, that it is weak, that the compromise is a loss that will somehow hurt the majority because we are not “bootstrapping” any longer.
I’ve written over and over again that this love affair with nostalgia, tradition and the good old days is dangerous. Making things more equitable harms no one and helps everyone.
On April 5, 1977, what is known in history as the 504 “Sit In” took place to finally make lawmakers accountable for building more equity into policy for the disabled in America.
It took 28 days and countless volunteers to force lawmakers and the American public to look hard at life experiences when you are not able-bodied.
Just 46 years in the past, it seems just a heartbeat away from where we are today as our population faces more mental health challenges, more aging and physical challenges. We have to face the reality that the present and the future call for change and more awareness around disabilities.
Be thoughtful, be prepared and, more importantly, understand boundaries. We are a service-built industry, but we must ensure that service is equitable for all.
Rachael Hite is a former agent, a business development specialist, fair housing advocate, copy editor, and is currently perfecting her long game selling homes in a retirement community in Northern Virginia. You can connect with her about life, marketing, and business on Instagram