Students, faculty, and staff learn skills for communicating with people with disabilities

Members of the L'Arche Boston North community speak about their experiences.

May 4, 2016 – On Tuesday, April 26, students, faculty, and staff at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health had the chance to learn about strategies for communicating with those who have disabilities. Residents from L’Arche Boston North, a community for adults with disabilities, spoke about their experiences, illustrating how interactions with the disabled can often force us to reflect on ourselves and our actions. Then, the L’Arche community members joined students, faculty, and staff in small breakout sessions to discuss methods for inclusive communication.

Examples of inclusive communication would include a doctor acknowledging and interacting with a disabled person during an appointment, rather than communicating over them and speaking to a support staff member. It also means that doctors should ask patients for their permission before divulging private medical information to support staff and explain the purpose of various medical checkups.

Students, faculty, and staff discuss inclusive communication.
Students, faculty, and staff discuss inclusive communication.

The event was sponsored by dLOV (Different Lenses, One Vision), and organized by Mohit Nair, SM ’16. It was a valuable experience because many who attended had little previous exposure to people with disabilities, he said.

“Often times, we discuss disability in abstract terms, learning from policy makers and academics. L’Arche provided us with the unique and unprecedented opportunity to hear directly from community residents, or core members (as they are referred to) on what inclusive communication actually entails,” Nair said. “I hope this event leads to an ongoing relationship with L’Arche through which public health students can continue to engage with and learn from the community. Disability is an often forgotten, but integral part of diversity and inclusion.”

— Noah Leavitt

Photos: Sarah Sholes