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Karen Edwards Blogger

Disability Etiquette

Posted by Karen Edwards | July 25, 2017

Welcome to the July 2017 ÖWLI blog. Things are heating up inside out at ÖWLI! We just held our second free educational webinar of the year, our conference agenda is ready (sign up at the link in the calendar) and our third webinar is scheduled for October 10 (registration info to come).

This month, we are so pleased to present our guest blogger Whitney Harris. Whitney serves as Special Projects Coordinator and Assistant to the Executive Vice President for the Florida Chamber Foundation, the research and solutions development arm of the Florida Chamber of Commerce.

Whitney holds a Bachelors of Applied Science in Orthotics and Prosthetics from St. Petersburg College in 2012. After she became an ABC Certified Prosthetist, she discovered that her passion was in disability advocacy and not patient care. Whitney switched career paths to work in the non-profit industry before joining the team at the Florida Chamber Foundation. Whitney also wears an above-knee prosthesis and has unique advice for us, from multiple perspectives, on her topic, Disability Etiquette.

Disability Etiquette

One of the beautiful things about the world of O&P, is that we are constantly advocating for our patients to gain their independence. Each consultation, fitting or component order, brings us one step closer (pun intended) to our patients' reaching their goals.

It's very easy to look at our patient care skills and see that we are all doing a great job of making every person feel that they are getting the absolute best care. But what if you could take it one notch higher? That's where this version of disability etiquette comes into play. 

These are the little things that go without mentioning, that can make any person with a disability feel respect without even realizing it. Take a moment to reflect, and see if the following 5 things are something you are already doing, or if they are new ideas that you can start trying right away.

1. To Don or Not to Don?

I've spent countless hours on the patient side of prosthetics, and on the practitioner side, something so simple as letting our users don their own assistive devices can go a long way. After we educate our users on how to don their liners, socks, or devices, that should be the end of extra help. It may seem like a simple way to help, slipping a shoe onto your patient without skipping a beat, but they put their shoes on every day, and that piece of independence means something to them. Even if it takes them twice as long, as it's only meant to be a check up appointment, let your people don their own parts. If you really want to help, ask first! 

2. What's in A Word?

I call my right residual limb my right leg, because it quite simply is my right leg. But I've met others (as we all have) that prefer different words, such as stump, nub, little leg, leftie, etc. I also have taken the time to name my wheelchair. Her name is Petunia. It should be no question, how words can have an impact on people. Some words can have a lot of meaning. When I let my prosthetist know that my right leg has been getting sore in one particular spot, I'm also telling them how I address my residual limb. I would probably never notice, if they repeated back to me, "Take off your prosthesis and let's look are your right leg." But I would notice, if they said, "Take off your prosthesis and let's look are your nub." This is another one that is very easy to overlook, but taking notice of what words your patients are using to address their parts, pieces or limbs, can make a in making them feel comfortable.

3. Who's Identifying Whom?

The world is changing. It's risky business in this day and age to conclude an individual's identity, gender or sexual orientation for them. Luckily with all of our medical intake forms, we don't have to! But what about the way they identify within the disability community? That one is a little bit trickier. Always remember that your patients are humans and people first, disability or diagnoses second. Using People First Language as a default way to address someone, is always a smart move. Then once you hear how they prefer to identify, use our trick from "What's in A Word" to repeat their preference through the rest of your appointment. (Maybe even make a note in their patient record.) Keep in mind that not everyone wants to be described by their disability. Disability is just a characteristic, not an identity (unless that's their preference). Think about it. It would be odd, if you overheard your friend saying, "You should meet my friend Whitney, she's a woman, and is really neat," or "Do you know Whitney? She's my colleague with brown hair." It sounds just odd when you think of it this way.

4. Don't Touch!

This one should go without saying, but it's still happening in the world and needs to be mentioned. People's parts are theirs and not yours to touch. During your appointments, be sure to ask if it's okay to touch someone's assistive device before you grab it and walk off with it. I know it seems silly! But it's really going the extra mile to show your respect, if you ask their permission to touch, before you start pushing their chair or moving their walker out of the way.

5. Respect Other's Privacy

This one is more applicable outside of your basic patient appointments. Needing to know medical history and the story behind an amputation or injury, is acceptable (and medically necessary) during an appointment with your patient or a potential new patient. It's not necessary when seeing people with disabilities outside of your patient care rooms. I know, I know, this seems like a stretch, because it isn't something YOU would ever do. But, unfortunately, it's been my experience that people in or around the O&P field do it enough that I feel the need to mention it. Just because you are a medical professional doesn't mean it's okay to ask people what their story is behind their disability.

Let me wrap things up by saying, again, we all doing the best we can. We are advocating for independence every day. Please don't take any of these etiquette suggestions as a personal attack to the way that you practice. Think of it more as the 201 version of Etiquette Training. I'd love to know your thoughts or comments. Are these too much to ask? Or something so easy that it's a no brainer? Email your comments to the OWLI email address below with your input or comment on the OWLI Facebook page!

Thank you, Whitney, for sharing this insight from both a patient and practitioner perspective!

MARK YOUR CALENDARS: Reserve a spot on your schedule for the following upcoming ÖWLI events…

Sept. 28-30, 2017:  Össur Women's Leadership Conference, Orlando, FL. If you came last year, you know you want to come again! If you missed last year's conference, NOW is your chance to register for this unique, professional conference designed exclusively for women in O&P. This year's schedule includes a workshop on building your personal brand, an extended panel discussion, multiple networking opportunities as well as some great entertainment. FYI, the Owners/Directors/Managers session will be held prior to the start of the conference the evening of Wed. 9/27 with a dinner, so make your plans accordingly. We only have 50 spaces available so REGISTER EARLY HERE !!

Nov. 10, 2017, 12-1pm Central Time: ÖWLI Webinar Series: Attract the Attention of Influential Sponsors. Harvard Business Review has reported that high-potential women are over-mentored and under-sponsored relative to male peers. In this webinar, led by Jo Miller, CEO of Women's Leadership Coaching, Inc., explore the difference between mentors and sponsors. Learn four ways to make the most of mentoring conversations, and how to identify potential sponsors. Discover eight steps to gaining sponsorship, and leave with a personalized plan to attract the attention of an influential sponsor. REGISTRATION INFO COMING SOON!

Best wishes for an amazing month,

Karen Edwards

Director, Össur Women's Leadership Initiative

ÖWLI Quote of the Month: "Respect is what we owe, love is what we give." – Antonio Gala, Spanish poet, playwright, novelist

Talk to us!! Your feedback is welcomed and encouraged! Please let us know what you think of our initiative, share your ideas, share your victories, or just say "hi" by emailing us at ÖWLI@Ö And follow us on Twitter @ÖWLIÖssur.