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Engaging with people with learning/intellectual disabilities

Tips to support an effective engagement process with people with learning/intellectual disabilities.

Meeting protocols

In planning a meeting involving participants who have learning/intellectual disabilities, follow these guidelines.

  • When considering a suitable time, keep in mind that some people with learning/intellectual disabilities prefer mornings, as they are more rested at this time of the day, and find it easier to concentrate.
  • Provide an agenda and then keep to the agenda topics in the order they are listed.
  • Be prepared to offer to have a minute taker. Also consider the use of a reader/writer when conducting surveys or asking for feedback.
  • Avoid teleconferences. This will make it easier to ensure information is provided at the right pace and is understood.
  • Make sure that only 1 person speaks at a time.

Verbal information

In providing verbal information, follow these guidelines.

  • Keep information simple, and avoid jargon. Also avoid using acronyms, and say all names in full.
  • Where possible, accompany information with relevant pictures or visual aids.
  • Speak at a pace that allows people time to consider your questions and how they might respond. Pause where you need to. Ask 1 question at a time.
  • Provide a copy of your presentation to participants in advance, to allow them time to familiarise themselves with it.
  • Let people know they are entitled to their opinion.
  • Allow time for people to have their say, and listen to them carefully.
  • Check your understanding of what people have said. Ask questions to clarify your understanding, or get people to repeat what they have said so that you are sure you understand. Do not pretend to understand.
  • Check that people have understood what has been said. If someone does not understand, consider using an alternative approach; for example, by moving from open-ended to closed questions (yes or no, etc), repeating or rephrasing information, or using pictures or visual aids.
  • To check that someone has understood, consider asking them to put the information into their own words. This will eliminate the risk of people saying ‘yes’ because that is what they believe they should say, and allow them to avoid having to answer ‘no’ to the question ‘Do you understand?’.
  • Some people may prefer that whānau members or carers express their preferences on their behalf, as they trust them to understand and communicate their individual needs. Ask permission from the person to gather this information.

Meeting assistants

In relation to meeting assistants for people with a learning/intellectual disability, follow these guidelines.

  • The role of meeting assistant can be helpful for a person with a learning/intellectual disability when meetings run at a fast pace or use complex or conceptual information that can be a barrier to that person’s equal participation. Meeting assistants guide people to build trusting relationships within the group/meeting.
  • An assistant’s role depends on the individual’s support needs. The person and their assistant agree on a plan prior to the meeting. The focus is always on enhancing the person’s participation and understanding and providing support for equal opportunities for the person to contribute to discussions and decisions.
  • A meeting assistant often:
    • helps to translate complex information so as to aid the person’s understanding
    • helps with the complex social skills required to engage within a large group at a meeting, or during break times
    • discusses items or completes tasks with the person after the meeting.
  • Assistants often quietly talk to the person they are assisting during the meeting. Often at this time the assistants are helping to foster the person’s better understanding of conceptual or complex information.
  • Allow time for people to have their say in whatever way suits them.
  • People First New Zealand Ngā Tangata Tuatahi, a disabled people’s organisation directed by people with learning/intellectual disabilities, provides trained meeting assistants. See Disabled people’s organisations and resources for more information on People First.

Written information and Easy Read documents

Easy Read is a way of producing information in everyday language that is consistent, acronym- and jargon-free and includes images to assist meaning. Easy Read documents have a large amount of clear/white space. Easy Read can also be used to support people with low literacy levels, or who have English as a second language. When putting together written information including Easy Read documents for people with a learning/intellectual disability, follow these guidelines.

  • Contact People First about their Easy Read translation service, ‘Make it easy’. Make contact early, as translations take a minimum of 3 weeks.
  • Consider producing a large print version (at minimum a 16-point font, but preferably 18) of written information. If you are not producing an Easy Read document, consider the clarity of your documents anyway, to ensure the information will be understood.

For more information, see also:

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