Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Clients Who Have Disabilities – What Do You Say? And How Do You Say It?

There's been an interesting conversation recently on Active Rain that's worth sharing here. Active Rain is the online community and blogging platform for real estate professionals. My post about making my own appointments generated many comments; one came from Nancy who pointed out some less-than sensitive terms we were using. We learned that she Nancy is a consumer who visits Active Rain to learn from the professionals before she puts her own house on the market.

Nancy's comments started a discussion about how we all need to be aware of the effect of the words we use and the way we address people with disabilities; there is an important difference between "wheelchair bound" and "wheelchair user." But as Nancy pointed out, "People with disabilities and their families are tuned in to language that they hear as discriminatory or insensitive. Wheelchair users are not bound to their chairs. With or without help they leave their chairs to sleep, bathe, use the toilet, drive or ride in cars, enjoy amusement park rides."

My years as a Registered Nurse have always helped me be sensitive to the special needs of my clients, but even so I needed to learn not to refer to someone as "restricted to a wheelchair." This is such an important subject that I asked Nancy to write a guest blog, which she did, and we posted it on Active Rain. I believe it's important enough to repeat it here. Please welcome her.

One in Five Americans Lives with a Person with a Disability. Are you ready?

One in five U.S. residents lives with a person with a disability. How many are your clients? Do you embrace the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) or tolerate it?

I'm a consumer, seller-to-be, and regular reader who sometimes comments on ActiveRain. I also live with a person with a disability. I have been invited by Margaret Rome to offer some insight to real estate professionals on how to interact with people with disabilities. I am under no illusion that I am an expert, but am opening up the subject hoping some of you will want to learn more. Thank you Margaret, for the opportunity.

Only 15% of persons with a disability were born with that disability. That means that 85% of disabilities are acquired during a person's lifetime. It could happen to you or a family member. It could happen tomorrow. Yes, that's right. A car accident, brain tumor, stroke. It could happen tomorrow.

If you or someone you love suddenly became disabled, how would you want to be treated?

Language is a place to start, like saying "wheelchair user" instead of "wheelchair bound," "disabled" instead of "handicapped," and referring to the person instead of the disability. Here's an example. Instead of saying "my handicapped client", say "my client who has (name disability)". Do you see the difference? Your client is a person who has a disability. It may seem awkward at first because it takes extra words, but it makes a difference in how you are heard. Also, it may seem obvious, but don't exclude your client with a disability from the conversation by addressing your statements to another person who is with him. Your client is probably not deaf or stupid. If your language, attitude, or discomfort is perceived by your client or his family as being discriminatory or just ignorant, you could lose the client. Now you might be thinking that you would not mind losing that client; he makes you uncomfortable. His home may require an accommodation that could be hard to find, and that extra time could be more profitably spent on an easier sale.

Think again. First, because you make yourself vulnerable to a discrimination lawsuit. But more important to your business, people with disabilities are a growing part of the consumer population.

Think back a generation or more. There weren't many long-term survivors of serious accidents or illnesses. People who lived longer than average may have lived in a care facility or did not leave their home often. They were not very active participants in the consumer world.

That model no longer applies. Modern medicine, the ADA , and the internet have changed things. The potential client base of people with disabilities is huge. Based on data from a U.S. census report of 2004, and a 2000 Cornell University study, here are some interesting numbers:

  • 17.2% or 43 million US citizens aged 16-64 report some form of employment-limiting disability.
  • Approximately 55% of persons with disabilities aged 16-64 are employed.
  • The over 65 population currently holds the largest disposable income in the country.

I do not have statistics on the number of disabled young men and women coming home from the Middle East. Do you think many of them will be looking to buy a home? Does this client base now sound more attractive to you?

None of this is intended to criticize. I just hope that I started you thinking, and that a lively discussion will follow.

If there is interest, I will follow up with specific suggestions on how you, as an individual and a professional, can learn to be more aware, use the preferred terms, and at least not do the wrong thing. Your local disability services organizations will be happy to provide education and answer questions for your brokerage.

Thanks for reading.
Nancy J - Kenosha , Wisconsin

Labels: , , ,


At 12:12 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Right ON! Your sensitivity needs to be embraced. As a person who uses a wheelchair all your comments are things which I have been told. This automatically could end my relationship since I wouldn't consider the RE Professional able to understand my needs. I would immediately find someone else to help me buy or sell a property.

At 8:50 PM, Blogger Chris Lengquist said...

Words are a funny thing. And here is the deal, I too have been guilty of misusing terms AND I have a daughter with CP. Sometimes she uses a wheelchair. Usually, she doesn't. But access is on our minds.

I am a real estate professional and the father of someone with home this subject rings true. And yet I constantly have to monitor myself.

So while we need to work on us, I would ask patience from those we may offend. It may not be purposeful or even naive. It may just be a poor command of the English language! Judge the heart.


Post a Comment

<< Home