Listening to people who have disability accents





People with certain disabilities often have heavy disability accents. Their speech can sound very different from the way most nondisabled people speak.

People with disabilities that affect communication are often pushed into separate programs, particularly in adulthood. Even when they are in the same classes in the same schools, there isn’t much of an expectation that any peers listen to them. This was even more true a generation ago. As a result, most people without disabilities are lousy at understanding people with disability accents, and don’t understand that this is a glaring hole in their social skills.

Many unskilled people tend to maybe ask people with disability accents to repeat themselves once, and then they get frustrated and start ignoring them. Sometimes they pretend to understand, and smile and nod rather than actually listening. Sometimes they hang up on them. Sometimes they pass them off to another person, who also doesn’t bother to actually listen. Sometimes they hang up. If they are medical workers, sometimes they write on a chart that someone is impossible to understand or has no communication (particularly if that person also has an intellectual disability.)

Do not be this person. If you can’t understand someone with a disability accent, the problem is your skills, not their voice. (If you have a receptive language disability that prevents you from learning to understand accents, then it’s no one’s fault and you need an interpreter to communicate. Neither their voice nor your brain is wrong. In that situation, the skill you need to develop is finding an interpreter).

If you listen, and make it clear that you are listening, you will learn to understand, and you will be able to communicate successfully with more people. 

An important phrase for this is “I’m having trouble understanding what you’re saying, but I care what you are saying.”

Make sure it’s true, and keep listening. The more you listen, the easier it will be to understand. Understanding . And practice. You get better with practice.

Too many people are ignored because others can’t be bothered to understand their accents. You can make this better by listening (and by insisting that people you supervise listen.)

mzminola said:

I’d like to add that “finding an interpreter” is not necessarily the only option, or even always most effective option, assuming “an interpreter” = “another human”.

If speaker and listener both have reading & writing skills in the same language (or even if just the speaker can write and the listener can read) then the two can communicate in writing, and not have to involve a third person.

If at least one has an Augmentative & Alternative Communication (AAC) device, then that could sometimes be used too.

I work in retail and have auditory processing difficulties. With customers and coworkers who share my dialect of English, I still find myself asking for repetition, or re-wording. Recently, I had to ask a customer who needed an item placed on hold to repeat herself about five times, as our interaction was over the phone, and there was too much background noise on both our ends.

When I get customers who do not share my dialect of English (speaking a dialect from a distant part of United States, or who have English as their second language) the amount of repetition/re-wording needed increases. If there is no assistance available to the two of us, I will lead the customer to the part of the store I think contains what they’re searching for. If I have misunderstood them, they tell me, and we try to find more descriptions and alternative phrasing, until either we do find what they need, or rope in more coworkers, or traverse the whole store and find that we don’t carry what they seek.

In the case of English-as-second-language customers, many do bring their own interpreter, often a relative, and between the three of us, a similar process as the above goes down, but much faster.

Highly effective are the customers who bring a smart phone, tablet, or other AAC device; computer-translated vocabulary isn’t always as exact or nuanced as needed, but it eliminates auditory processing issues from the equation, and the customer is also able to show me pictures.

Customers who share my dialect and have no noticeable disability accent also benefit from bringing AAC devices with them shopping, because if they can access the store’s website and find the product code, we can search our inventory, something we’re not able to do with just a description/name. Or they show me pictures of what they want, and while we might not have the same product, I can find them something similar. Corporate encourages use of such tech, offering coupons/sales/discounts through multiple platforms.

Summary of my thoughts: human interpreters are one of many  communication options, alongside writing, computers, etc. Which will be the most effective or practical varies contextually.

realsocialskills said:

Thank you for the important points you’ve added.

cicero-of-cyrodiil said:

You can have a receptive language difficulty?

realsocialskills said:

Yes, absolutely. It’s a cognitive issue that’s fairly common in autistic people. There are also auditory processing problems that can interfere with understanding speech (which are cognitive, not a problem with the ears). They are not the same thing, but have significant overlap (and a lot of people have both).

That’s one reason that some people need symbol support to be able to use AAC, and a reason that some people who are not deaf need captions to be able to understand TV. (And any number of other things).