Inclusive engagement – OPEN

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Topic 2.9: Inclusive engagement

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Whenever possible, stakeholder engagements should be planned to include people with disability.

This means that the majority of people with disability should be able to participate with minimal assistance.

People with disability will often bring a different understanding of an issue. Many projects not relevant to a person’s disability will also be of interest to the person as a member of the community!

The degree to which they should be included depends on the project and how much it impacts people with disability.

Direct impact

Projects that directly involve people with disability, such as changes to a disability-specific employment service, should include targeted engagement with people with disability.

Disproportionate impact

Projects that involve the whole community but may have an impact on people with disability more than others - such as a building renovation or public event project - should also involve direct consultation with people with disability.

Community impact

Projects that involve the whole community and are likely to have an impact on the community equally, such as a change to pollution regulations, should include people with disability. However, specific targeting of people with disability may not be necessary.

You should also include and respond to the specific needs of disabled people from indigenous and non-English speaking communities, those who live in rural and remote areas, as well as their families and caregivers.

If you are not sure whether or how to engage people, it may be worthwhile talking to a relevant government agency, disability service provider or advocacy group in your region.

All of the engagement methods discussed earlier in this Unit are appropriate for people with a disability.

However, there are some important points you need to keep in mind if your engagement is to be fully inclusive.

Reliance on printed text can effectively exclude people with a print handicap from accessing this information.

Producing information onto electronic disks, onto the Internet, in large print, audio and Braille formats will go some way towards meeting the information needs of these people.

Many people who are blind or have a vision impairment now have access to computers which translate electronic information into ASCII format on disk, to voice, into Braille or large print.

People with an intellectual disability may also have difficulty understanding complex documents.

Provision may need to be made to translate documents into easy English including the use of pictures to assist people with an intellectual disability to participate in the consultation process.

Easy English and large print formats also benefit many people who may not have a disability.

Let people know far enough ahead the issues they are being consulted on so that they can prepare well thought out responses.

Appropriate lead times are an important factor in enabling people with disability to more fully participate in an engagement process because:

  • many peak bodies represent large groups of people with disability and need adequate time to consult with their constituents, and
  • the nature of some disability may reduce the capacity for people to respond quickly.

You should agree on a time frame which allows sufficient lead time for comments to be obtained, to locate and recruit participants and arrange any necessary support requirements such as attendant, respite or child care during the planning stages of any consultation process.

As with any engagement process, you shoulds ensure that all participants are aware of the finalisation date.

The following factors should be considered when organising a meeting that is likely to be attended by people with disability.

  • Some people with disability may need assistance to attend, and may find early morning meetings difficult
  • Enough time should be allocated for each person to speak, including those who may need more time to express their view, such as people who have difficulty speaking, have an intellectual disability or an acquired brain injury, or who use non-verbal communication methods such as word boards or computers
  • Engaging a sign-language or other interpreter should be considered so that people who are deaf or non-English speakers can participate in the proceedings. In this case, you will need to ensure that people relying on the interpreter are seated in a position where they can easily see him/her
  • Make information available in accessible formats so that blind and vision impaired people or people with an intellectual disability can access the information prior to and during the meeting, and
  • Ensure the venue is accessible by public transport. The absence of public transport restricts people's ability to participate. If there is no other suitable venue, you may need to consider some transport assistance.

You should also note that people with disability who experience communication or cognitive difficulties usually prefer small focus or discussion groups with reasonable lead times.

These opportunities will allow participants to consider the issues thoroughly before the meeting.

However, for people with an intellectual disability, group discussions can sometimes be difficult to follow, particularly when individuals shift from topic to topic. One-to-one interviews are preferable for this group.

Particular access issues to consider include:

  • Are the building and the meeting areas accessible to people with mobility difficulties?
  • Is entry through the front door?
  • Does the building have clear signage set at appropriate heights?
  • Is the building close to public transport and does it have clearly defined 'drop off' and 'pick up' points?
  • Are the toilets and bathrooms on the same floor as meeting areas and are they accessible?
  • Does the building have assistive listening systems, such as hearing loops?
  • Is the building free of features such as flickering lights that may trigger attacks of particular illnesses for instance, Meniere's Disease, or epilepsy?

To ensure that cost does not deter participation you may also need to consider:

  • reimbursement of taxi or public transport fares
  • the use of a free call number
  • visiting the person in their home
  • providing attendant care or support services during the consultation, and
  • providing child care.

It is also important to recognise that the presence of a disability alone will not ensure that the individual will necessarily have the skills or experience to represent the views of other people with disability, particularly the views of people with disability different to their own.

As with all forms of stakeholder engagement, the sooner you identify, prioritise and include disability groups in your planning, the more efficient and effective the outcomes will be.

This lesson is directly sourced from some now out-of-print material published by the Disability Policy and Co-ordination Branch, Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, Australia (now the Department of Social Services).

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