Imagine the scene, the trainer is opening a training session for L&D professionals and explaining what to do if the fire alarm goes off.
Trainer: "The fire exit is there" (points to the door).
Trainer: "If the fire alarm goes off, head through the door and go that way" (points left).
Trainer: "You'll see an archway, so head through it. The sign for the Assembly Point is just past the smoking hut (points right); you can't miss it."
Not the clearest of instructions, but I was pretty confident that I could find my way to the Assembly Point. I was less confident about one of my fellow participants, Peter, who was sitting on the opposite side of the room.
The reason for my concern was that Peter is completely blind. Despite the reassuring presence of his guide dog, I didn't know how Peter had got enough information from the explanation should we need to evacuate.
Whilst Peter and our trainers may have already agreed what would happen in the event of a fire, it was interesting nonetheless to witness his inability to access the information in the way it had just been presented.
During the rest of the training, I became more aware of how often we add visual clues to our verbal communications. For example, here is a conversation about different Thinking Styles:
Trainer: "Speaking personally, I am (points to a flipchart to her left), I really struggle with (points to the flipchart in front of her)".
Participant A: "Absolutely! They always get me flustered."
Participant B: "It's the way they look at you (pulls a face to look horror struck) that really gets me!"
Participants C, D and E: (Laugh loudly and murmur agreement.)
Do you know what they are talking about? No? Neither did Peter.
Now this is not a critique of the trainers; they were experienced and knowledgeable. But it was a reminder that, however welcoming we are, however inclusive we would like to be, unless we understand the little things that make a big difference we can't make our learning experiences accessible to all.
As our workplaces, thankfully, become more open to those with disabilities, it is more and more likely that you will have participants in your training who have additional needs. Remember, these might not be obvious; there may be hidden needs related to things like colour blindness, dyslexia or autism, for example.
When this happens, in the first instance, I would always recommend speaking to the participant beforehand to find out what adjustments they need you to make. They are, after all, the experts in their needs. That knowledge will give you the power to make a real difference to them.
Encourage them to let you know during the training if, however inadvertently, you are making it hard for them to fully engage in the session. The quicker that they let you know, the sooner you can rectify matters.
Once the training is over, ask for their honest feedback on what you did well and ways that you can learn from the experience too.
Finally, ask other trainers for their ideas and suggestions on how they have made their training more accessible. The more we share our experiences, the more we will understand how to get it right. It is a learning journey for us all :-)
I will leave you with a quote from an article I read today on BBCNews:
"For disabled people it is not about asking for special treatment, but simply wanting the opportunity to live life as unimpaired by our disabilities as is possible, and to be allowed to do so with dignity" Steve Smithers.
Surely that is something we can all aspire to.
All the best