Question: What’s the best way to find disabled people to help us? We’ve got a resident making endless demands, some of which we feel are unreasonable and may not even be required by law. Nevertheless, figuring out how to work with such a person is very important to us. – Charles, Mississippi

Answer: Having worked with such people myself, I know how much they hurt morale. After a while, it can be difficult to keep from responding negatively.

However, even “impossible” people raise issues that need to be addressed and that can help others within the community. Keeping that in mind will help you and your team focus on implementing change instead of on the offending person. It also enforces the need for an active outreach program that includes the disabled.

The following steps will produce a committee that neutralizes the “us against them” feeling.

Don’t lose sight of the committee’s purpose. The biggest mistake I see is not providing direction once members are chosen. Use this group to identify and implement necessary improvements.

Don’t be a committee in name only. As Abraham Lincoln famously said: “The best way to conquer your enemy is to make him/her your friend.” Make this a working committee centered on inclusion and participation.

Ask the right questions. You want people with common sense who are open-minded. When interviewing potential committee members, ask basic questions about the Americans with Disabilities Act. In addition to finding out how much they know about the law, you’ll see if they’re willing to learn and adjust their opinions based on the actual regulations.

Disability organization directors, disabled people, and caretakers of those with disabilities are all excellent candidates.

Diversify. Committee members should represent various disabilities, such as:

  • Vision
  • Hearing (communication, speech)
  • Mobility (wheelchair users, missing limbs, balance disorders, stroke-induced limitations)
  • Medical (diabetes, epilepsy, cancer, head injuries, etc.)
  • Neurological and emotional (PTSD, other panic disorders)
  • Mental limitations
  • Mental disorders (bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, autism, etc.)

If I’ve scared the living daylights out of you, don’t worry: You can get help by recruiting ‘stand-by’ advisers.

Many specialists haven’t the time to serve but are more than willing to share information and advice on an as-needed basis via phone or e-mail. I prefer the latter because written documentation provides something to refer to later and ensures accuracy when sharing information.

Now for the big question: where to find these people?

  • Check with your own staff to see who they know.
  • Publicly announce the need for qualified people to serve as active or advisory committee members.
  • Organizations such as foundations for the blind, paralyzed veterans, schools for the deaf, independent living centers, etc.
  • Visit the groups and individuals you need to help you find good people. Make it personal and important!

How to use the committee
Let’s assume you’ve pulled together a committee and that its members include the “difficult” person referred to above. Here’s how I suggest you proceed:

  • Conduct an orientation that explains the ins and outs of the community, project, and/or event. Include a tour when appropriate.
  • Have representatives from different aspects and departments meet with the committee to answer and ask questions so an understanding from both sides is established.
  • Present all new projects for the committee to suggest approaches or solutions for access. (Remember, events are as important as facilities or public right of ways.)
  • Work with the committee for educational opportunities.

Last but not least: Remember that your goal is to make winners of everyone involved.

I’m happy to help by consulting with or training your agency, organization, or company. You can also ask questions and share success stories via e-mail or this blog.

Wishing you the best outcomes in 2015!