As a Toastmaster with a hearing loss and a (hopefully temporary) physical disability, I see the need for occasionally having to accommodate those with differing abilities. A friend of mine is blind; nothing annoys her so much as when some well-meaning Toastmaster tells her she needs to improve her eye contact. She can’t see. How can she improve something she simply cannot do? It is like asking a fish to climb a tree. Fish can swim really well. They leave the tree climbing to others.

As Toastmasters, it is our duty as leaders to know how to incorporate an accommodation. The simplest way is to ask the person what s/he needs or wants. I am hard of hearing. I don’t require much in the way of accommodation, but some of my hard of hearing friends may need everyone in the club to use a microphone. Someone else with a mobility disability may need a wide aisle to go down to accommodate a scooter, a wheelchair or a service animal.

Sometimes certain prerequisites required to attain certain educational awards may have to be modified, or even eliminated altogether. A case in point. As a child I joined Girl Guides. Because of my severe ADHD and other learning disabilities, I simply could not and cannot tie anything more convoluted than a sheet-bend knot. A clove hitch is beyond me; don’t even talk to me about a bowline or a prusik knot! Back in the 60s, there were no accommodations. One either passed or failed in Guiding. As a result of this one thing, I was not able to attain the highest level in Guiding, and thus was never able to meet Prince Philip who handed out All Round Cords, Gold Cords and Canada Cords.

These days, my disability would be accommodated, and I could substitute another project of similar scope in its place. This is something that also needs to occur in Toastmasters.

If someone, for some reason, cannot handle the job of timing (whether because of the physical ability to reach or manipulate the switches on the timing mechanism, or cannot see well enough to watch a stop watch, get the person to do something else and give them “credit” for timing. Someone may love the role of general evaluator. Within this position the general evaluator has to know about, and demonstrate, the importance of time in the meeting, and is in charge of the timer of the meeting, among other people. If the person loves the role of general evaluator, but cannot perform the role of timer, switch them out. Don’t let something like this hold someone back.

What if someone with a disability wants to become an area director? That can happen. If the position needs to be modified, or if something needs to be put in place in order for the person to be accommodated, sit down with the person and find out what needs to happen. A person may make a perfectly good area director, and may need to fulfill this role in order to attain the educational level of ALS in the legacy program, or one of the higher levels of the Pathways paths. Traditionally the area director needs to visit the clubs twice and write up a report. If the person doesn’t drive because of a disability, a couple of things can possibly be put in place to accommodate (again, with the person’s input – never make a decision on behalf of a disabled person and expect to be praised!). Either arrange for a team of volunteer chauffeurs, or arrange to have the area director participate via virtual meetings. Set up a computer on an overhead projector, and invite the person to participate via the web. There are many programs available online to do this. Again, always ask the person, who knows best what works for him or her.

Don’t be afraid to ask us what we need. We don’t bite. Well, usually. In fact, being asked makes us feel part of the club. All too often, people are afraid to interact with us because they don’t want to say the wrong thing. The result of this is that we end up feeling alone and isolated. Something that should never happen at a Toastmasters meeting. You don’t need to know how to accommodate. Just treat as as you would want to be treated, which is with dignity and respect. After all, the Toastmasters Club Mission sums it up perfectly:

We provide a supportive and positive learning experience in which members are empowered to develop communication and leadership skills, resulting in greater self-confidence and personal growth.

Toastmasters International Values:  Respect • Integrity • Service • Excellence
Our Principles:  Lead By Example • Work / Play as a Team 

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