Making your CU accessible - facial disfigurements
There’s a facially disfigured student in my CU
A person may be born with a disfiguring condition or may acquire a disfigurement through accident, injury or disease. This guide majors on facial disfigurement, but the same principles apply for people who appear different in other ways; for example, without arms. Often people are scared of disfigurement and unsure how to act towards people with facial or other difference. Research suggests that social situations can be very stressful for such individuals. They may have had unpleasant experiences in childhood, such as name-calling and bullying. It would not be surprising therefore if that person lacked confidence or felt anxious about meeting new people or being in new situations, even in a welcoming CU environment. .
When meeting someone who has a facial or other difference, remember that both you and they may be feeling self-conscious and unsure how to behave or what to say.
On the other hand, someone with a facial disfigurement may have grown used to having to break the ice and make the first move. As a result, they may bring a friendliness which can be a real asset to the CU. So don’t make assumptions about what they can or can’t do; approach everyone as a unique individual, just as Jesus did.
- Don't be afraid to make eye contact, without staring.
- Take the initiative, shake hands, smile and be welcoming.
- If you are unsure of yourself, keep calm; speak slowly to calm yourself.
- If the person you are speaking to has a speech difficulty due to their condition, don’t be afraid to ask them to repeat what they have said.
- Don't speak for them or pretend you have understood when you haven’t. (See section on including people with difficult speech).
- Focus on the individual, not their disfigurement.
- Don't pry or ask personal and probing questions but do ask open questions to allow the other person to share what they would like to.
- Humour can be a great icebreaker; use it sensitively.
- Don't patronise people with clichés and insensitive statements, such as 'they can do wonderful things with surgery these days'.
www.changingfaces.org.uk - Changing Faces is a charity providing free help, advice and information to adults and children (and their parents) who have a disfigurement of face or body.
This resource is part of our Accessible CU series, created especially for Christian Unions by Through The Roof, a Christian Disability charity. To read this article in full, and other articles on including disabled students, download the student version of Through the Roof's publication Be a Roofbreaker for just £3.