Listen to Nancy...A Consumer Speaks!

Real Estate Broker/Owner with HomeRome Realty 410-530-2400 311291

Clients Who Have Disabilities - What Do You Say?  How Do You Say It?


A few days I spoke about making my own appointments, and one of the many comments on  that post came from a lady named Nancy who pointed out some less-than sensitive terms we were using. We learned that she is not a real estate professional but rather a consumer who is visiting Active Rain to learn from us before she puts her own home on the market. 

Nancy's comments started a discussion about how we need to be sensitive to the effect of the words we use and the way we address people with disabilities. Those of us who are fortunate to not (yet) need a wheelchair probably don't notice that there is an important difference between "wheelchair bound" and "wheelchair user." But as Nancy pointed out, "People with disabilities and their families are tuned in to language that they hear as discriminatory or insensitive. Wheelchair users are not bound to their chairs. With or without help they leave their chairs to sleep, bathe, use the toilet, drive or ride in cars, enjoy amusement park rides."

My years as a Registered Nurse have always helped me be sensitive to the special needs of my clients,  but even so I needed to learn not to refer to someone as "restricted to a wheelchair." 

This is such an important subject that I've asked Nancy to write a guest blog. Please welcome her.



One in Five Americans Lives with a Person with a Disability. Are you ready?

One in five U.S. residents lives with a person with a disability. How many are your clients? Do you embrace the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) or tolerate it?

I'm a consumer, seller-to-be, and regular reader who sometimes comments on ActiveRain. I also live with a person with a disability. I have been invited by Margaret Rome to offer some insight to real estate professionals on how to interact with people with disabilities. I am under no illusion that I am an expert, but am opening up the subject hoping some of you will want to learn more. Thank you Margaret, for the opportunity.

Only 15% of persons with a disability were born with that disability. That means that 85% of disabilities are acquired during a person's lifetime. It could happen to you or a family member. It could happen tomorrow. Yes, that's right. A car accident, brain tumor, stroke. It could happen tomorrow.

If you or someone you love suddenly became disabled, how would you want to be treated?

Language is a place to start, like saying "wheelchair user" instead of "wheelchair bound," "disabled" instead of "handicapped," and referring to the person instead of the disability. Here's an example. Instead of saying "my handicapped client", say "my client who has (name disability)". Do you see the difference? Your client is a person who has a disability. It may seem awkward at first because it takes extra words, but it makes a difference in how you are heard. Also, it may seem obvious, but don't exclude your client with a disability from the conversation by addressing your statements to another person who is with him. Your client is probably not deaf or stupid.

If your language, attitude, or discomfort is perceived by your client or his family as being discriminatory or just ignorant, you could lose the client. Now you might be thinking that you would not mind losing that client; he makes you uncomfortable. His home may require an accommodation that could be hard to find, and that extra time could be more profitably spent on an easier sale.

Think again. First, because you make yourself vulnerable to a discrimination lawsuit. But more important to your business, people with disabilities are a growing part of the consumer population.

Think back a generation or more. There weren't many long-term survivors of serious accidents or illnesses. People who lived longer than average may have lived in a care facility or did not leave their home often. They were not very active participants in the consumer world.

That model no longer applies. Modern medicine, the ADA , and the internet have changed things. The potential client base of people with disabilities is huge. Based on data from a U.S. census report of 2004, and a 2000 Cornell University study, here are some interesting numbers:

•·         17.2% or 43 million US citizens aged 16-64 report some form of employment-limiting disability.

•·         Approximately 55% of persons with disabilities aged 16-64 are employed.

•·         The over 65 population currently holds the largest disposable income in the country.

I do not have statistics on the number of disabled young men and women coming home from the Middle East. Do you think many of them will be looking to buy a home? Does this client base now sound more attractive to you?

None of this is intended to criticize. I just hope that I started you thinking, and that a lively discussion will follow.

If there is interest, I will follow up with specific suggestions on how you, as an individual and a professional, can learn to be more aware, use the preferred terms, and at least not do the wrong thing. Your local disability services organizations will be happy to provide education and answer questions for your brokerage.


Thanks for reading.


This entry hasn't been re-blogged:

Re-Blogged By Re-Blogged At
Baltimore, Harford, Cecil, Real Estate
Posts to Localism
Calling All Nurses
wheelchair user

Post a Comment
Spam prevention
Spam prevention
Show All Comments
Margaret Rome, Baltimore Maryland
HomeRome Realty 410-530-2400 - Pikesville, MD
Sell Your Home With Margaret Rome

Nancy, Will have to check out the accessibility for websites. Maybe there is a way to use it  like switching languages. If not there is a good idea for someone to develop.

I had more photos for this post that were a bit cute like a smiling wheelchair etc. If interested I could post them. I did not want to be insensitive.

Feb 13, 2007 02:47 PM #18
Diane Lynch
Realty Executives Premiere - Warrenville, IL
Real Estate Broker
Thanks for the insight Nancy. I have disabled relatives and they are a forgotten class who need a voice. I have been fighting to help them get accessibility in their home and it's a tough road with a lot of red tape. I know there are a lot of obstacles for disabled people and your tips on how to handle situations are great. Glad you could share.
Feb 13, 2007 02:52 PM #19
Joan Snodgrass
Midamerica Referral Network - Kimberling City, MO

Great Post Nancy, and thanks Margaret.  You were so right on it when you said none of us knows when we will become disabled.  I joined the group with a severe exascerbation diagnosed as MS.  I was able to get my walking back, but some days could not navigate Walmart without the assist of a chair.  Your comment:When speaking to a wheelchair user, move yourself to his eye level. If you are uncertain about accessibility of a place you are going with a person who uses a walker or wheelchair, phone first and ask.   I found it so hard at first to use an electric chair, as people in the store would totally ignore me, push in front of me, etc.  It was as tho I did not exist.

Praise God, I improved and haven't had to make use of a chair for a couple of years now, in fact, was told by two neuros that I was misdiagnosed 8 years ago!


Ozarks Joan 

Feb 13, 2007 03:07 PM #20
Jeff Tomas
Accounting and Tax - Rockford, IL

Nancy and Margaret ~ Thank you for your post. There are many disabled americans out there. Some due to accidents, some due to disease, or even protecting citizens. There are many reasons that people have become disabled. Most people do not understand the concept of being disabled, or the frequent pain that is often suffered by a disabled person. When people see someone who is disabled, they generally look and say awwww. I can not speak for most people with disabilities, however; I can speak for myself. I want to just be treated like the person who has no disability.

Jeff Tomas, US ARMY, Disabled Veteran

Feb 13, 2007 03:24 PM #21
Laurie Manny
Long Beach CA Real Estate - Long Beach, CA

Hello Nancy & Margaret,

Thank you so much for this post.  A little added tip for the blind readers accessibility, it is very important to label your graphics, their software allows them to identify the pictures by the labels.  This is also relevant on your website pictures as well as here on Active Rain. 

It has been a pleasant and enlightening post, again, thank you very much.

Feb 13, 2007 03:26 PM #22
Michael Jordan
Tarbell, REALTORS - Murrieta, CA
Thanks Nancy for a very enlightening post, and thanks go out to you too Margaret for getting Nancy to be a guest blogger.
Feb 13, 2007 03:31 PM #23
Don Rich
West USA Realty - Peoria, AZ

Margaret - Its all already been said except this is one awesome post!

Huge cudos to both you and Nancy!

Feb 13, 2007 05:03 PM #24
Allison Stewart
St.Cloud Homes - Saint Cloud, FL
St. Cloud Fl Realtor, Osceola County Real Estate 407-616-9904
Well done! The stats are surprising. Onein  Thank you for writing this-we all learned something of value.
Feb 13, 2007 10:02 PM #25
Sharon Simms
Coastal Properties Group International - Christie's International - Saint Petersburg, FL

Nancy, thank you for your comments, and Margaret, thank you for giving her the opportunity.

One of my most joyous clients was a delightful man who happened to be a paraplegic. I learned so much from him. 

Feb 13, 2007 10:53 PM #26
Diane Bell, Hilton Head Real Estate, Bluffton
Charter 1 Real Estate, Hilton Head, Bluffton, SC - Hilton Head Island, SC

Thanks so much for offering us an opportunity to be more sensitive to others.  While I am sure we would never "knowingly" offend another person, I found this post to be very informative.  We can all be a bit more sensitive. 

Feb 13, 2007 10:55 PM #27
John Klassen
M & T Bank - Kingston, NY

Thank you. My wife worked as a fund raiser for Gateway Community Industry. This is a vocational rehabilitation organization for people with developmental and injury related disabilities. We participated in many fundraisers for the organization and the Executive Director, John Mizerak always kept the clients at the forefront and ensured that his board members knew the clients they had chosen to serve.

It was a great eye opener for me. I had seen Veterans with major disabilities but had never been deeply involved with anyone with a disability. You hiot the nail on the head that we need to be aware of our surroundings and how we treat them, verbally and non verbally.

Many folks are well adapted to their condiditon and if you let them they will make you fell comfortable. They can give you a view into a world that is beautiful. They can provide you proof that attitude is everything.

Feb 14, 2007 12:55 AM #28
Carole Cohen
Howard Hanna Cleveland City Office - Cleveland, OH
Realtor, ePRO

Nancy and Margaret, I wanted to link a post here that Bonnie Erickson wrote a few months ago. It deals with the visually impaired issues and how they can be aided by posting graphics in a certain way on AR.


Feb 14, 2007 03:41 AM #29
Lynda Eisenmann
Preferred Home Brokers - Brea, CA
Broker-Owner,CRS,CDPE,GRI,SRES, Brea,CA, Orange Co

Hi Nancy and Margaret,

Once again thank you for the great information. 

While out pounding the pavement this a.m. I was thinking about things and your post came to mind.  This is a topic that I feel would make a wonderful article for our NAR magazine. We could all be enlightened a little more. 

Any thoughts on that?

Lynda Eisenmann, CRS, CRB, GRI

Feb 14, 2007 05:03 AM #30
Margaret Rome, Baltimore Maryland
HomeRome Realty 410-530-2400 - Pikesville, MD
Sell Your Home With Margaret Rome

Carole, Thanks for linking this post Bonnie Erickson wrote  Please everyone go read this!


Feb 14, 2007 12:10 PM #31
Lynda Eisenmann
Preferred Home Brokers - Brea, CA
Broker-Owner,CRS,CDPE,GRI,SRES, Brea,CA, Orange Co

Hi Margaret,

Earlier I sent you an off blog email, while doing so my battery shut down while I had several in the pipline, so I'm not sure if you've received it or not.

Bottom line, I've been in contact with folks at NAR about your blog with Nancy.  You will be hearing from them about the liklehood of an article in the magazine.

Good luck!

Feb 15, 2007 05:23 AM #32
Margaret Rome, Baltimore Maryland
HomeRome Realty 410-530-2400 - Pikesville, MD
Sell Your Home With Margaret Rome

Thanks Lynda, I will keep you posted. I have not received your email.


Feb 15, 2007 07:32 AM #33
Bonnie Erickson
Tangletown Realty - Saint Paul, MN

One thing I've learned from working with people who happen to be disabled is that they are usually more than happy to teach me how to behave.  I learned from a client who was blind that she wanted me to extend my arm and let her hold it as we walked much like a man escorts a woman.  Grabbing her arm and helping her forward was not the way to go.  When she explained why, it was so obvious I could have stumbled on it.  Holding my arm and walking a half pace behind me allowed her to read my body language of going up, down, around or stopping before she had to do so.  She also asked me to tell her when we approached steps or a curb so she knew how high to step.  We became quite comfortable once I was trained!  The valuable lesson she taught me is that the disability should not be the pink elephant in the room that no one acknowledges or talks about.  It is a life circumstance that will impact the type of home needed, etc.

I also have experienced a short stint using a wheelchair and crutches.  Whereas there was an end to my tenure in both circumstances, it gave me a whole new awareness of how difficult it is to ride in or on grass, gravel, sand, snow, ice, curb cuts, bathrooms, thresholds, etc.  Every movement is calculated as to safety and do-ability.  Crutches were equally a challenge as carrying anything is impossible.  I hated having to descend the steps to get a cup of tea, brew the tea, but not be able to get the cup to the table to sit down to drink it!  We found a 2 cup thermos with a strap that I could put around my wrist while I used the crutches.  I became quite adept at pushing the food item along the counter and standing between the counter and table to transfer the item to the table and then pushing it to where I was to sit.  Getting a broom for the cat litter was an equal challenge.  I resorted to pushing it across the floor in front of me.

Both experiences have impacted my empathy and willingness to learn what is needed to serve my clients who happen to have a disability.  As one once said, "There are two groups of people.  Those with disabilities and those who will become disabled in the future."  At some time in our lives the majority of us will experience some kind of disability. 

Feb 17, 2007 02:05 PM #34
Margaret Rome, Baltimore Maryland
HomeRome Realty 410-530-2400 - Pikesville, MD
Sell Your Home With Margaret Rome

Bonnie, Thanks for the wonderful reminder; by listening to others, they will teach us how to help them. 

Some years ago I had an ankle reconstruction and used this device. Like you, it really heightened my awareness and made me so much more aware of all the challenges.                                                                                 


scooter for lower leg injuries

Feb 18, 2007 11:27 AM #35
Teri Isner
Keller Williams Realty at the Lakes - Orlando, FL

Here is another example of a wonderful story and how sharing can help just look at all the comments here.

Feb 23, 2007 04:58 PM #36
Margaret Rome, Baltimore Maryland
HomeRome Realty 410-530-2400 - Pikesville, MD
Sell Your Home With Margaret Rome

Teri, I loved all the comments and the way eveyone is sharing to help others.


Feb 23, 2007 06:29 PM #37
Post a Comment
Spam prevention
Show All Comments

What's the reason you're reporting this blog entry?

Are you sure you want to report this blog entry as spam?


Margaret Rome, Baltimore Maryland

Sell Your Home With Margaret Rome
Sell Your Home Margaret Rome 410.530.2400
Spam prevention