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Guidance for staff: what should I do to be culturally aware?

Think beyond race and ethnicity

There are many factors that might affect how people experience life differently.  We are all likely at some point to have been part of a conversation around the differences between older and younger people for example.  The ‘generation gap’ is generally accepted to cause communication problems and can lead to misunderstandings and distrust.  For some disabled people their identity, as a deaf person for example, is about far more than impairment.  Be flexible and understand that people may identify with a particular aspect of their diversity at different times – for example, being gay or lesbian is unlikely to be significant to every conversation but may impact on some.

Think outside of your own experiences

We are all influenced by our own values, beliefs and life experiences.   We need to consider how this may affect our actions and behaviours if we are to avoid making assumptions about others based on our own experiences.

Think before you speak

Plan ahead if you know that you’re going to be in an unfamiliar setting.  If there is no opportunity to do this, take your time.  And if you’re not sure how to approach a situation, don’t be afraid to ask.  Explain that you’re uncertain what is appropriate and ask for guidance.  People feel respected if you take the time to get things right.  Be an active listener and pick up on body language signals – give yourself time to work out what the situation might mean.  Avoid jokes – a light-hearted comment can give offence to people you don’t know.

Make connections

There are many support groups across Lancashire that could advise you and that you can learn from.  If you’re planning an exercise that might involve their users, talk to them early in the process.  Don’t expect them to do the work for you (at least not for free) but ask for their advice.

Understand practical barriers

The person you need to talk to may not have English as a first language for example, or may need information in a different format.  Again, avoid making assumptions – whatever their first language, it may be that someone is unable to read letters and documents even when they are able to hold a conversation.  Equally, it may be possible to ‘get by’ in broken English for basic conversations – translation and interpretation is expensive and can lead to significant delays.  However, important conversations and written communication should  be translated when someone has little grasp of English.  Other formats can include providing information in Braille or on a CD for people with a visual impairment or in Easy Read for people with a learning difficulty. 

Outside of language, it may be that some women, for example, are unable to have male visitors in their home when they are alone.  Meetings or conversation might need to be planned around regular prayer times for some people.  Wherever possible, it is important for us to be flexible and make reasonable adjustments to how we do things.