May 12
Approaching Difference – Etiquette: Part 4

My daughter, Labri, had friends who knew her before she became ill. It was easy for them to act naturally with her because they had a personal history together. When meeting someone with a disability, often, but not always, the disability is seen before the person. It takes extra effort on your part to move beyond this introduction.

In the case of someone with an invisible disability, we often don't take the time to consider the possibility that their brain works differently from ours. For example, those with high functioning autism may appear 'normal' but exhibit unusual behavior – and you respond by distancing yourself.


Ignoring and avoidance are not acceptance. Developing a personal relationship is the pathway to inclusion. As a society, we need to commit ourselves to inclusion and diversity. Knowing what to do to move forward into a personal relationship is the first step towards making a difference.

Educate yourself about conversation etiquette with people with various kinds of disabilities. Remember that all people are different. Not everyone one will have the same response or opinion, so when in doubt, ask before acting. Some simple tips include:

Intellectual Disability - When talking to a person with a disability, look at and speak directly in a normal voice to that person, rather than through a companion who may be along.

Vision Loss - When greeting a person with a severe loss of vision, always identify yourself and others who may be with you.  Don't be embarrassed if you happen to use accepted common expressions such as "See you later."

Hearing Impairment - To get the attention of a person with a hearing impairment, tap the person on the shoulder or wave your hand. Look directly at the person and speak clearly, naturally and slowly to establish if the person can read lips. Not all persons with hearing impairments can lip-read. Those who can, will rely on facial expression and other body language to help in understanding. Show consideration by placing yourself facing the light source and keeping your hands, cigarettes and food away from your mouth when speaking. Keep mustaches well-trimmed. Shouting won't help. Written notes may.

Physical Disability - When talking with a person in a wheel chair for more than a few minutes, use a chair, whenever possible, in order to place yourself at the person's eye level to facilitate conversation.

Heidi Dirkse-Graw, MS, CRC, LPC

May 09
Approaching Difference: Interaction - Part 3

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When my daughter, Labri, was 12 years-old, she was diagnosed with an in-operable brain tumor. As she began treatment the medication quickly distorted her petite facial structure swelling her cheeks out of proportion. It was obvious that she was ill.  Those who knew her, greeted her warmly and interacted with her - as a person. The impact of her tumor on her appearance and her future was ever present, but it was not a distraction from who she was. In contrast, people who she encountered that did not know her, were observed either looking-on with pity or avoiding her gaze and moving away as she came near.

In my work bridging the gap between job seekers who have disabilities and business, I have found a similar pattern. When individuals who do the hiring and or business owners have experience with family members with disabilities they more readily see the "job seeker" as a qualified candidate. Yet, when hiring managers and/or business owners lack experience with people who have disabilities, discrimination and bias often ensue and the doors of job opportunity close.

I believe that the key to becoming more inclusive and aware of embracing people with disabilities into our communities and workplaces is to start talking to them! The more opportunity you give yourself to get to know people with various kinds of conditions, the more inclusive you will naturally be.

How do we do this? It all starts with Conversation! Below are some tips to help you get started:

When talking to anyone with a disability, use "people first" language. Remember that people are human beings first – their disabling condition is secondary. Example: Sam is a person who experiences autism vs. Sam is autistic.  Descriptions of those with disabilities are written as "experiencing" the disability rather than "being" the disability. This verbiage highlights the importance of person above the definition of their disability. Find the time to get to know someone experiencing a disability on the personal level. That's the start of change. At work, consider allowing someone to Job Shadow or do a Community Based Assessment. This allows you the opportunity to get to know someone experiencing a disability on the personal level while giving them the chance to find a place to contribute in the work force. 

Heidi Dirkse-Graw, MS, CRC, LPC

May 02
​Approaching Difference: Perspective - Part 2

I can only speak to what I know.

perspective.jpgPerspective takes time to develop.

I know that throughout history, people with disabilities have been cast aside and often thought of as less than human. Progress towards equality and inclusion has been a slow road for anyone perceived 'different'.

Despite civil rights legislation promoting a free public education for all Americans regardless of disability, and anti-discrimination legislation in employment, people with disabilities are drastically underrepresented in the workforce and many live in poverty. (1)

With 28 years in the field of vocational rehabilitation, I have personally witnessed employers pass up qualified job seekers with disabilities because they perceive difference as a negative to their business. Translation: discrimination.

I have also seen companies embrace diversity and accept the opportunity to employ a person with a disability. Change begins. The worker with a disability is observed with new eyes. The disability fades into inclusion and equality.

Progress? Yes.

Enough Progress? No.

Despite increased efforts to help individuals with disabilities seek employment, the 2015 Disability Statistics Annual Report, found that in 2014, 64.8% of working age individuals with disabilities in Oregon were unemployed. (1)

This unemployment rate needs to change. Those with disabilities need to be needed. They want to contribute. As a society, it is up to us to provide them the opportunity. Change can't happen without taking time to develop understanding.

Heidi Dirkse-Graw, MS, CRC, LPC


Reference: (1) Kraus, Lewis. (2015). 2015 Disability Statistics Annual Report. Durham, NH: University of New Hampshire


Apr 25
Approaching Difference: Introduction - Part 1

Everyone is different, some more so than others.

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We all notice how others appear different from ourselves. Humans have a tendency to hone in on those differences; comparing to what we believe should be normal. There is a term for this tendency. It is called confirmation bias. We compare what we experience in the world to what we think we should encounter and create a judgement good or bad.
Disabilities are easy to judge. The very nature of the word identifies a variation from the norm. We don't see ability, which we expect to see, but we instead see "dis" ability or a lacking in some way. We automatically form a bias – the person does not fit within our norm or within our world. Ouch.
This is an important challenge for us as a community. Our human nature wants to categorize and judge; to condemn and set apart. Some people may want to distance themselves due to the discomfort they feel with the variations of disability. This type of reaction left by itself can fuel segregation, discrimination and isolation for a great number of people.
Yet, in others, the bias is not allowed to fester and the confirmation bias is not accepted as the truth. For many, there seems to be a greater force at work that cries out to be heard. That force is compassion and an inherent sense of value and respect of others. This soft side of humanity challenges the conflict of differentness. Over the coming weeks, the blog will focus on overcoming bias to so you can learn to approach difference successfully.
Heidi Dirkse-Graw, MS, CRC, LPC
Mar 25
HR Hot Topic = “Workplace Health”

​Turning Confrontation into Collaboration

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Are you tired of employees bickering and not getting along, wasting time and money with incomplete projects or taking sick leave to avoid work? Can you envision your company healthy, productive and emotionally intelligent?
Businesses today are seeing the value of promoting employee health - physically, financially and emotionally. Most detrimental to workplace health is conflict. Seeing the long term benefits, organizations are pursuing information and resources to build the skills of their managers and employees.  Removing conflicts improves the effectiveness of your workplace, increasing personal health for all.
Trained mediation skills in the workplace are highly effective tools for resolving disputes. Learning techniques to find ‘both-gain’ solutions when employees are stuck produces dramatic success when put into the hands of managers and employees.
By learning a specific set of skills utilized by professional mediators, a supervisor can begin to transform your organization, conversation by conversation. You are invited to join our Manager as Mediator training next week on March 30th from 9am to 4pm.  Cost $129.99 (registration, materials and lunch).


Mar 22
Job Satisfaction - It isn't luck!



If you are a manager or supervisor of others, you've probably witnessed the downward spiral of these unsettling words in action. You just wanted the problem to go away. No matter how hard you tried however, the consequences resulted in a loss to the company – at the expense of employee morale.

How can this be avoided? How can this be resolved? In my experience, I have seen the impact of conflicts be reduced and even turn a bad situation into a better one, but it wasn't luck, it was learning. Strategies to encourage and engage your subordinates and peers to communicate more effectively help companies successfully progress through times of conflict and stress. Work conflict does not have to result in a loss to the company or its employees. By learning a specific set of skills utilized by professional mediators, you as a supervisor can begin to transform your organization, conversation by conversation. Join me on March 30th from 9am to 4pm for a day of learning.  Cost $129.99 (registration, materials and lunch).

Register Now

Heidi Dirkse-Graw, MS, CRC, LPC

Mar 19
Topic: Soft Skills

​Definition: Soft Skills –

personal attributes that enable someone to interact effectively and harmoniously with other people.

Some people work for a paycheck, while others pursue a passion or creativity. Regardless of the reasons for working, it seems that cohesiveness, productivity and job satisfaction are linked together in a complex dynamic that makes or breaks your success.  When the workplace is wrought wbrookwaterphotography0015.jpgith consternation due to disagreements and conflicts between workers who are task interdependent, job satisfaction diminishes.

Conflict is unavoidable, but it doesn't have to end in unresolvable disputes, resignations and turnover. During the next few weeks we will discuss the ways workplace soft skills can make the difference between loving and hating your job, and help you achieve the career success you desire.

Mar 17
Introducing Our Blog

​​​Working is an activity that most of us do 40+ hours per week. In fact, most Americans spend more hours at work than they do seeing their families or engaging in hobbies with friends. In my 27+ years of experience working in the world of employee-employer relationships, getting along with your supervisor, co-workers and/or employees makes a difference in our systemic experience of work. That is why I write.

Heidi Dirkse-Graw, MS, CRC, LPC