Can a "Wheel Chair Voice" stop your career?

A physically disabled person can level the playing field by using their voice powerfully.

Throughout my career, I have had the honor of working with physically disabled male and female business professionals and war veterans who were confined to wheel chairs. American Society has opened up more and more opportunities for the physically disabled: for example, more and better job opportunities and wheel chair access in public venues and during travel.

However, my wheelchair clients say that many physically able people often behave in subtle condescending ways toward them. My clients want to level the playing field between themselves and the standing person who is approaching them for the first time. There is never a second chance to make a first impression.

 

Rose, physically disabled from childhood, was a highly educated, very outgoing, confident woman who was working with the state attorney general’s office to create more interactive community strategies. She attended a number of networking functions and gave presentations to the State legislature and many community groups.

Here is what she told me usually happens in a first encounter with a standing person. “The person feels a bit uncomfortable speaking down to me in the chair and that affects the way they choose to communicate”, she said. “When they have to look down or worse yet lean down, their manner changes in subtle ways and many times, I am no longer perceived as an equal in the conversation. You can hear it in their voice and see it in their body language. At a cocktail party or networking event, some people will actually lean on the chair handle in order to feel more comfortable or just move away”.

Rose not only had an electric wheel chair, but also a Canine Companion who went everywhere with her. Now the standing person in her meetings was not only dealing with the chair but also with Max. Rose and Max were bonded and worked as a highly trained team and when speaking to Max, she used her voice in a gentle, commanding, authoritative and respectful way.

She had realized that her voice made a difference with Max; however, she felt that she couldn’t command people. After all people, unlike dogs, often had learned or instinctive fears, prejudices and agendas around disabilities. “I can’t change other people, and I can’t stand up”, said Rose. “However, I feel there must be something I can do with my voice: either talk louder, deeper or with more authority. What do you think”?

Well Rose, it is very common for people to project their agendas on others without realizing it and you must be mindful and not accept their agendas. Instead, you must always speak professionally, openly and non-judgmentally which will give you more leverage in the encounter.

First, tilting your face, your eyes and your mouth slightly upward in order to make continuing eye contact with the standing person sends the signal that you are taking the initiative to physically, intellectually and emotionally meet them on their level. Secondly, learning to speak with breath support, articulation, projection and speech melody, enables you to speak with a powerful voice that sounds confident, authoritative and  self-assured.

The standing person will feel the strength of your speaking voice and realize that you are taking charge of the conversation and openly engaging him or her in an egalitarian and non-judgmental manner. Most people will respond in kind and be grateful that you have made them feel more comfortable in the conversation.

There are many war veterans, stroke victims, accident victims, and people with medical issues who have lost the use of limbs and/or are paraplegics. Learning how to speak correctly and to project the voice gives them the power to be perceived as an equal while interacting with, contributing to and enjoying the world.

If you would like to discover how you can improve your speaking voice. Sandra offers a 20-minute Speaking Voice Analysis Consultation or read more about our Private Speech Coaching & Voice Coaching Program. Sign up on the Voice Power Studios website.