We all find our way toward Toastmasters for a variety of reasons. I was an experienced but untrained public speaker, used to giving keynote addresses and delivering lectures. Then I lost 80% of my sight, an eye, and my confidence.
No longer did I feel able to stand on a stage, craftily reading my PowerPoint slides out of the corner of my left eye. There was no more glancing down quickly at my notes. Even worse, I could no longer gauge the audience’s interest in what I was saying.
I struggled for a while before getting the simple advice: “Join Toastmasters.” Luckily, Lincolnshire Speakers had chartered two years earlier in my home city of Lincoln, England. I visited the club to find out more.
Two years later, I am just completing Level 5 in the Dynamic Leadership path. I’ve won my first Humorous Speech Contest and hold the record for being the worst Club Secretary in history, in terms of minute-taking and organization.
I am now registered blind, with over 90% sight loss, so my fellow Toastmasters are very tolerant about my minute-taking. But they’ve done more than that for me. With the club’s help, I have discovered a more professional speaking style and have developed new ways to prepare and deliver speeches to suit my disability. The evaluations I receive provide more quantitative feedback than ever before.
I am grateful and incredibly lucky to be part of this club. Lincolnshire Speakers welcomes others with cultural and physical differences and has built a commitment to ensure that all members benefit from the Toastmasters experience.
Lincolnshire Speakers has built a commitment to ensure that all members benefit from the Toastmasters experience.
Our current President has hearing difficulties but has taken on the role with a commendable calmness and determination. She strikes fear in hearts when she serves as Table Topicsmaster, asking participants to describe an obscure color or, most notably of all, to silently act out the topic! It’s a fantastic lesson in demonstrating the importance of body language. I heartily recommend clubs give this theme a try!
Our Vice President Membership suffers from severe physical disabilities but is one of the club’s most dynamic members. No visitor escapes her cheery welcome. New members receive a welcome briefing and are pointed toward a suitable club mentor. She encourages everyone to jump straight in by taking meeting roles and planning an Ice Breaker speech.
All our members, whether disabled or not, have taken up the club culture and challenges with enthusiasm. Our group includes experienced executives, young professionals, university students with English as their second language, new speakers seeking self-development, and veterans who want to continue their Toastmasters journey. All are welcome to join us.
Lincolnshire Speakers Club Insights on Inclusivity
Accommodations to consider:
- Add inclusivity to your club’s Core Values.
- Stay attuned to members’ communication needs.
- If meeting in person, choose a venue that is accessible to all, offers wheelchair access and parking, and is convenient to public transportation.
- Hold in-person meetings in a quiet room with soft furnishings rather than hard surfaces.
- Provide suitable seating for physical disabilities. Position speakers for lip-reading. Clear the room of all trip hazards, such as cables and cords.
- Provide a language interpreter and/or someone to handle sign language.
- If possible, use a hearing loop sound system for people with hearing aids.
- Send members a large-print agenda before the meeting.
- For in-person meetings, place a large, printed Word of the Day on the floor in front of the speaker to give all a better chance to see and use it.
- Use timing lights with shapes or sounds for visually impaired/color blind speakers.
- Assign member buddies who can assist disabled members if needed.
- For Zoom or other audio visual platforms, use the closed caption option.
Ross Marshall, Ph.D. is Club Secretary of Lincolnshire Speakers, in Lincoln, England. He is a corporate coach and trainer, and director of Leading Green, a United Kingdom-based environmental sustainability company. He is also co-founder of Tallinn Forum, a pan-European think tank for environmental risk assessment.