Blogger Widgets Ender-Chan's Thoughts: The Not So Comprehensive Guide to Presuming Competence

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

The Not So Comprehensive Guide to Presuming Competence

What it Means
Presuming competence means assuming that someone is capable of doing something, grasping a concept, understanding what you say, and/or functioning in any other way. For example, talking to someone who displays little signs of competence like you would anyone else in their age group (as in: not baby talking or reducing your vocabulary to the most basic words). 

Why to Do It
Presuming competence indicates that you think of someone as equal (or superior) to you. It gives the person an opportunity to demonstrate their intelligence and independence. Even if someone does not display "competent" traits, they more likely than not can understand you. If this person cannot understand, they will still appreciate the gesture. Presuming incompetence suggests inferiority and serves as the perfect breeding ground for learned helplessness.

Examples of Presuming Competence:
  • Allowing a student to participate in a project
  • Inviting someone to a party
  • Trying something new with the person (They may be better at it than you.)
  • Talking directly with the person rather than to a translator/companion/parent/someone else
  • Speaking as you would normally 
  • Asking about their personal life (their friends, their school/work, favorites)
  • Asking before helping
  • Simply asking!!! It never hurts to ask.
Who it Benefits
  • The person
  • Others around them
  • Anyone who knows them
  • You


  1. Sadly this is not common sense. Treat a person with a disability the same you would treat someone without a disability. Because we all are people.

    1. You got it as usual. This should be common sense.

  2. Glad you wrote this. Presuming competence is something not enough people think about.

    1. Hello, hello! Thank you for visiting.

  3. Except and but. I do want to qualify this. Presuming competence in the ways you suggest makes sense on many levels. As a physician I not unusually run across people who are not competent/capable of making some of their own decisions. In those instances we try to help people to become competent through methods such as changing vocabulary, using illustrations or alternative ways of communicating the ideas, increasing time etc. Treating people with psychiatric or cognitive disabilities "equally" is not always "equality."

    1. I have met those people. My point is to not judge by appearance. If I never know something about someone, I won't assume it's not there. I just don't know because I never saw it. Equality and fairness are two different things. If an entire concert band received second clarinet parts, would that be more fair than each member of the band receiving their appropriate parts? As a music arranger, I understand this. Some things need to be transposed, written in the higher/lower octave, added harmonies, or to simply be omitted for reasons. My point is that presenting the original challenge before making adjustments makes a world of difference.


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