Have you ever found yourself quiet for fear of using an outdated or insensitive term? Were you ever hesitant to lend a helping hand to an individual in a wheelchair? It doesn’t matter how well-intentioned you may be; self-doubt can be paralyzing in certain circumstances. Simple interactions with people with disabilities can present such a circumstance. To lend confidence to those who doubt themselves, we have put together a disability etiquette tips primer.
Disability Etiquette Tips: The Basics
- Just because someone has a disability, don’t assume she needs help. If the setting is accessible, people with disabilities can usually get around.
- Adults with disabilities want to be treated as independent people.
- Offer assistance only if needed; a person with a disability will often communicate when she needs help. If she asks for help, ask how before you act.
- Always speak directly to the person with a disability, not to his companion, aide or sign language interpreter.
- Making small talk with a person who has a disability is great; just talk to him as you would with anyone else.
- Respect his privacy. If you ask about his disability, he may feel like you are treating him as a disability, not as a human being.
Disability Etiquette Tips: People with Mobility Disabilities
- Do not touch a wheelchair or motorized device without their permission, it is part of his personal space.
- If you are speaking with a person who uses a wheelchair or similar, place yourself at eye level in front of the person to facilitate the conversation.
Disability Etiquette Tips: People who are Blind or Low Vision
- If you are leaving the room or your desk, tell the person you are leaving. If there is an interruption (e.g., someone steps into your office), explain the interruption.
- When conversing in a group, identify the person who is speaking and to whom you are speaking.
- Speak directly to a person who is blind, not through a companion.
- Offer to read information to a person when appropriate.
- If you are asked to offer guidance, offer your arm so the person can grasp your elbow and proceed at a normal pace.
- Never leave a blind person standing alone in the middle of a room. Escort the person to a seat or place their hand on “a point of reference” such as a wall or table.
- Do not pet a guide dog, it should not be distracted from duty.
- If assisting a person to a chair, place their hand upon the back of the chair instead of trying to help her sit.
Disability Etiquette Tips: People Who Are Deaf or Hard of Hearing
- Make sure you get the person’s attention (without touching or tapping her) before you begin to communicate.
- Speak directly to the person in your normal voice and not to their interpreter.
- When speaking, make eye contact.
- Feel free to use gestures and visual cues about things you are discussing.
- Explain if there is an interruption.
Disability Etiquette Tips: People Who Have Cognitive/Language Impairments
- Use a calm, reassuring voice. Use short sentences with simple, concrete words.
- Never argue with the person.
- Treat each person with respect and dignity; individuals can usually tell if they are being talked down to.
- Provide extra time for the person to process what you are saying and to respond.
- Do not complete someone’s sentences.
- If you do not understand, ask him to repeat what he said.
- Do not pretend you understand if you do not.
- Repeat back what you did understand if you need confirmation.
It is important to touch on one more aspect of disability etiquette, and that is how to teach children about people with disabilities. Don’t discourage children from asking questions about disabilities. Children have a natural curiosity that needs to be satisfied so they do not develop fearful or misleading attitudes. Most people are not offended by questions children ask them about their disabilities or wheelchairs.
Use Mr. Rogers sage advice when helping teach children about people with disabilities. He said, “As different as we are from one another, as unique as each one of us is, we are much more the same than we are different. That may be the most essential message of all, as we help our children grow toward being caring, compassionate, and charitable adults.”
When interacting with an individual with disabilities, simply relax and use common sense. Always focus on the human being before you and not his disability related issues. Everyone deserves the same respect and courtesy.
Hopefully these tips will help guide you and make you feel a bit more confident, allowing you to connect and share with all individuals equally.
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