Disability Etiquette

How to Interact with People Who Have Physical Disabilities

Many people do not know what to say or how to act when they meet someone with a physical disability. People with disabilities have the same feelings and concerns as you do. The general rule of thumb is to treat a person with a disability with the same respect and consideration you would like others to extend to you.

Tips:

  1. Be considerate of the extra time it might take for a person with a disability to do or say something. Be prepared for various devices that augment speech. Don't hesitate to talk with someone who uses a computer with synthesized speech.
  2. Speak to people with disabilities directly rather than through someone accompanying them. Do not pretend to understand the person with a disability if you did not. Simply say what you think you heard the person say, and ask to be corrected if you have misunderstood. You can also offer pencil and paper if it is clear that the person has use of his or her hands.
  3. It is best not to mention the person's disability unless he or she talks about it or it is relevant to the conversation.
  4. Do not assume a patronizing conversational style when talking to the person with the disability as though he or she were a child (unless it IS a child!) Never pat the head of a person with a disability or express pity for his or her condition.
  5. If it appears that a person with a disability needs help, ask if he or she would like your assistance. Wait until your offer is accepted. Ask for specific instructions if you are unsure how to help. Be prepared to have your offer to help declined, and accept it gracefully.
  6. Not everyone can shake hands with the right hand—shaking with left hands is acceptable. For those who cannot use their arms or hands at all, gently touch the person on the shoulder or arm to welcome and acknowledge their presence.
  7. When speaking to a person in a wheelchair, never lean or hold onto the wheelchair. The chair is part of the space that belongs to the person who uses it. If you will be engaging in conversation with the person, pull up a chair to place yourself at the person's eye level.
  8. When speaking to a person who is deaf or uses a hearing aid, face him or her directly, speak clearly and at a moderate pace, but do not shout. Shouting distorts the normal lip formations and will hinder a person's ability to lip-read. It also distorts sounds received by a hearing aid.
  9. When greeting a person who is blind, identify yourself and others who may be present. Don't leave the person without excusing yourself first. As you enter an unfamiliar room with the person, describe the layout and location of the furniture.
  10. Avoid disempowering terminology such as "invalid, handicapped, victim, crippled."