Accessibility Guide: Etiquette
There are times when people are unsure how to interact with someone with a disability or what is appropriate terminology for an individual’s disability.
Appropriate etiquette when interacting with people with disabilities is based primarily on normal respect and courtesy. It is important to remember that you are not working with disabilities; you are working with individuals who have disabilities.
General Points of Etiquette
- Relax. Focus on effective communication and not on disability related issues
- Talk directly to the individual, not through their interpreter or assistant
- Extend common courtesies to people with disabilities such as shaking hands. If the individual cannot shake your hand he or she will tell you or may offer the other hand to shake
- Offer assistance before helping. Do not automatically take someone’s arm or assist them without asking
- If in doubt, ask what to do. Then, listen and follow the individual's recommendation.
- The mention of a person's disability is unnecessary if it is not relevant to the context.
- Use “person first” language. Person first language defines the individual not the disability. Do not define the person by their disability or diagnosis. They are not a schizophrenic, but a “person with schizophrenia.” Similarly, the individual is a “person with a disability” not a “handicapped person”
- Avoid language which disempowers the individual such as “victim” or “sufferer.” Alternately, avoid "courageous", "brave" or "special"
- "Disabled" is the most generally accepted term. Avoid outdated terms like “handicapped,” “crippled,” "invalid" and "wheelchair bound"
- For more information
- "Watch Your Language" from National Center on Workforce and Disability
- “Communicating With and About People with Disabilities” US DOL ODEP
Talking with a person who is deaf or hard of hearing
- In general, people who have hearing loss but who communicate verbally are “hard of hearing” and people with profound hearing losses are Deaf or deaf
- If the person uses a sign language interpreter, focus on and speak directly to the person, not to the interpreter
- Avoid blocking the view of your face and mouth
- Speak clearly without shouting
When you are with a person who uses a wheelchair
- Never lean on or touch a person’s wheelchair or any other assistive device or service animal without permission. A person’s assistive device is part of the person’s personal space
- Be aware to place items within reach
- When talking to a wheelchair user, try to sit at his/her level. If that’s not possible, stand at a slight distance, so that the person can comfortably make eye contact with you
- Say “wheelchair user” rather than “confined to a wheelchair” or “wheelchair bound”
Interacting with individuals who are blind or visually impaired
- Its okay to offer your arm for assistance, but never take someone’s arm without asking
- Similarly, it’s okay to offer help with getting refreshments or other items if that's the individual's preference
- When a person who is blind or visually impaired is in a group of people, have each person identify themselves each time they speak if necessary
- Do not generalize that all people who are blind or visually impaired read Braille
- If the person has a guide dog, do not touch or distract the animal
References / More information:
- Disability Etiquette or Disability Etiquette (pdf) United Spinal Association
- Communicating With and About People with Disabilities US DOL ODEP
- National Center on Disability and Journalism Style Guide