Disability Etiquette

 Tips for Interacting with People with Disabilities

Suggestions for Communication & Interaction with People with Disabilities

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  • When talking with a person with a disability, speak directly to that person rather than to a person accompanying them.
  • When introduced to a person with a disability, it is appropriate to offer to shake hands. People with limited hand use or who wear an artificial limb can usually shake hands.
  • When meeting a person with a visual impairment, always identify yourself and others who may be with you.
  • If you offer assistance, wait until the offer is accepted. Then listen to or ask for instructions. Do not just assume that help is needed. Do not act without asking for the person’s permission. Make sure you offer assistance subtly and with discretion so that the person is not embarrassed or ashamed to ask for help.
  • Treat adults as adults. Address people who have disabilities by their first names only when extending that same familiarity to all others present. Also make sure you engage in age appropriate conversations with adults, no baby talk!
  • An individual in a wheelchair generally considers their wheelchair an extension of their body. Leaning or hanging on a person’s wheelchair is similar to leaning or hanging on a person’s body and is generally considered annoying and disrespectful.
  • Listen attentively when you’re talking with a person who has difficulty speaking. Be patient and wait for the person to finish, rather than correcting, interrupting, or speaking for the person. You may have to wait a few minutes to get an answer from someone because they may need more time to process a question. You can also try asking yes or no questions, showing pictures with different choices, or pointing to tangible choices.
  • Be honest with yourself about what you are comfortable with. If a person with a disability is making you uncomfortable in any way you can say, “I am not comfortable answering that question” or “this conversation is making me uncomfortable, can we talk about something else?”
  • Relax. Don’t be embarrassed if you happen to use accepted, common expressions, such as, “See you later,” or “Did you hear about this” that seem to relate to the person’s disability.
  • Be yourself!

Thanks to Christi Bishop and St. Mary’s County Commission For People with Disabilities for sharing this information.

Thanks to Best Buddies International for sharing information from their Tips on Being a Dedicated Peer Buddy and Friend training resource.

Irene M. Ward (Author). (1994). Ten Commandments of Communicating With People With Disabilities (DVD).

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