People with disabilities want to be treated just as anyone would – with respect and dignity. People with disabilities are generally used to coping with their disability, but appreciate your help when necessary.
- Ask if assistance is needed before you help.
- Ask the individual to explain what you can do to assist.
- Consider that your help may not be needed or wanted.
- Speak directly to the person, not his or her companion.
- Be considerate of the extra time it may take for a person with a disability to get things said or done.
- Don’t avoid words like see, hear, walk, run…people with disabilities use these words too.
- Some people use service dogs. Do not interact with service dogs when they are working.
- Having a disability does not entitle a person to be rude or inappropriate. Expect people with disabilities to adhere to the same code of conduct as anyone else.
- See the person who has a disability as a person first – there is so much more to us than disability.
People who use Wheelchairs
People who use wheelchairs, crutches, canes, walkers, etc. may have a disability caused by a disease, an accident, or a condition. Use of a wheelchair may be temporary or a life-long necessity. Using a wheelchair is a means of freedom that allows the user to move about independently.
- Don’t hang or lean on a person’s wheelchair. It’s part of their personal body space.
- Talk directly to the person in the wheelchair. It’s o.k. to stand, preferably, at an accessible height counter, if you are answering a quick question. If the conversation lasts more than a few minutes, sit down so that you are at eye level.
- Give clear directions including any physical obstacles and alternative routes (i.e., ramps, automatic doors, elevators) to someone using a chair.
- Be aware of the wheelchair user’s capabilities. Some users can walk with assistance but use a chair to save energy and time.
- Some people in wheelchairs do not have mobility or dexterity of their hands and arms and may need your assistance with writing or getting and putting away materials. Don’t use a wheelchair tray as a writing surface unless you have permission.
People with Visual Impairments
Loss of vision varies in degree from low-vision to Blind. People with visual impairments cannot all be identified by the use of a white cane or service dog.
- When greeting a person with severe loss of vision, always identify yourself and any others who may be with you. Say, for example, “on my right is Linda.” Do not raise your voice when speaking.
- Use the person’s name when starting a conversation as a clue to whom you are talking. Let the person know when you need to leave.
- When providing assistance walking somewhere, allow the person to take your arm, bent at the elbow. Don’t grab the person’s arm or assume that they need your assistance. Not all people with visual impairments will want/need your assistance.
- When offering seating, describe where the seat is (there is a chair in front of you, 2 steps to the right) and the nature of the chair (it has wheels, arms, etc.)
- Be aware of potential hazards – an open filing cabinet drawer or some other obstacle that a person might trip over.
- In handling paperwork, identify each piece as you place it in the person’s hand.
- If you are assisting someone with filling out paperwork, read each question in it’s entirety – and don’t answer for the person. You can offer to write for someone however, most people will sign their own name, you can guide their hand/pen to the signature line. Some people use a signature guide (a small card to follow along to keep a signature straight) or a rubber stamp.
People with Speech or Language Impairments
Speech difficulties can range from inability to correctly produce sounds, put thoughts into words, or understand complete sentences. This can be the result of a head injury, stroke, cerebral palsy, or other disability.
- Give focused attention to the person who has difficulty speaking.
- Rather than speak for the person, allow extra time and give help when needed.
- When necessary, ask questions that require short answers or a nod or shake of the head.
- If you have difficulty understanding, don’t pretend. Repeat as much as you do understand, the person’s reactions will guide you and clue you in. If you still don’t understand – ask the person to repeat it in another way.
- Some people use a communication aid such as a picture, symbol, or word chart, voice synthesizer, or communications device with a digital display. Allow the person to show you how they use it. When you answer questions or talk look at the person not the communication device.
People with Hearing Impairments
Hearing losses can range from mild to severe and can influence the way a person communicates or responds to sounds and to the speech of others. Not all people who are hard-of-hearing or deaf communicate using sign language.
- If necessary, get the person’s attention with a wave of the hand, a tap on the shoulder, or another visual signal.
- Speak clearly and slowly but without exaggeration. Don’t shout or overpronounce.
- Be flexible in your language. Change the words around or rephrase your statements if you aren’t being understood. Short sentences are easier to understand.
- Allow for a clear view of your face – the person may be speech reading. Don’t cover your mouth with your hand. Don’t speak directly into a person’s ear or hearing aid.
- Try to maintain eye contact. If an interpreter is present continue talking directly to the person, s/he will turn to the interpreter as needed.
- Writing notes is an appropriate mode of communication.
People with Hidden Disabilities
Some people have disabilities that may not be immediately observable. They may have chronic pain (i.e., arthritis, fibromyalgia, or back pain.) Others may have chronic health conditions (i.e., diabetes, migraines, high blood pressure.) Some people have learning disabilities and others may have a psychological disability. Remember disability information is private and please refer to general etiquette tips.