Disability Etiquette

People with disabilities are just that, PEOPLE!  It is important to remember that our disabilities are only a part of who we are.  We are sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, husbands and wives, and fathers and mothers.  People with disabilities have the same wants and needs as anyone else.  We are all unique and have our own skills, talents interests and experiences.

Knowing this, we still recognize that certain individuals may have questions about how to best interact with a person with a disability.  Below are a few etiquette tips to assist you in your ease of interaction.

  • Always think of the person first, not the disability.
  • Always ask before you assist someone.  Just because you see someone with a disability who may look to you to be struggling does not mean that person needs your help.  For example:  A person who uses a wheelchair is pushing up a ramp and you decide to come up and push them.  Not realizing that while they are in a forward motion and you push it may propel them out of the wheelchair.
  • Use a “people first” style of language.  For example:  Person or an individual with a disability, person or individual who is Deaf.  Avoid using outdated words such as “victim”, “suffers from”, “handicapped” etc.
  • Talk to the individual directly not their companions, family, interpreters, etc.
  • When speaking with an individual who is blind or visually impaired, always introduce yourself and let them know when you are leaving.  You can also offer your arm or elbow as a guide if they request.  Never grab or push someone to guide them, remember ASK first.
  • NEVER pet a guide dog or service animal.  The dog or animal is providing a service to that individual and is responsible for their safety.  If you distract the dog or animal the owner’s safety is at risk.
  • Do not push or lean on an individual’s wheelchair, walker or mobility device. Many individuals view their device as an extension of themselves.  You would not want someone touching and leaning on you as a person and individuals feel this way when you lean on their wheelchair, etc.
  • Put yourself at eye level if speaking to an individual in a wheelchair.
  • Be patient when speaking with an individual with speech or cognitive disabilities.  Never speak for them, be patient and wait for them to say what they would like to say and never finish a sentence for someone.

Above all, use people first language, never patronize an individual or use pet names, and avoid using negative or offensive language when speaking to or of people with disabilities.