Notes on Parenting

Insights for parenting babies, toddlers, teens, and young adults.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Disability Etiquette: How to Interact with People who have Disabilities


Many of us have had or will have interactions with people who have disabilities. For some people, this may be a challenge. Often times people may wonder how they should interact with a person who has a disability. The following are some guidelines and pointers to help ease your worry or discomfort you may experience when interacting with people who have disabilities.

  • One of the most important things is to no let fear and uncertainty keep you from getting to know people with disabilities. Fear of the unknown and lack of knowledge about how to act can lead to uneasiness when meeting a person who has a disability.
  • You can't always see someone's disability. If a person acts unusual or seems different, just be yourself. Let common sense and friendship break down any barriers you may encounter.
Remember: A person with a disability is a person with feelings. Treat him or her as you would want to be treated. People with disabilities are no different than people without disabilities, they are still people.
Here are some guidelines that may help prevent uncomfortable situations:
  • Avoid asking personal questions about someone's disability. If you must ask, be sensitive and show respect. Do not probe if the person declines to discuss it.
  • Be considerate of the extra time it might take for a person with a disability to do or say something.
  • Be polite and patient when offering assistance, and wait until your offer is accepted. Listen or ask for specific instructions.
  • When planning a meeting or other event, try to anticipate specific accommodations a person with a disability might need. If a barrier cannot be avoided, let the person know ahead of time.
  • Be respectful of the rights of people with disabilities to use accessible parking spaces.
When meeting and talking with a person who has a disability keep the following in mind:
  • A handshake is NOT a standard greeting for everyone. When in doubt, ASK the person whether he or she would like to shake hands with you. A smile along with a spoken greeting is always appropriate.
  • Speak directly to the person with a disability, not just to the ones accompanying him or her.
  • Don't mention the person's disability, unless he or she talks about it or it is relevant to the conversation.
  • Treat adults as adults. Don't patronize or talk down to people with disabilities.
  • Be patient and give your undivided attention, especially with someone who speaks slowly or with great effort.
  • Never pretend to understand what a person is saying. Ask the person to repeat or rephrase, or offer him or her a pen and paper.
When meeting someone with a disability that affects learning, intelligence, or brain function keep the following in mind:
  • Keep your communication simple. Rephrase comments or questions for better clarity.
  • Stay focused on the person as he or she responds to you.
  • Allow the person time to tell or show you what he or she wants.
When you are with a person who uses a wheelchair keep the following in mind:
  • Do not push, lean on, or hold onto a person's wheelchair unless the person asks you to. The wheelchair is part of his or her personal space.
  • Try to put yourself at eye level when talking with someone in a wheelchair. Sit or kneel in front of the person.
  • Rearrange furniture or objects to accommodate a wheelchair before the person arrives.
  • Offer to tell where accessible rest rooms, telephones, and water fountains are located.
  • When giving directions to a person in a wheelchair, consider distance, weather conditions, and physical obstacles (curbs, stairs, steep hills, etc.)
When talking with a person who is deaf or uses a hearing aid keep the following in mind:
  • Let the person take the lead in establishing the communication mode, such as lip-reading, sign language, or writing notes.
  • Talk directly to the person, even when a sign language interpreter is present.
  • If the person lip-reads, face him or her directly, speak clearly and with a moderate pace.
  • With some people, it may help to simplify your sentences and use more facial expressions and body language.
When meeting a person with a disability that affects speech keep the following in mind:
  • Pay attention, be patient, and wait for the person to complete a word or thought. Do not finish it for the person.
  • Ask the person to repeat what is said, if you do not understand. Tell the person what you heard and see if it is close to what he or she is saying.
  • Be prepared for various devices or techniques used to enhance or augment speech. Don't be afraid to communicate with someone who uses an alphabet board or a computer with synthesized speech.
When interacting with a person who is blind or has a disability that affects sight or vision keep the following in mind:
  • When greeting the person, identify yourself and introduce others who may be present.
  • Don't leave the person without excusing yourself first.
  • When asked to guide someone with a sight disability, never push or pull the person. Allow him or her to take your arm, then walk slightly ahead. Point out doors, stairs, or curbs, as you approach them.
  • As you enter a room with the person, describe the layout and location of furniture, etc.
  • Be specific when describing the location of objects. (Example: "There is a chair three feet from you at eleven o'clock.")
  • Don't pet or distract a guide dog. The dog is responsible for its owner's safety and is always working. It is not a pet.
The above information comes from the Memphis Center on Independent Living 2005 – For 2005 IDT class http://www.mcil.org/mcil/mcil/etiqu01.htm
Once again, Remember: A person with a disability is a person with feelings. Treat him or her as you would want to be treated. People with disabilities are no different than people without disabilities, they are still people.
  • To me, this is the most important think to keep in my mind as you interact with people who have disabilities.
What are your thoughts about this? What other helpful guidelines do you have for proper etiquette in interacting with people who have disabilities?



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