Outlined below are the "Ten Commandments of Etiquette for Communicating with People with Disabilities" to help you in communicating with persons with disabilities.
When talking with a person with a disability, speak directly to that person rather than through a companion or sign language interpreter.
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. (Shaking hands with the left hand is an acceptable greeting.)
When meeting a person who is visually impaired, always identify yourself and others who may be with you. When conversing in a group, remember to identify the person to whom you are speaking.
If you offer assistance, wait until the offer is accepted. Then listen to or ask for instructions.
Treat adults as adults. Address people who have disabilities by their first names only when extending the same familiarity to all others. (Never patronize people who use wheelchairs by patting them on the head or shoulder.)
Leaning on or hanging on to a person’s wheelchair is similar to leaning on hanging on to a person and is generally considered annoying. The chair is part of the personal body space of the person who uses it.
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 or speaking for the person. If necessary, ask short questions that require short answers, a nod or shake of the head. Never pretend to understand if you are having difficulty doing so. Instead, repeat what you have understood and allow the person to respond. The response will clue you and guide your understanding.
When speaking with a person who uses a wheelchair or a person who uses crutches, place yourself at eye level in front of the person to facilitate the conversation.
To get the attention of a person who is deaf, tap the person on the shoulder or wave your hand. Look directly at the person and speak clearly, slowly, and expressively to determine if the person can read your lips. Not all people who are deaf can read lips. For those who do lip read, place yourself so that you face the light source and keep hands, cigarettes and food away from your mouth when speaking.
Relax. Don’t be embarrassed if you happen to use accepted, common expressions such as “See you later” or “Did you hear about that?” that seems to relate to a person’s disability. Don’t be afraid to ask questions when you are unsure of what to do.
The information for parts of this bulletin came from three sources: The President’s Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities; Guidelines to Reporting and Writing About People with Disabilities, produced by the Media Project, Research and Training Center on Independent Living, 4089 Dole, University of Kansas, Lawrence, KS 66045; and Ten Commandments of Etiquette for Communicating with People with Disabilities, National Center for Access Unlimited, 155 North Wacker Drive, Suite 315, Chicago, IL 60606.
"People First" Terminology
Place the person before the disability. Say "person with a disability," rather than "disabled person."
Avoid referring to people by the disability they have, i.e.., "an epileptic," "blind people". A person is not a condition Rather, refer to "a person with epilepsy," or "people who are blind."
People are not "bound" or "confined" to wheelchairs. They use them to increase their mobility and enhance their freedom. It is more accurate to say "wheelchair user" or "person who uses a wheelchair."
Do not make assumptions about what a person can and cannot do. A person with a physical disability is the best judge of his or her own capabilities.
Do not push a person's wheelchair or grab the arm of someone walking with difficulty, without first asking if you can be of assistance. Personal space includes a person's wheelchair, crutches, or other mobility aid.
Never move someone's crutch, walker, cane, or other mobility aid without permission.
When speaking to a person using a wheelchair for more than a few minutes, try to find a seat for yourself so the two of you are at eye level.
Identify yourself when you approach a person who is blind. If a new person approaches, introduce him or her.
It is appropriate to touch the person's arm lightly when you speak so that he or she knows you are speaking to him or her.
Face the person and speak directly to him or her. Use a normal tone of voice.
Don't leave without saying you are leaving.
If you are offering directions, be as specific as possible, and point out obstacles in the path of travel. Use clock cues ("the door is at 2 o'clock").
Alert people who are blind or visually impaired to posted information.
Never pet or otherwise distract a guide dog unless the owner has given you permission.
You may offer assistance if it seems needed, but if your offer is declined, do not insist. If your offer is accepted, ask the person how you can best help.
Ask the person how he or she prefers to communicate.
If you are speaking through an interpreter, remember that the interpreter may lag a few words behind - especially if there are names or technical terms to be finger spelled - so pause occasionally to allow him or her time to translate completely and accurately.
Talk directly to the person who is deaf or hard of hearing, not to the interpreter. However, although it may seem awkward to you, the person who is deaf or hard of hearing will look at the interpreter and may not make eye contact with you during the conversation.
Before you start to speak, make sure you have the attention of the person you are addressing. A wave, a light touch on the shoulder, or other visual or tactile signals are appropriate ways of getting the person's attention.
Speak in a clear, expressive manner. Do not over-enunciate or exaggerate words.
Unless you are specifically requested to do so, do not raise your voice. Speak in a normal tone; do not shout.
To facilitate speech reading, face into the light and keep your hands and other objects away from your mouth.
If the person is speech reading, face the person directly and maintain eye contact. Don't turn your back or walk around while talking. If you look away, the person might assume the conversation is over.
While you are writing a message for someone who is deaf or hard of hearing, don't talk. The person cannot read your note and your lips at the same time.
If you do not understand something that is said, ask the person to repeat it or to write it down. The goal is communication; do not pretend to understand if you do not.
If you know any sign language, try using it. It may help you communicate, and it will at least demonstrate your interest in communicating and your willingness to try.
Talk to people with speech disabilities as you would talk to anyone else.
Talk to people with speech disabilities as you would talk to anyone else.
Be patient, it may take the person a while to answer.
Give the person your undivided attention.
Ask the person for help in communicating with him or her. If the person uses a communication device such as a manual or electronic communication board, ask the person how best to use it.
Speak in your regular tone of voice.
Tell the person if you do not understand what he or she is trying to say. Ask the person to repeat the message, spell it, tell you in a different way, or write it down.
To obtain information quickly, ask short questions that require brief answers or a head nod. However, try not to insult the person's intelligence with over-simplification.
When speaking to someone who has a cognitive disability, try to be alert to their responses so that you can adjust your method of communication if necessary. For example, some people may benefit from simple, direct sentences or from supplementary visual forms of communication, such as gestures, diagrams, or demonstrations.
Use language that is concrete rather than abstract. Be specific, without being too simplistic. Using humor is fine, but do not interpret a lack of response as rudeness. Some people may not grasp the meaning of sarcasm or other subtleties of language.
If you are in a public area with many distractions, consider moving to a quiet or private location.
People with brain injuries may have short-term memory deficits and may repeat themselves or require information to be repeated.
People with auditory perceptual problems may need to have directions repeated, and may take notes to help them remember directions or the sequence of tasks. They may benefit from watching a task demonstrated.
People with perceptual or "sensory overload" problems may become disoriented or confused if there is too much to absorb at once. Provide information gradually and clearly. Reduce background noise if possible.
Repeat information using different wording or a different communication approach if necessary. Allow time for the information to be fully understood.
Don't pretend to understand if you do not. Ask the person to repeat what was said.
In conversation, allow the individual time to respond. Be patient, flexible, and supportive.
Some people who have a cognitive disability may be easily distracted. Try not to interpret distraction as rudeness.
Do not expect all people to be able to read well.
Offer assistance completing forms or understanding written instructions and provide extra time for decision-making. Wait for the individual to accept the offer of assistance; do not "over-assist" or be patronizing.
Information for this fact sheet came from the Office of Disability Employment Policy; the Media Project, Research and Training Center on Independent Living, University of Kansas, Lawrence, KS; and the National Center for Access Unlimited, Chicago, IL.