Disability Etiquette: An Illustrated Guide to Inclusivity

by | Nov 4, 2022

When the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed in 1990, the law helped remove or reduce many barriers for people with disabilities. However, while there have been many improvements, discrimination and disrespectful treatment of those with disabilities continues in the workplace and society at large.

Disability affects approximately 61 million, or nearly 1 in 4 (26%) people in the United States. At One Change Group, we champion the rights of those with disabilities and strive to encourage disability inclusion in all areas of life.

According to the opens in a new windowCDC, disability inclusion means understanding the relationship between the way people function and how they participate in society, and making sure everybody has the same opportunities to participate in every aspect of life to the best of their abilities and desires.

young black man in wheelchair

Better inclusion of those with disabilities can lead to increased participation in their life roles and activities—such as being a student, worker, friend, community member, patient, spouse, partner, or parent.

Learning how to respectfully interact with those who have a disability is a good starting point for making them feel included.

This excellent Disability Etiquette Infographic and key pointers, courtesy of opens in a new windowDisability:IN, offer quick and helpful guidance for these interactions at home, in your community and in the workplace.

Disability Etiquette Infographic

 

 

General Do’s and Don’ts

  • Relax and enjoy getting to know your colleagues or guests as people and as professionals
  • Ask before you provide assistance
  • Do not assume that a person with an apparent disability needs assistance; offering assistance in broad terms such as “Let me know if you need anything” opens the door without assumptions of inability
  • Think in terms of ‘Disability Pride’ language using powerful words such as: wheelchair user as opposed to confined to a wheelchair or wheelchair person; person who is deaf or blind rather than deaf or blind people

Individuals with Mobility Disabilities

  • Do not touch a person’s mobility equipment
  • Be sensitive about physical contact in consideration of possible pain, balance, or post-traumatic stress issues
  • Always direct your conversation that is meant for the person with a disability to them and not to their personal assistant, interpreter, companion or colleague
  • If convenient and natural, put yourself at the person’s eye level when engaging in a conversation; rather than kneeling, pull up a chair

Individuals who are Blind or Low Vision

  • Identify yourself when approaching the person or entering an ongoing conversation; announce when you leave the conversation or the room
  • When serving as a sighted guide, offer your arm or shoulder rather than grabbing the person’s arm or pushing the person from the back
  • Describe the setting, environment, and obstacles when serving as a sighted guide
  • Resist the temptation to pet or talk to an animal guide or service animal; ask the person if there is a time when you can interact with the service animal
  • Offer to read the information if the occasion naturally arises such as during a roundtable or a meal

Individuals who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing

  • Gain the person’s attention before starting a conversation (e.g., tap the person gently on the shoulder or arm or by a hand signal)
  • If the individual uses a sign language interpreter, speak directly to the person, not the interpreter; keep your eyes on the individual and not on the interpreter, especially when the interpreter is voicing for the person who is deaf
  • Face the person, speak in normal tones, and avoid the instinct to shout as it doesn’t help

Individuals who have Speech Disabilities

  • If you do not understand what the person is saying, ask the person to repeat what they said and then repeat it back to ensure you understood
  • Do not speak for the person or attempt to finish their sentences
  • If the conversation is not working, explain that and ask if you can try with writing (e.g. electronic communication devices, paper and pencil, etc.)

Individuals who have Non-Apparent Disabilities

If you sense that the conversation or interaction is not going well, the following strategies may help to accommodate non-apparent disabilities such as mental health disabilities, learning disabilities, autism spectrum, mild hearing loss, ADHD, and Post Traumatic Stress:

  • Recognize that a person disclosing their disabilities may come with risk
  • Engage in a dialogue to determine the individual needs or accommodations, rather than seek to learn the disability
  • Seek to understand their lived experience; each person has a unique, lived experience
  • Honor a person’s requested confidentiality and do not share their information with others

If you or someone you love would ever like to speak with one of our licensed professional counselors about disability inclusion or any matters related to mental health, please contact us.

Would your organization or workplace benefit from Diversity, Equity and Inclusion training or workshops? Our professional trainers are available to provide your organization with a more supportive and engaging atmosphere for all. Contact us to discuss options tailored to your needs.

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