Disability etiquette

  • Published
  • By Vanesta Merriweather
  • 2014 National Disability Employment Awareness Month Committee
National Disability Employment Awareness Month is recognized each October to recognize the many contributions of America's workers with disabilities, as well as to increase awareness of disability employment.

As part of the awareness effort, it is important to understand that people with disabilities are entitled to the same courtesies at work that are extended to others, including personal privacy. For example, if people don't make a habit of leaning or hanging on people, don't do so on someone's wheelchair. Wheelchairs are an extension of personal space.

In addition, when offering to assist a vision-impaired person, allow them to take your arm. This will help to guide the person, rather than propel or lead the person uncomfortably.

Treat adults as adults. When addressing a person by his or her first name, extend the same courtesies to others present.

When in conversation with someone who has a disability, speak directly to the person, rather than through a companion. Relax. Don't be embarrassed if common expressions are used such as "See you later" or "I've got to run" that seem related to the person's disability. 

To get the attention of a person who has a hearing disability, tap the person on the shoulder or wave a hand to get their attention. Look directly at the person and speak clearly and expressively to establish if the person can read lips as often those who do read lips rely on facial expressions and body language to better understand. Avoid eating or gesturing with your hands near your mouth when speaking to someone who may rely on reading lips.

When speaking with someone in a wheelchair for more than a few minutes, make an effort to get in position near the wheelchair user's eye level to avoid neck discomfort.

If greeting a person with a severe loss of vision, identify yourself and others with you. Say, for example, "On my right is Andy Clark."

Also, when having a group conversation, remember to say the name of the person to whom you are speaking, providing a vocal cue. Speak in a normal tone of voice, and let it be known when the conversation is at an end.

When talking to a person who has difficulty speaking, give them undivided attention.. Be patient and encouraging rather than speak for the person.

When needed, ask questions that require short answers or a nod or shake of the head. Never pretend to understand.  Repeat what is understood. The person's reaction may lead to a better understanding.

By modeling positive and inclusive attitudes and behaviors, workplace colleagues and leaders can play an important role in improving employment environments for people with disabilities.