10 Things to Know
It is estimated that 12.6% of people in the United States have a disability (Kraus, 2017). For someone who may have never interacted with people with disabilities, it may feel overwhelming or even worrisome to think about how to communicate with them appropriately. It is easy to get caught up in the idea of offending or not knowing what is right to say. Generally, one should remember that people with disabilities must be treated with respect and dignity. The American with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) was enacted to encourage the inclusion of people with disabilities in all facets of life (American Association on Health & Disability, 2012). People without disabilities who exhibit proper disability etiquette demonstrate their commitment towards furthering the goals of the ADA. Disability etiquette refers to guidelines on how to interact with people with disabilities equitably. Disability Services has compiled some of these guidelines to support the Georgia State community’s efforts to embrace disability as a form of diversity:
- When speaking with people with disabilities, always look directly at them. Directly communicating to any person shows them the respect they deserve.
- When trying to get the attention of a person who is hard of hearing, wave a hand or tap the person on the shoulder. Be sure to speak plainly, slowly, and expressively to determine if the person can lip-read. Remember that not all deaf and hard of hearing individuals know how to read lips. If this is the case, utilize body language and facial expressions to communicate with the person as that may aid in understanding. Stand in decent lighting so that the person can see your face as you speak to them and keep your hands away from your mouth so that you are not covering your face.
- When speaking to a person who is visually impaired, always identify yourself and others who may be with you. When you are in a group, identify the person by name so that the person knows that you are speaking to them.
- When talking with a person who has speaking difficulties, give the person the time and space to talk, and then repeat what you heard back to the person to ensure your understanding or to seek clarification. Use short sentences and questions when necessary. Never pretend that you understand what the person is saying, do not correct them, and do not attempt to finish their sentences.
- When communicating with students who use wheelchairs or crutches, always adjust yourself at eye-level when it is appropriate or possible to do so, whether sitting down or standing up. The height difference can often evoke feelings of inferiority/superiority. Be mindful of your positioning.
- Always ask the person with a disability if he or she would like any assistance. Do not assume that the person needs help. Assuming that a person with a disability needs your help may come across as condescending and may also undermine their sense of autonomy. If your offer is accepted, then ask or carefully listen to their instructions.
- Be aware of saying comments aimed at catastrophizing their disability (e.g. “I’m sorry that happened to you”). Do not treat a disability as someone’s misfortune.
- If the person uses a service animal, do not touch or pet the animal without the person’s permission. This may disrupt the animal’s schedule or interfere with the animal’s ability to do their job.
- Aside from communication, disability etiquette includes how we speak about and to people with disabilities. Make reference to the person first (e.g. person who uses a wheelchair vs. wheelchair bound), and understand that certain words such as “bound”, “afflicted”, or suffers” are often laced with negative connotations. You can also ask the person how they would like to be addressed for further clarification.
- Breathe and relax. You may feel embarrassed or ashamed when you make a mistake or say a “common” phrase such as “see you later” to someone who is blind for instance, but remember to ask questions when you are uncertain.