We’ve all been there; you are in a situation where you are interacting with a person who has a disability and you’re uncomfortable. You freeze and end up staring, while desperately trying to find something else to do. No one is perfect, but here are a few disability etiquette tips to help you out next time.
1. Stop Staring
First thing’s first: stop staring. Most of the time, the person you are staring at simply wants to be seen beyond their disability. The person you are staring at has a million gifts to offer the world that may not have anything to do with their disability. The Golden Rule applies here– don’t stare at someone in a way that would bother you if the roles were reversed.
2. Be Aware of Your Surroundings
Is the place you currently are at handicap accessible? If it is, do no more. Many people with disabilities, particularly adults, are adamant about their independence. If the location is accessible, don’t assume the individual needs additional help.
3. Ask Before You Help
If the location is not accessible, or if you see a disabled individual struggling to perform a task, ask before you help. Just like any other person, a disabled individual doesn’t enjoy uninvited help.
4. Be Sensitive About Physical Contact
After permission is granted for help, be gentle with your physical contact. Everyone’s body is different, and a person with a disability may rely on certain body parts for balance or stability. Additionally, most disabled individuals consider their equipment as an extension of their bodies. Be sensitive about physical contact with wheelchairs, walkers, or any other assistive equipment.
5. Speak Directly to the Person
Never assume that a person with a disability is unable to effectively communicate or make decisions for themselves. Speaking to an aid or parent instead of the person is highly offensive and insensitive.
6. Speak Normally
Be aware of your tone and speed of speech when talking to a person with a disability. Often, people who are not familiar with interacting with people with disabilities talk slower and more high pitched than normal. The best thing to do in this situation is to speak in a normal tone and speed, just as you would with any other individual.
7. Avoid Offensive or “Able-ist” Words and Phrases
Don’t use offensive phrases or words when speaking to a person with a disability (or to anyone else). Avoid phrases like “restricted to a wheelchair”, “victim of”, “suffers fro”m, “retarded”, “deformed”, “crippled”, and euphemisms such as “physically challenged”. If you are unsure if a phrase is offensive or not, ask the person you’re talking to what they would prefer.
8. Get on Eye Level
If a person with a disability uses a wheelchair or is physically lower in eye sight, do your best to get on their level when speaking to them. This could mean sitting in a chair next to them, kneeling on one knee, etc.
9. Offer to Shake Hands
In light of equal treatment, always offer to shake the hand of a person with a disability upon meeting them. Alterations to hand shakes can be made if necessary (left handshake, assistance, etc.)
Don’t be embarrassed or too tense. Use common phrases and speak in a friendly manner that is familiar to other social settings.