Disability Etiquette

This comes from the United Spinal Association and emphasizes the importance of etiquette (disability specific).

1. Ask before you help. :Offer assistance if you notice a need but ask first if your help is necessary. Offer common courtesies, such as holding doors open, picking something up, helping to carry things to people with disabilities as you would anyone.
Good manners are appreciated by everyone.

2. Be sensitive about an individuals’ physical space: Moving a person’s medical equipment without asking may create negative feelings. Consider the medical equipment to be personal space. Also, be aware of the height difference for people in wheelchairs. It is difficult to always look up at someone who is talking. Pay attention to your proximity to person in a wheelchair when you are in a line. Never ask a person in a wheelchair to carry such things as your coat on his or her lap.

3. Always speak directly to the person with the disability: Speak to people with a disability as you would to anyone. Avoid talking to them through their companions, interpreters or aides. Speaking directly to people with a disability is important for their self-esteem. If an individual has a companion dog, be sure to talk to the owner first before approaching the dog. The dog is working and has a responsibility to assist its owner. Misdirected attention can, over time, break down the dog’s training.

4. Don’t ask unnecessary personal questions: Don’t ask what happened unless there is a professional need to know. Imagine if you had to tell people repeatedly about the worst day of your life. An exception may be children who have a natural curiosity. Most people who have disabilities do not mind answering personal questions from children.

5. Don’t make assumptions: People with disabilities can best decide what they are capable of doing. You could violate ADA rules if you exclude people based on presuming their limitations.

6. Be kind in considering special requests: Do your best to accommodate a person with a disability. A request for an accommodation for a disability is not a complaint, so don’t take it personally.

7. Put the person first: Everyone wants to be valued as a person first and foremost. When communicating, always say person with disability rather than disabled person. Avoid outdated terminology such as handicapped or crippled.  Avoid negative terms such as victim or sufferer.

Remember, people with disabilities are individuals just like you. While they may agree that a disability plays an integral part in their lives; it does not define them.  Treat all people with respect and kindness, regardless of their abilities or disabilities.

Source: United Spinal Association publication

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