Disability Etiquette: Do’s and Don’ts
Do or don’t I ask the person in the wheelchair if they need help getting through
the doorway or do I go ahead and push the wheelchair through the doorway?
If like me, you want to be polite and helpful, but may be unsure of what to do or
not do when working with or encountering someone with a disability here are some tips
on Disability Etiquette.
Disability etiquette refers to respectful communication and interaction with people who have disabilities.
The number one thing to remember is to treat someone with a disability how you would
want to be treated. Everyone appreciates respect and etiquette, not just people with
Another important consideration when interacting with a person with a disability is
focus on the person not the disability. For example, we refer to a person who has the medical condition
of diabetes as a person with diabetes instead of a diabetic.
General Disability Etiquette Tips:
When talking with a person with a disability, speak directly to that person rather
than to a companion or sign language interpreter who may be present.
When introduced to a person with a disability, it is appropriate to offer to shake
hands. People with limited hand use or who wear an artificial limb can usually shake
hands. Shaking hands with the left hand is an acceptable greeting.
NOTE: During COVID 19 restrictions, hand shaking may be suspended. When meeting a person with a visual impairment, always identify yourself and others
who may be with you. When conversing in a group, remember to identify the person to
whom you are speaking.
If you offer assistance, wait until the offer is accepted. Then listen to or ask for
Treat adults as adults. Address people who have disabilities by their first names
only when extending that same familiarity to all others present. Never patronize people
who use wheelchairs by patting them on the head or shoulder.
Leaning or hanging on a person’s wheelchair is like leaning or hanging on a person
and is generally considered inappropriate. The chair is part of the personal body
space of the person who uses it.
Listen attentively when you’re talking with a person who has difficulty speaking.
Be patient and wait for the person to finish, rather than correcting or speaking for
that person. If necessary, ask short questions that require short answers, a nod,
or a shake of the head. Never pretend to understand if you are having difficulty doing
so. Instead, repeat what you have understood and allow the person to respond.
When speaking with a person in a wheelchair or a person who uses crutches, place yourself
at eye level in front of the person to facilitate the conversation.
To get the attention of a person who is deaf or hard of hearing, tap the person on
the shoulder or wave your hand. Look directly at the person and speak clearly.
Relax. It’s okay if you happen to use accepted, common expressions, such as “See you
later” or “Did you hear about this,” that seem to relate to the person’s disability.