Through our recent learning, we now know the different types of disabilities, and realize just how many of people with disabilities live among us (Disability Statistics). So, how are we supposed to act around those people, anyway?? I mean, could it really be that simple to interact with other… people?
Don’t do this…
- Raise your voice, using a louder volume than necessary, or use baby talk.
- Finish another person’s sentence or interrupt while they are trying to talk.
- Put your hands around your mouth when talking to people who are hard of hearing or deaf.
- Play a game of “guess who” with people who have a visual disability.
- Talk about a person when they’re present or talking only to their interpreter or assistant.
- Force your help on them.
- Play with a service dog that’s on-duty.
- Touch, lean on, or play with their assistive device (white cane, wheelchair, etc.).
- Ask in-depth about their disability, despite it being their business to share.
Maybe do this…
- If a person looks like they are struggling, offer help by asking if they need help.
- Say hello, like a decent human being. Acknowledge they are there and you are there.
- Respect assistive devices as tools, not toys or props.
- Ask the person about their personal preferences on how to address their disability.
- Be thoughtful about the words you use when speaking or writing about a person with a disability.
- Respect their independence.
People-first language: Character description or label is highlighted after the person is acknowledged. Example: person with cerebral palsy.
Disability-disabled affiliation: Language that respects individuals who prefer that they are seen as disabled or a person with disability. Example: Deaf.
Not everyone feels like they are disabled or have a disability. Or they feel like they have a disability only when they run into a barrier in communication, mobility, etc. Some people are proud to be a part of a community, like the Deaf or Blind community. It’s better to not assume, but ask about the terminology they prefer. Terminology may even vary in the situation they are in or at different points in their life.
Appropriate disability etiquette and terminology really depends on the preferences of the person who has a disability and what type of disability they have. A person with a disability is a person, not a condition. Each person’s experience is unique. Treating them like a person is always the best course of action and etiquette. Ask (politely) how they like to be referred to or if they need help. Don’t expect them to be a disability educator and advocate all the time, on the spot; they’re out living their life, too.
- The irreverent guide to interacting with individuals with physical disabilities by Amanda McGrory, Smile Politely, Champaign-Urbana’s Online Magazine
- United Cerebral Palsy: Disability Etiquette
- University of Cambridge: Etiquette
- Independence Australia: A-Z of disability etiquette