10 Commandments of Communicating with People with Disabilities

Speak Directly to the person

Always speak directly to the person.  Do not speak through a companion or a service provider.

Offer to shake hands

Always use the same good manners in interacting with a person who has a disability as you would with anyone else.

Identify yourself when speaking to a person who is blind

As common courtesy, always identify yourself when entering and/or leaving the room.  This helps to make a person who is blind feel more comfortable.

Wait for a response and instructions when offering assistance

If you offer any kind of assistance, wait until the offer is accepted.  Then listen to the person’s response and/or ask for suggestions or instructions.

Treat adults as adults

Always be courteous.  Do not assume familiarity with someone who you do not know well by using a first name or touching his/her shoulder.  Do not patronize or make decisions for the person.

Do not hang or lean on a person’s wheelchair

People who use wheelchairs depend on their wheelchairs to get them from here to there.  The wheelchairs are a part of them, so please be courteous.

Listen attentively

If a person has difficulty speaking or speaks in a manner that is difficult for you to understand, listen carefully – then wait for her/him to finish.  If needed, clarify what the person has said.  Ask short questions that can be answered by a “yes” or “no” or a nod of the head.  Never pretend to understand.  Reflect what you have heard and let the person respond.

Speak to people at eye level

Use common courtesy when interacting with someone who uses a wheelchair.  Sit in a chair (or bend down, if a chair is unavailable) so you can be at eye level.  This helps make the person feel more comfortable and included as an equal in the conversation.

Tap a person who is deaf on her/his shoulder

To get the attention of someone who is deaf, tap the person on the shoulder or wave a hand in her/his direction.  Once you have the person’s attention, speak in a normal tone.  Keep objects away from your mouth so the person can read your lips.  Be courteous; do not shout.

Relax!

The most important thing to remember when interacting with people with disabilities is to BE YOURSELF.  Do not be embarrassed if you happen to use common expressions that seem to relate to disability.