NDI Banner Image

Disability Etiquette

Disability Etiquette

Best Practices

  1. When talking to a person with a disability, look at and speak directly to that person, rather than through a companion who may be along. If an interpreter is present, speak to the person who has come for your services, not to the interpreter. Always maintain eye contact with the taxpayer, not the interpreter.

  2. 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 acceptable. For those who cannot shake hands, touch the person on the shoulder or arm to welcome and acknowledge their presence.

  3. Relax. Don't be embarrassed if you happen to use accepted common expressions such as See you later or got to be running along that seem to relate to the person's disability.

  4. Call a person by his or her first name only when extending that familiarity to all others present. Never patronize people using wheelchairs by patting them on the head or shoulder.

  5. When addressing a person who uses a wheelchair, never lean on the person's wheelchair. The chair is part of the space that belongs to the person who uses it. When talking with a person in a wheelchair for more than a few minutes, use a chair, whenever possible. This will place your at the person's eye level to facilitate conversation.

  6. Offer assistance in a dignified manner with sensitivity and respect. Be prepared to have the offer declined. Do not proceed to assist if your offer to assist is declined. If the offer is accepted, listen to or accept instructions.

  7. When greeting a person with a severe loss of vision, always identify yourself and others who may be with you. When conversing in a group, give a vocal cue by announcing the name of the person to whom you are speaking. Speak in a normal tone of voice, indicate in advance when you will be moving from one place to another and let it be known when the conversation is at an end.

  8. Allow a person with a visual impairment to take your arm (at or about the elbow.) This will enable you to guide rather than propel or lead the person.

  9. To get the attention of a person with a hearing impairment, tap the person on the shoulder or wave your hand. Look directly at the person and speak clearly, naturally and slowly to establish if the person can read lips. Not all persons with hearing impairments can lip-read. Those who can will rely on facial expression and other body language to help in understanding. Show consideration by placing yourself facing the light source and keeping your hands, cigarettes and food away from your mouth when speaking. Keep mustaches well trimmed. Do not shout at a hearing impaired person. Shouting distorts sounds accepted through hearing aids and inhibits lip reading. Do not shout at a person who is blind or visually impaired -- he or she can hear you!

  10. To facilitate conversation, be prepared to offer a visual cue to a hearing impaired person or an audible cue to a vision impaired person, especially when more than one person is speaking.

  11. Listen attentively when you're talking to a person who has speech impairment. Keep your manner encouraging rather than correcting. Exercise patience rather than attempting to speak for a person with speech difficulty. When necessary, ask short questions that require short answers or a nod or a shake of the head. Never pretend to understand if you are having difficulty doing so. Repeat what you understand, or incorporate the interviewee's statements into each of the following questions. The person's reactions will clue you in and guide you to understanding.

  12. Remember, people with disabilities are not conditions or diseases; they are individual human beings. For example, a person is not an epileptic but rather a person who has epilepsy. First and foremost they are people. Only secondarily do they have one or more disabling conditions. Hence, they prefer to be referred to in print or broadcast media as People with Disabilities. Avoid outdated terms like "handicapped" or "crippled." Many people with disabilities also dislike jargon, euphemistic terms like "physically disabled" and "differently abled." Also, be sure to use "wheelchair user" rather than "confined to a wheelchair" or "wheelchair-bound."